National Security Brief: Top Senate Democrat Wants Greater U.S. Role In Syria

Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) said on Monday that the United States should play a more active role in bringing about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s downfall. “I would go further than the President,” Levin said, adding that President Obama should consider establishing so-called “safe zones” for Syrian rebels within the country. Levin also said the U.S. should consider taking out the Syrian military’s anti-aircraft batteries and other Syrian Air Force assets.

Meanwhile, House Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) introduced legislation on Monday giving Obama that authority to provide “lethal equipment” to Syrian rebels fighting Assad’s forces. In a statement, Engel said the U.S. is “long past due to arm friendly rebels and turn the tide to allow for a more hopeful Syrian future.”

While U.S. officials mull whether and how much to intervene in Syria, the Syrian opposition coalition elected a Syrian born U.S. citizen to be the first prime minister of an interim government there should Assad fall. The group chose Ghassan Hitto, an information technology executive who lived in Texas until recently.

In other news:

  • Former Pentagon top counsel Jeh Johnson criticized the idea of any secret court to oversee the Obama administration’s targeted killing program, saying it would simply act as a “rubber stamp” for anything the executive wants to do. Johnson said that instead, the program should be brought within the auspices of the Defense Department in order to ensure its legality.
  • The AP reports: A hunger strike at the Guantánamo Bay prison has grown and now involves at least 21 men, a U.S. military official said Monday while denying reports trickling out from prisoners through lawyers that there is a more widespread protest and lives are in danger.
  • The Washington Post reports: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered the Pentagon to reconsider a sweeping military strategy that the Obama administration unveiled just last year to determine whether it is still affordable in light of recent budget cuts.
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