Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey said on Thursday that they supported a plan put forth by Obama administration officials to arm the rebels in Syria fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime forces.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that last summer, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then-CIA Director Gen. David Petraeus “were joining forces on a plan to arm the Syrian resistance.” But, the Times added, “Wary of becoming entangled in the Syria crisis, the White House pushed back, and Mrs. Clinton backed off.”
Today during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) asked Panetta and Dempsey if they supported the Clinton/Petraeus plan. “We did,” Dempsey said:
MCCAIN: I would ask again both of you what I asked you last March when 7,500 citizens of Syria had been killed. It’s now up to 60,000. How many more have to die before you recommend military action and did you support the recommendation by then-Secretary of State Clinton and then head of CIA Gen. Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria. Do you support that?
PANETTA: We do.
MCCAIN: You did support that?
DEMPSEY: We did.
Watch the clip:
The news is quite significant, seeing that much of President Obama’s national security team supports arming the Syrian rebels, a move that — despite providing non-lethal aid and training — the Obama administration has been reluctant to do.
In an interview with the New Republic last month, Obama explained his thinking on how to handle the civil war in Syria. “Would a military intervention have an impact?” he asked, “And how do I weigh tens of thousands who’ve been killed in Syria versus the tens of thousands who are currently being killed in the Congo?” Obama continued: “You make the decisions you think balance all these equities, and you hope that, at the end of your presidency, you can look back and say, I made more right calls than not and that I saved lives where I could, and that America, as best it could in a difficult, dangerous world, was, net, a force for good.”