The top leaders at the Pentagon said on Thursday they favored giving weapons to the rebels fighting a brutal, bloody civil war against the government of Syria. The Pentagon’s position is directly at odds with that of the White House.
Both Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense and General Martin Dempsey the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff mention just briefly their opinions on the conflict in Syria, while testifying before the Senate in a hearing on the attacks in Libya against a diplomatic mission of the United States.
Since the start of the civil war in Syria, thousands have been killed and the same government run by President Bashar al-Assad is still in power even though many people in the international community have called for him to step down.
However, the remark made by the two men underscored the large divisions within the White House administration over Syria and its civil war. The statement by each also marks a very rare occasion where the leaders of the Pentagon were publically opposed to the White House.
When Sen. John McCain had finished asking Dempsey and Panetta questions about the Libya incident, he asked him if he supported the plan to provide the resistance in Syria with weapons. Panetta said he did and Dempsey also replied in the affirmative. Neither one of the two men would elaborate on their position.
McCain appeared to be surprised by the two answers and afterwards he issued his own statement that said he was pleased to learn the stance of the Pentagon but criticized the White House for blocking shipments of arm to the rebels in Syria. McCain said what it means is President Obama overruled senior leaders of national security. McCain has advocated for a long time for intervention by the U.S. in Syria.
President Obama and the White Administration would not comment on the comments by McCain or on Panetta and Dempsey’s remarks.
A defense official however did confirm that Dempsey and Panetta supported the idea of arming rebels last year.