The US defense secretary just gave a very telling answer to a question about Obama and Assad – Reuters
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate and US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked Defense Secretary Ash Carter:
Who will leave office first, Syrian President Bashar Assad or US President Barack Obama?
The Pentagon chief reportedly answered, “I hope Assad, but I don’t think so.”
Carter’s answer highlights the basic contradiction of the US policy regarding Assad. Over the past four years, the Obama administration has repeatedly said that Assad needs to step down — but has done very little to make that a reality.
“Are you actively discussing ways to remove [Assad] as a part of that political transition?” a journalist asked Obama in November.
“No,” he said.
Carter’s response on Tuesday reflects the Obama administration overall policy in Syria, which is focused on training Syrians to fight Islamic State militants while the Assad regime continues to bomb, imprison, torture, and rape Syrian civilians en masse.
Obama has said that supporting nationalist rebels has “always been a fantasy” because the opposition of “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth” was fighting “a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, [and] a battle-hardened Hezbollah.”
Former administration officials have forcefully rebutted this characterization, arguing that Obama’s inaction allowed a vacuum to form that was filled by increasingly radical militant factions such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Fred Hof, a former special adviser for transition in Syria under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, highlighted said the commander in chief’s rationale “fails to mention the tens of thousands of Syrian Army officers and soldiers who abandoned the Assad regime rather than participate in that regime’s campaign of mass homicide.”
Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has also detailed how there were “tens of thousands of defectors from the Syrian military, many of whom fled to neighboring countries (some were put into a refugee camp in Turkey), while others stayed to fight as part of the overall [Free Syrian Army].”
The real problem, Tabler said, was that “as assistance didn’t arrive, the defectors became disheartened so not sure where they all are at the moment.”
Hof noted that the recommendation to arm to the moderate opposition early during the war was offered in some form not only by Clinton, “but by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.”
Critics argue that the Obama administration’s determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran most likely informed its decision to refrain from intervening in Syria’s civil war.