By Stephen Kaufman
IIP Staff Writer
April 19, 2012
Like its response to political unrest in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, the Obama administration’s reaction to the violence in Syria has been based on opposition to regime violence, support for universal human rights and for reforms that will meet “the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told U.S. lawmakers.
Speaking before the House Armed Services Committee April 19 with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey, Panetta said, “Our policy in Syria is very clear: We support a political and democratic transition that fulfills the Syrian people’s greatest aspirations.”
Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime “has lost its legitimacy,” and “this crisis has no effective solution without Assad’s departure,” he said.
At the same time, he said, the situation in the country is “enormously complex,” and there is “no silver bullet” for ending the crisis.
The United States has been active in the United Nations Security Council in calling for “the urgent, comprehensive and immediate implementation” of Special U.N. Envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan, which includes a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Syrian troops and heavy weaponry from populated areas, free access for humanitarian organizations, the release of political detainees and for all sides in the conflict to hold talks on a political solution.
In addition, the Obama administration has been encouraging other countries to join it in implementing strong sanctions to undermine “the financial lifeline of the regime,” such as targeting senior Syrian leaders, their commercial interests and the Central Bank of Syria, Panetta said.
As a result of these U.S. measures and actions by other nations, the regime has lost 30 percent of its revenues, Panetta said.
The Obama administration is also providing $25 billion in emergency humanitarian assistance for Syrians inside the country and those who have fled to neighboring countries, and it is in the process of providing “direct, nonlethal support, including communications and medical equipment, to the civilian-led opposition,” he said.
Panetta said Syria’s Arab neighbors are struggling with the same questions the rest of the international community is facing: what additional action to end the Assad regime’s attacks against its people would make sense, who is the Syrian opposition and how can it best be assisted, and how to “best provide the kind of help that the Syrian people need in order to overcome the situation.”
Asked about the possibility of a U.S. military intervention in the crisis, Panetta said, “The only way that the United States would get involved militarily is if there’s a consensus in the international community to try to do something along those lines. And then, obviously, ensure that the international community is able to get the authorities required in order to make that happen.”
In his testimony, General Dempsey said the Assad regime should have responded to protests, which broke out in March 2011, with “real democratic reform” instead of brutality. Syrian military leaders, he said, should be recognizing that “the kind of violence they’re using against their own citizens is a fool’s errand and that, at some point, that will, in fact, jeopardize them as a institution.”
He added, “That could be one of the reasons they’re beginning to hold on tighter now is that they have used this violence.”
But he said change in Syria is “inevitable,” and that the model of a powerful leader who suppresses his population is no longer viable in the Middle East and North Africa.
The United States is eager to support “these populations that have long not been reaping the benefits of the resources in their country, have been suppressed politically and in some cases have been suppressed even in terms of their religious freedoms — and certainly women’s rights,” Dempsey said. But he also warned that “getting from here to there is going to be a wild ride,” and predicted there will be “10 or 15 years of instability in a region that has already been characterized by instability.”