There’s been no shortage of criticism of President Barack Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis—and two of those critics are his former secretaries of defense.
In a joint appearance at a forum at Southern Methodist University, both former Pentagon chiefs Robert Gates and Leon Panetta criticized Pres. Obama for asking Congress to authorize the use of force against Syria for using chemical weapons. However, they disagreed on whether military action would be effective. Sec. Gates said Pres. Obama’s proposed military strike was a mistake, while Sec. Panetta said it was a mistake not to carry out an attack.
“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,” said Sec. Gates “If we launch a military attack, in the eyes of a lot of people we become the villain instead of [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad.”
Sec. Gates, who also served as secretary of defense for President George W. Bush, compared a military strike on Syria to throwing gasoline on a fire, adding, “Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it’s launched?”
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Sec. Panetta said the president should have kept his word after he had pledged action if Syria used chemical weapons.
“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. “Once the president came to that conclusion, then he should have directed limited action, going after Assad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word…we back it up.”
Michael J. Morell, who recently retired as the deputy director of the C.I.A., also expressed his skepticism about negotiations to rid Syria of its chemical weapons.
“I think this is the Syrians playing for time,” Morell told Foreign Policy. “I do not believe that they would seriously consider giving up their chemical weapons.”