Daily Mail: Kerry and Hagel refuse to rule out sending troops in to Syria as they tell the Senate that the world’s dictators are ‘listening for our silence’. Kerry said the administration has ‘no desire’ to send ground troops into Syria.
Kerry and Hagel REFUSE to rule out sending troops in to Syria as they tell the Senate that the world’s dictators are ‘listening for our silence’
The Daily Mail
Secretary of State John Kerry today refused to rule out sending in ground troops into Syria as he testified before a Senate panel.
He and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel were making the case during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for a U.S. strike on Syria.
Kerry said limited military action is an appropriate, measured response to the deaths of more than 1,400 civilians by the suspected use of sarin nerve gas.
‘President Obama,’ he said, ‘is not asking Americans to go to war.’
‘He is asking only for the power to make clear, to make certain, that the United States means what we say.’
Kerry said the administration has ‘no desire’ to send ground troops into Syria.
But he admitted that ‘in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies … I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president of the United States to secure our country.’
The statement will send alarm bells ringing in the minds of members of Congress who are being asked to vote for military action next week – many of whom who are wary of being drawn into another lengthy armed conflict.
Perhaps sensing the potential for diplomatic disaster among his old Senate colleagues, Kerry quickly walked it back.
‘There will not be American troops on the ground with respect to the civil war,’ Kerry said. Even that statement, however, leaves open the possibility of American ‘boots on the ground’ during a nation-building phase after Bashar al-Assad is swept from power.
Kerry was adamant, however, that Assad himself was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks.
‘Only the most willful desire to avoid reality can assert that this did not occur as described,’ said America’s top diplomat, ‘or that the regime did not do it.’
‘It did happen, and the Assad regime did it.’
Congress has been the target of intense lobbying from the White House since President Obama announced Saturday that he would ask America’s top legislators for their approval before Syrian targets see their first U.S. cruise missile.
Obama has been criticized broadly for promising that Assad’s use of chemical weapons would constitute the breach of a ‘red line,’ and then delaying action once such weapons were detected in Syria.
But Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel insisted that the debate transcended the White House’s current occupant.
The world is watching,’ Kerry argued, ‘not just to see what we decide, but it’s watching to see how we make this decision: whether in a dangerous world, we can still make our government speak with one voice.”This debate is about the world’s red line,’ he said. And Assad, Kerry added, would interpret more American inaction as a license to continue using weapons of mass destruction.
The United States must act rather than retreat into ‘armchair isolationism,’ he said.
‘This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence.’
Arguing as much to the American people as to his former legislative colleagues, Kerry insisted that the federal government has ‘declassified unprecedented amounts of information. … We can tell you beyond any reasonable doubt that our evidence proves the Assad regime prepared for this attack, issued instructions to prepare for this attack, [and] warned its own forces to use gas masks.’
Kerry also mentioned Iran, North Korea, and the terror group Hezbollah as potential future adversaries that are watching to see how the U.S. responds to open defiance by autocratic regimes.
‘They are all listening for our silence,’ he said.
‘The authorization that President Obama seeks is definitively in our national security interests …. unmistakable message that when the United States and the world say “Never again,” we don’t mean sometimes. We don’t mean somewhere. Never means never.’
Hagel spoke to the administration’s desire to avoid issuing hollow ultimatums, and promised that military action would be ‘limited in duration and scope.’
‘I have just returned from Asia, where I had a very serious and long conversation with South Korea’s Defense Minister about the threat that North Korea’s stockpile of chemical weapons presents to them,’ Hagel said in his opening statement. ‘Our allies throughout the world must be assured that the United States will fulfill its security commitments.’
‘Given these threats to our national security, the United States must demonstrate through our actions that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.’
‘A refusal to act,’ Hagel said, ‘would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments – including the President’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.’
‘The word of the United States must mean something. It is vital currency in foreign relations and international and allied commitments.’
Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the committee, prepared a 1,650-word opening statement but had to wait to deliver it after a protester with the pacifist group Code Pink leapt to his feet.
‘Say no to war in Syria!’ the man cried. ‘We cannot afford to have another war. We need healthcare and education in our country. No more war in Syria!’
Menendez, like Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, bore the moment stoicly.
But when Kerry was finished with his statement, another protester yelled out.
‘Nobody wants this war!’ the unnamed woman screamed. ‘Launching cruise missiles means another war! The American people do not want this!’
Before ceding the microphone to Secretary Hagel, Kerry addressed the room once more, acknowledging his own anti-war activism following his naval deployment in Vietnam.
When he testified before the same committee in 1971, Kerry argued that there was ‘nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America.’
Recalling that day, Kerry admitted that ‘I had feelings very much like that protester. … I think we can all respect those who have a different point of view. And we do.’
Menendez’ opening statement began the hearing by drawing a distinction between many Democrats’ opposition to military actions in the Middle East during the George W. Bush administration and their fervent support for Obama’s strategy now.
‘I voted against the war in Iraq and strongly support the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan,’ Menendez said. ‘But today I support the President’s decision to use military force in the face of this horrific crime against humanity.’
Menendez cast the moment as a moral watershed, a barometer of America’s conscience.
‘Will we – in the name of all that is human and decent – authorize the use of American military power against the inexcusable, indiscriminate, and immoral use of chemical weapons? Or will we stand down?’
‘In my view,’ he added minutes later, ‘there is a preponderance of evidence, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Assad’s forces willfully targeted civilians with chemical weapons … [and] the chemical weapons attack against innocent civilians in Syria is an indirect attack on America’s security with broader implications for the region and the world.’
House Speaker John Boehner voiced his agreement earlier in the day with Obama’s objective.
‘I’m going to support the president’s call for action, and I believe my colleagues should support the president’s call for action,’ said the Ohio Republican.
‘The use of these weapons has to be responded to, and only the United States has the capability and the capacity to stop Assad and to warn others around the world that this type of behavior is not to be tolerated.’
Boehner spoke after a closed-door meeting at the White House today as the president ramps up his efforts to win support on both sides of the House and avoid the humiliation suffered in the UK where Prime Minister David Cameron lost the vote to go to war last week.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, both Democrats, have also voiced their approval.
But the biggest headlines have been reserved for Republican senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Their agreement with Obama’s position Tuesday morning won rave reviews from a coalition of centrists and liberals who make up the center of Obama’s political influence.
Congress will vote on the president’s resolution a full two weeks after the administration conceded that a ‘red line’ Obama identified more than a year ago – involving Syria’s use of chemical weapons – had been crossed.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden on Saturday, Obama said only that he was ‘confident we can hold the Assad regime accountable for their use of chemical weapons, deter this kind of behavior, and degrade their capacity to carry it out.’
The strength of those military strikes, and the length of any resulting armed conflict, is on clearly Obama’s mind as he battles to convince a skeptical House of Congress and public who have little appetite for another drawn out conflict.
‘The key point that I want to emphasize to the American people,’ the president said Tuesday, is that ‘the military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional. It is limited. It does not involve boots on the ground. This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.’
‘We’re going to be asking for hearings and a prompt vote,’ the president said Tuesday. ‘And I’m very appreciative that everybody here has already begun to schedule hearings and intends to take a vote as soon as all of Congress comes back early next week.’