Friday, February 8, 2013

Panetta: Obama rejects arming Syrian rebels against his Cabinet's advice

“Obviously there were a number of factors that were involved here that ultimately led to the president’s decision to make (the aid) non-lethal,” Panetta said, adding he supported Obama’s decision.
The comments were the first public acknowledgement of Pentagon support to arm the rebels since the New York Times reported on Feb. 2 about the plan developed last summer by Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, who have since left their jobs at the State Department and CIA respectively.
The defence chiefs’ testimony also suggested that White House opposition alone may have been enough to override the position of most major U.S. foreign policy and security agencies — the state and defence departments, and the CIA.
The Times said the plan to arm and train rebels was rebuffed by the White House over concerns it could draw the United States into the Syrian conflict and that the arms could fall into the wrong hands.( from "Syria crisis: Pentagon initially backed plan to arm rebels" By: Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle Reuters, in Toronto Star, February 7, 2013, excerpted below)
Sometimes what a chief executive does not agree to do is as important, or perhaps even more important than what s/he does agree to enact.
In the face of a united front to arm the rebels in Syria, from the National Security team, including State, Pentagon and NSA, President Obama chose the path of non-lethal support, fearing that military weapons would or could fall into the hands of terrorists.
And sometimes, it is only in retrospect that one can see the relative significance of a decision.
Given the northern part  of Mali's current struggles with AQIM, armed by weapons left from the ouster of the dictator of Lybia, and the complex and sometimes undetermined identity of some of the insurgents in Syria, Obama's decision, especially in the face of what is now obviously heavy support from the members of his own team of advisors, glows like a joy stick in the midst of a black hole of a civil war.
And, the United States body politic was not, and in not ready, open to, or even able to pay for another major military intervention. That is precisely what the American supply of arms to the rebels could have led the Pentagon and the whole military machine into, if Obama had "gone along" with the recommendation of his cabinet team.
While the President is being punched out by Republican legislators, and also 'pink' protesters during the Brennan confirmation hearings in the Senate yesterday, for his significant increase in the deployment of drones to kill those who pose terrorist threats to the U.S., including U.S. citizens, without having to secure a court's permissive oversight prior to the strikes, nevertheless, the president's moderate, temperate and courageous insight, demonstrated in his Syrian decision, non-lethal aid only for the rebels, may well have saved lives. The deaths of some 60,000 while tragic and heinous, could have been higher. Furthermore, instead of extending the American "high-T" itching for more military engagements, after more than a decade of war in two theatres, Obama's longer, more tempered view and more restrained decision demonstrates to all around the world his leadership, his intelligence, his vision, and his statesmanship in the midst of strong advocacy  for even more, and more conventional delivery of weapons to support the rebels against the Assad regime, whose end the president has also called for for several months.
This is not only a president whom the American people can and do "like" on a personal level; he is also, much more importantly, a president whom the whole world can trust to provide some stability as his own ship of state navigates through extremely turbulent, unpredictable and dangerous storms on many sides. Demonstrating to the "hawks" on Capitol Hill that hard power is not the only instrument in the U.S. quivver of arrows of influence, while it will need many repetitions before it will dawn on those whose powerlessness is overcompensated by advocacy for the use of that hard power, in too many situations, nevertheless provides a modicum of tranquility in a sea of angry and frightened options.

Syria crisis: Pentagon initially backed plan to arm rebels

Pentagon leaders tell Congress they initially supported the Clinton-Petraeus plan to arm Syrian rebels. But President Obama later quashed it.
By: Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle Reuters, in Toronto Star,  February 7, 2013

WASHINGTON—Pentagon leaders told Congress on Thursday that they had supported a recommendation last year — initially promoted by the State Department and CIA — to arm Syrian rebels that President Barack Obama ultimately decided against.
Obama’s government has limited its support to non-lethal aid for the Syrian rebels who, despite receiving weapons from countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are poorly armed compared to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army and loyalist militias.
Syria’s conflict has killed an estimated 60,000 people in 22 months so far.
Senator John McCain has championed greater U.S. involvement and chided the Obama administration at a hearing, asking two Pentagon leaders: “How many more have to die before you recommend military action?”
He then pressed Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, about whether they backed the recommendation last year by the State Department and CIA chiefs to arm the rebels.
Panetta and Dempsey said they had backed the recommendation. Later in the hearing, the defence secretary elaborated on that.
“Obviously there were a number of factors that were involved here that ultimately led to the president’s decision to make (the aid) non-lethal,” Panetta said, adding he supported Obama’s decision.
The comments were the first public acknowledgement of Pentagon support to arm the rebels since the New York Times reported on Feb. 2 about the plan developed last summer by Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, who have since left their jobs at the State Department and CIA respectively.
The defence chiefs’ testimony also suggested that White House opposition alone may have been enough to override the position of most major U.S. foreign policy and security agencies — the state and defence departments, and the CIA.
The Times said the plan to arm and train rebels was rebuffed by the White House over concerns it could draw the United States into the Syrian conflict and that the arms could fall into the wrong hands.
The questions about U.S. policy in Syria came during a hearing focusing on Libya, with Pentagon leaders defending their response to last year’s deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.



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