Syria

Gates and Panetta Criticize Obama's Response to Chemical Attacks in Syria

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Credit: Secretary of Defense / Foter / CC BY

Speaking at Southern Methodist University in Dallas Obama's first two secretaries of defense, Robert Gates and Leon Panetta, both criticized the president's response to the ongoing crisis in Syria, saying that they would not have asked for Congress to approve a military intervention in the wake of the chemical attacks in some Damascus suburbs on August 21. Gates, who was the last secretary of defense of George W. Bush's cabinet, said that Obama's plans for limited strikes against Syria were a mistake, while Panetta said that a military intervention should have taken place, citing the potential damage inaction could do to America's reputation given Obama's "red line" comment last year.

From The New York Times:

"My bottom line is that I believe that to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple days, to underscore or validate a point or a principle, is not a strategy," Mr. Gates said during a forum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "If we launch a military attack, in the eyes of a lot of people we become the villain instead of Assad," he added, referring to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Mr. Gates, the only cabinet member from the administration of George W. Bush whom Mr. Obama asked to stay on, said missile strikes on Syria "would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East."

"Haven't Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it's launched?" Mr. Gates said.

Mr. Panetta, also speaking at the forum, said the president should have kept his word after he had pledged action if Syria used chemical weapons.

Although not a fan of plans for limited strikes Gates is by no means a non-interventionist. The New York Times goes on to report that Gates supports sending military equipment to some of Assad's opposition as well as imposing sanctions on some members of the Syrian government and Assad's family.

The U.S. and Russia recently agreed to a deal regarding Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. The deal requires that Syria's chemical weapons be destroyed by mid-2014. According to Foreign Policy, officials from Western nations are asking that Russia destroy Syria's chemical weapons on its own soil, a process that could potentially take place at a chemical weapons demilitarization plant 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow that was partly funded by the U.S. and other Western nations.

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  1. Mr. Panetta, also speaking at the forum, said the president should have kept his word

    That’s nice, Leon. Why would he start now?

  2. What you can’t see behind that handshake is that Gates’ portrait is painted with his fly open.

  3. You know, I have a cunning plan. What we should do is send in a drone that looks like an old crop-duster and have it fly right over Assad, making him hurl himself to the ground. No killing, no blowing anything up. Just a message.

    The drone/crop-duster should incorporate a dummy pilot that looks just like a young Martin Landau. No reason.

    1. I approve of this plan as long as the dummy is wearing Landau’s costume from Cleopatra.

      1. Not a lot of crop-dusters in Cleopatra.

        Oh, and Hitchcock’s picture has to be on the drone somewhere.

  4. That is one terrible photoshop. The guy in the middle isn’t even remotely convincing.

    1. Nothing’s creepier than political portraits. It’s like giving psych ward patients jobs as primary school teachers: the trappings of normality might disguise the sociopathy roiling under the surface, but the effect is highly upsetting for the viewer.

  5. The Syrian Civil War is a tragedy. It is such a messed up tragedy that there really doesn’t seem to be anything the US could do to make it better. Help the rebels? Most of them want to establish a more Islamic state, and will almost certainly treat the non-Islamic minority worse than the Egyptian Copts have been treated by their Islamic countrymen.

    1. Sure we could. Tell the Turks that we’ll back them if they want to restore the eastern parts of the Ottoman Empire, provided that the reacquisition is relatively atrocity-free.

      1. But Turkey has been increasingly Islamist in recent years….

        1. They have to drop that, too.

  6. “Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it’s launched?” Mr. Gates said.

    After the laughter subsided, he added “But there I go again!”, which was followed by more appreciative chuckles.

  7. asking that Russia destroy Syria’s chemical weapons on its own soil, a process that could potentially take place at a chemical weapons demilitarization plant 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow

    Why does everyone talk about this as if it were remotely possible? There’s a civil war going on. Do people really think that all the rebels are going to sit back and watch convoys of trucks rumble out of Assad’s secret weapons dumps, down the road to the coast, where they’ll be carefully loaded onto Russian ships?

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