POMED Notes: U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee: Recent Developments in the Middle East: The Security Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee conducted a hearing on the recent developments in the Middle East, particularly relating to Syria. The speakers were the honorable Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense, and General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Chairman Buck McKeon (R-CA) chaired the hearing.
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Buck McKeon reflected on the length of time that has passed for the Syrian conflict, and the “horrifying violence” that has continued to be inflicted on the Syrian people at the hands of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Mckeon expressed his concern that the Syrian conflict could spread regionally, exemplified by Assad-backed forces shooting across the Turkish border into Syrian refugee camps. The Chairman did not recommend military intervention – partly due to budget concerns and a fragmented Syrian opposition – but wanted to know what steps could be taken to stem the violence in Syria, and hasten Assad’s fall from power.
Leon Panetta described the regime of President Assad as one that turned to violence instead of meeting the demands of the protesters. Due to the ongoing violence directed at Syrian citizens Assad has lost his legitimacy to rule, and therefore must leave power. Panetta does not believe the situation in Syria can be solved unilaterally, and there must be a coordinated international response to solve the crisis. While “one way or another this regime will meet its end,” Panetta contends that maintaining international pressure, further isolating the regime, strengthen non-violent support, continuing to provide humanitarian assistance, and reviewing and planning additional measure are steps the Administration is taking to hasten Assad’s fall. Panetta described the differences between intervention in Libya and a possible intervention in Syrian, and related his reservations about supporting a fragmented opposition if they are unable to come together as a united force.
Martin Dempsey said the U.S. military, thus far, has been providing information to regional partners, and will be ready to respond if need be.
McKeon raised the question of following President Nicolas Sarkozy call to create humanitarian corridors, while Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) focused his inquiry on what steps the Administration is taking to provide humanitarian aid to the Syrians. Panetta responded that the U.S. is prepared to create any humanitarian corridor if the international community deems it of necessity. The current humanitarian aid provided is non-violent gear; such as, communication equipment, medical aid and supplies. Dempsey clarified that the Department of State was running the humanitarian aid program and would be able to provide specific details.
Panetta responded to Adam Smith (D-WA) that both China and Russia have come around to support Kofi Annan’s peace plan, and this is another positive step of the international community coming together to exert unified pressure.
Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) wondered if “handling Syria” would be an appropriate measure to deal with Iran. Panetta echoed earlier comments, that the fall of Assad will further isolate Iran, which Dempsey added there are “no silver bullets” in this complex region. Panetta agreed with Rob Andrews (D-NJ), that support to act in Syria was weak in the Arab world because the regional leaders are dealing with the same issues the U.S. is; who is the opposition, how to help, and what best pressure can be used.
J. Randy Forbes (R-VA) pressed Panetta about legal authority to take action in Syria. Panetta responded that the Administration would abide by the War Powers Act, and if necessary deploy forces and then seek Congressional support. Panetta told Susan Davis (D-CA) that it was difficult for regional countries to support the Syrian uprising due to a lack of clarity surrounding what form of government would rule post-Assad Syria. Responding to Larry Kissell (D-NC), Panetta said that worst case scenario in after Assad would be civil war; “bottom line, anything that takes Assad out is a step in right direction.” Dempsey projected that a post-Assad Syria would be substantially different than the current government – as a democratically election government would need to represent the 70% Sunni population – but disagreed with Trent Franks (R-AZ) that the future government would be filled with Muslim Brotherhood supporters, as Syria has had a tradition of secularism. Dempsey believes the U.S. would need to hold a future Syrian government accountable before support is offered.