If President Barack Obama needed to hear credible criticism about his shaky Syrian strategy, he needed to look no further than his first two defense secretaries. They were questioned Tuesday about that subject where they told their audience they would not have sought Congressional approval for a strike on President Bashar Assad's forces.
The two were attending a forum in Dallas, TX where Robert Gates and Leon Panetta disagreed with Obama for the United States to carry out a military strike as retaliation for a chemical attack that the U.S., and now the U.N. say Assad was responsible.
The two men could not contain their sarcasm when Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name was mentioned as someone you could negotiate with. They were both highly critical about current Russia-backed negotiations having Syria hand over the chemicals to Putin who provided them in the first place.
Panetta was emphatic in his denouncement of the president drawing a “red line” and then not following that up when it was crossed. "When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word," he said.
However, his counterpart at the Dallas discussion, Bill Gates made the comment that such a military strike would be like "throwing gasoline on an extremely complex fire in the Middle East." He also dismissed attacking Syria to enforce a red line.
"I believe to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple of days to underscore or validate a point or principle is not a strategy," Gates said.
The United States and the Russians supposedly agreed to inventory Syria's chemical weapons programs within a week and remove all of them by the middle of next year. The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council are formulating a resolution according to the State Department.
Naturally the Russians are not in favor of a clause in the agreement that allow the U.S. and French to use force if the agreement is not carried out.
Gates feels Obama and other recent presidents “have become too quick to reach for a gun to solve an international problem." It is his opinion that the U.S. should covertly arm the rebels, but not with surface-to-air missiles. The U.S. should pressure the International Court to label Assad a war criminal, issue warrants for his arrest and seize his family's assets overseas.
Asked if he trusted Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gates said: "My answer would be, are you kidding me?"
Panetta said, "Mr. President, this Congress has a hard time agreeing as to what the time of day is." He said by Obama not backing the rebels, he is sending a message to Iran that we will not get serious with our threats.
Once the president drew a red line, Panetta said, "Damn it, you've got to do it."
There was no comment from the White House on the Dallas conference.
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