Pressure on the Obama administration to take action to end the relentless bloodshed in Bashar Assad’s Syria continues. Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential election are maintaining their usual stance that the president is weak and unable to lead. The Senate Armed Services Committee has been meeting with US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford and a wide range of experts. Ford is in Washington this week in the wake of the closing of the US embassy in the Syrian capital of Damascus and the withdrawal of all of its staff.
Senator John McCain of Arizona, the 2008 Republican candidate for the presidency, addressed the committee citing the 7,500 deaths in recent days in Syria and calling for leadership from the president. He alluded to President Bill Clinton’s leadership during the Bosnian War, and the leadership that (his words) “Obama eventually showed on Libya last year.” Addressing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, McCain said, “”In past situations, America has led. We’re not leading, Mr. Secretary.”
Panetta’s response was that “It doesn’t make sense to take unilateral action right now. I’ve got to make very sure we know what the mission is … achieving that mission at what price.” Panetta later added that the United States is leading not only in Syria, but also in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in the war on terrorism. The Pentagon chief said the U.S. is now focused on isolating the Assad regime, diplomatically and politically. Assad, he says, no longer has any legitimacy for killing his own people. Panetta leaves open the possibility of military action, as Obama continues to assess the situation.
General Martin Dempsey points out that a sustained air campaign would pose a challenge; Syria’s air defenses are five times more sophisticated than those we encountered in Libya. He said Syria’s chemical and biological weapons stockpile is 100 times larger than Libya’s. Dempsey considers a no-fly zone and humanitarian relief to be viable options. He went on to call for an alertness of the extremists who may return to Syria, through “well-trod ratlines” through Damascus, exploiting the situation, and expanding the support of Iran. Dempsey said, “And we need to be especially alert to the fate of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons. They need to stay exactly where they are.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was active in bringing together what now amounts to the 60 nation “Friends of Syria”. This group is currently moving forward in opposition to the Assad Regime. They call in the most part for an end to that regime. But we remember that Assad still has friends in the region; Russia and China are not ready to support regime change from outside forces. The key players in Syria are the U.S., Israel, Turkey, Russia, Iran and the Arab League. At this time, France and Britain are somewhat less involved.
Speaking from Beirut, Syrian President Assad asserts his determination to go on fighting, in his words, foreign backed terrorism, “The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots, … have again proven their ability to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms while confronting foreign-backed terrorism.”