[Marxism] Top Pentagon Officials Stress Risks in Syria

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Mar 8 07:45:28 MST 2012

NY Times March 7, 2012
Top Pentagon Officials Stress Risks in Syria

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s top two officials said Wednesday that 
President Obama had asked for preliminary military options to 
respond to the increasingly violent Syria conflict, but they 
emphasized the risks and said that the administration still 
believed that diplomatic and economic pressure was the best way to 
protect Syrians from the Assad government’s repression.

The appraisal by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint 
Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in Senate 
testimony, reflected increased concern about the year-old uprising 
in Syria, in which more than 7,500 people have been killed, 
according to United Nations estimates. Their comments also 
reflected the politicization of the Syria conflict in the United 
States during a presidential election year. Mr. Obama, who ended 
the war in Iraq and is moving to do the same in Afghanistan, has 
expressed reluctance to enter a new military conflict and 
characterized statements by his Republican adversaries as hawkish.

General Dempsey and Mr. Panetta spoke two days after Senator John 
McCain, Republican of Arizona, who lost to Mr. Obama in 2008, 
became the first senator to call for American airstrikes on Syria 
as “the only realistic way” to stop what he called a slaughter 
there. Both General Dempsey and Mr. Panetta faced sharp questions 
during their testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee 
from Mr. McCain, who is the panel’s ranking Republican.

Their exchanges came as the conflict in Syria took some striking 
new turns. The United Nations’ top relief official, Valerie Amos, 
visited the ravaged Syrian city of Homs — the first inspection 
there by an independent outside observer since President Bashar 
al-Assad ordered a military assault of the city’s armed resistance 
more than a month ago. Syrian activist groups reported ominous 
signs on Wednesday that Mr. Assad’s forces would now direct their 
campaign northward to Idlib Province, where the Free Syrian Army, 
a group composed mostly of army defectors, is challenging his 

General Dempsey told senators that the options under review 
included humanitarian airlifts, naval monitoring, aerial 
surveillance of the Syrian military and the establishment of a 
no-fly zone. Specifically, he said that “the president of the 
United States, through the national security staff, has asked us 
to begin the commander’s estimate,” a term for an initial 
assessment of a situation and potential courses of military action.

Mr. Panetta, who spoke alongside General Dempsey, told the 
committee that military review was in the earliest stages. “We 
have not done the detailed planning because we are waiting for the 
direction of the president to do that,” he said. Modern commanders 
in chief have routinely asked for military options during foreign 
crises, and the Pentagon as part of its daily business draws up 
contingency plans for a wide range of potential conflicts.

Mr. Panetta and General Dempsey spent much time explaining the 
difficulties of military action. Mr. Panetta said intervention 
could expedite a civil war in the country and make an explosive 
situation worse. He said bluntly that the Obama administration 
recognized “that there are limitations of military force, 
especially with U.S. boots on the ground.” He added that “it 
doesn’t make sense” for the United States to act alone, without a 
coalition of allies, as was the case in Libya.

Ms. Amos, the United Nations under secretary general and emergency 
relief coordinator, arrived in Syria for a two-day visit to assess 
the country’s relief needs. She accompanied a team from the Syrian 
Arab Red Crescent into the Baba Amr neighborhood of Homs, which 
had suffered enormous destruction and where activists have 
reported hundreds of civilian deaths.

She made no statement about what she observed, but a spokeswoman 
at the United Nations, Amanda Pitt, said that Ms. Amos had told 
her via telephone that the neighborhood was “pretty devastated,” 
largely devoid of people and punctuated by occasional gunfire.

“She wanted to go to Homs and Baba Amr to try and get a sense for 
herself of the impact of the fighting — and of the lack of 
humanitarian access —  and to get there as soon as possible,” Ms. 
Pitt said in an e-mail. She said Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem 
of Syria, her host, had told Ms. Amos that she “would be able to 
go wherever she wanted.”

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency made no mention of Ms. 
Amos’s visit to Homs, but reported her arrival in Syria earlier on 
Wednesday and quoted Mr. Moallem as saying that the government was 
trying to respond to emergency civilian needs “despite the burdens 
it faces because of the unfair sanctions imposed by some Arab and 
Western countries on Syria.”

Accounts of torture and deprivation in Homs, conveyed by fleeing 
civilians, have been denounced as enemy propaganda by the 
government of Mr. Assad, who has belittled the mass demonstrations 
against him and insisted that his forces have been battling 
foreign-backed terrorism. While China and Russia, his biggest 
foreign supporters, have defeated attempts by the United Nations 
Security Council to condemn Mr. Assad and hold him accountable, 
fractures have surfaced.

On Monday, Russia’s prime minister and president-elect, Vladimir 
V. Putin, reaffirmed his support for Mr. Assad but said he did not 
know how much longer Mr. Assad’s government would last. On 
Wednesday, China announced it was withdrawing most of its workers 
from Syria, reflecting what appeared to be declining confidence in 
Mr. Assad’s powers of governance.

Syria’s deputy oil minister, Abdo Hussameldin, announced his 
defection on a YouTube video, Reuters reported early Thursday, 
which would make him first high-ranking civilian official to 
abandon the Assad government since the uprising began.

The authenticity of the video, which was filmed at an undisclosed 
location, could not be confirmed.

“I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in 
Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my 
position and withdrawal from the Baath Party. I join the 
revolution of this dignified people,” Mr. Hussameldin says in the 
video, which was uploaded Wednesday and seen early on Thursday.

“I say to this regime: you have inflicted on those who you claim 
are your people a whole year of sorrow and sadness, denying them 
basic life and humanity and driving Syria to the edge of the 
abyss,” he says, adding that the country’s economy is “near collapse.”

Mr. Assad appointed Mr. Hussameldin, 58, to his position through a 
presidential decree in 2009.

Wearing a suit and tie, Mr. Hussameldin looked relaxed as he 
stared directly into the camera in a tight head and shoulders 
shot, appearing to read from a prepared statement on his lap as he 
sat on a dark gray chair against a yellow background.

”I have been in government for 33 years,” he said. “I did not want 
to end my career serving the crimes of this regime. I have 
preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime 
will burn my house and persecute my family.”

Public defections have remained rare among the civilian branches 
of the state, which Mr. Assad’s opponents attribute to the tight 
control of the secret police and the fear of retribution against 
families of any would-be defectors.

In late August, the attorney general of Hama Province, Mohammad 
al-Bakkour, declared in a YouTube video that he had resigned in 
protest against the suppression of street demonstrations and the 
storming of the city of Hama by tanks, according to Reuters. Mr. 
Bakkour has not been heard from since and some opposition sources 
say the video was made under pressure from rebels.

Elisabeth Bumiller reported from Washington, and Rick Gladstone 
from New York. Reporting was contributed by Neil MacFarquhar, 
Hwaida Saad and an employee of The New York Times from Beirut, 
Lebanon, Edward Wong from Beijing, and Alan Cowell from London.

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