Today on Capitol Hill, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta pushed back against two GOP hawks who are pushing for U.S. military intervention in Syria, laying out the considerations that have informed U.S. caution in getting militarily involved.
Faced with aggressive questioning, Panetta warned Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) — both of whom called this week for bombing Syria — that such options need to be weighed carefully and that grueling diplomatic work needs to be put in to actualize such policies. That work is being done, he said, by the U.S., even as it exhibits caution regarding military options to help resolve the nearly year-old Syrian uprising that has claimed more than 7,000 lives.
Lieberman suggested at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today that the U.S. needs to “get the international community together in a coalition of the willing soon.” Panetta responded sternly, seeming to lecture Lieberman and McCain that deciding on military action is no easy choice:
PANETTA: If the agreement here is that we ought not to just go in unilaterally, then we have to build a multilateral coalition. We’ve got to be able to work at that. It’s not that easy to deal with some of the concerns that are out there. But nevertheless we are working at it. Secretary Clinton is working at it everyday. There are diplomats that are engaged on this issue.…
Can it happen today? Can it happen now? No. It’s gonna take some work; it’s going to take some time. But when we do it, we’ll do it right. We will not do it in a way that will make the situation worse. That’s what we have to be careful of.
Watch a video of the exchange:
Earlier in the hearing, McCain baited Panetta by repeatedly asking him questions along the lines of: “How many more have to die, 10,000 more, 20,000 more? How many more?” Panetta responded:
PANETTA: As secretary of Defense, before I recommend that we put our sons and daughters in uniform in harms way, I’ve got to make very sure that we know what the mission is. I’ve got to — I’ve got to make very sure that we know whether we can achieve that mission? At what price? And whether or not it will make matters better, or worse?
Those are the considerations that I have to engage in.
Like with Iran — as President Obama noted yesterday — those arguing for military force in Syria rarely seem to engage in these considerations at all.