Two days ago, on 11 January, defense secretary Panetta, accompanied by General Dempsey, JCS chairman gave a press conference in the DOD press room. Mostly devoted to Afghanistan and the budget the question of America’s role in the Syria conflict was raised minutes before the conclusion.
Q: Mr. Secretary, did you just rule out putting in U.S. troops to secure Syrian chemical weapons?“
“SEC. PANETTA: Well, I mean, look, we — we’re not working on options that involve boots on the ground. You know, with — you know, I think you — you always have to keep the possibility that, if there is a peaceful transition and international organizations get involved, that they might ask for assistance in that situation. But in a hostile situation, we’re not planning for that.”
Panetta appears uncomfortable in the full transcript of his response presented above, out of character with the ease with which he dealt with even the most delicate questions regarding President Karzai and corruption in the Afghan government. But leaving the secretary’s discomfort aside certainly the response of the civilian head of America’s military should raise eyebrows in the Middle East, if not at home.
Several weeks ago I addressed the issue of America in retreat in another TOI article, Obama II, Fight or Flight? That earlier article followed news that Obama was withdrawing the aircraft carrier Eisenhower and the Iwo Jima with 2000 Marines:
Shortly before the deployment of two American Patriot missiles manned by 400 US servicemen for defending Turkey against Syria was announced Thursday, Dec. 13,Washington quietly recalled from Syrian waters the USS Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its strike group and the USS Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready group and the 2,000 Marines on their decks.”
The move appeared a cautious response to several weeks of media attention to Syrain chemical weapons. Apparently a contradiction to the threat implied in weeks of hints from Washington that special forces expert in chemical weapons were already positioned inside Assad’s terror state. If confirmation that Panetta had not misspoken under duress, his JCS chairman General Dempsey standing beside him during the press conference chimed in,
The — the effort — or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable… On the other hand, you know, our collaboration with regional partners,Turkey,Israel– I talked to my Lebanese counterpart yesterday,Jordan. We’ve got a planning element in Jordan. You know, messaging, such as our president did, that — that the use of chemical weapons would — those that would be responsible would be held accountable.
I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value.”
Perhaps the litmus test to the degree of dissembling taking place in that DOD press room may be measured by the next question:
And do you still believe that the sarin would expire after 60 days, after mixed?”
“That’s what — what the scientists tell us. I’d still be reluctant to handle it myself.”
In fact it is understood that Syria has developed sarin variant able to remain active for a year.
Why is Syria important in assessing American intentions? Syria, of course, is now completely under the control of Iran, and should Assad survive, which seems increasingly likely now that the US has shown its true intentions, that means a long-term enemy at the gates not only to Israel, but to the Saudis, Jordan and, via Gaza, Egypt and points west.
And if the US is avoiding the less dangerous puppet state, what does Obama’s plaintive threat regarding the puppet-master’s nuclear weapons program, “all options are on the table,” come to? Ironic that Obama, entering office as committed to nuclear non-proliferation has all but lit the fuse on a Third World nuclear arms race.
And finally, the US is in full flight as Russia has positioned a fleet of naval vessels and thousands of troops on-site to discourage a Western military intervention. What does that imply for Russia’s future intentions for the region? Keeping in mind that Russia is patron to and supports both Syria and, more important,Iran: Has the United States decided to back off the Russian challenge, to abdicate the region in favor of its historic competitor? And what implications does that hold for America as a global power, for Europe now surrounded by the Russian Navy to the south in the Mediterranean, the Russian Army on their northern borders?
What has been absent for ten years of public pronouncements by Israel’s political leadership has been any indication of understanding that US policy regarding the Iranian bomb, Iranian hegemonic intentions, has not, repeat not changed. Bush, with all his apparent toughness, never challenged Iran directly, either for its aggression against US forces in Iraq/Afghanistan, nor its progress towards the bomb. Add to this that Bush hired Gates/Mullen to lead the military, two men who swore off an Iran attack under any conditions. And this long before Gates was chosen as defense secretary and Mullen chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Their joint mantra throughout was that an attack on Iran “will result in unforeseen consequences.” Like failure?
So, Obama keeping that dynamic duo with their commitment to not confront Iran should have been an immediate sigh, recognized as a dead giveaway to American intentions. That he replaced them with ideological look-alikes in Panetta/Dempsey, is even today promoting Hagel, another politician with an aversion to confront Iran: What might it all mean?
Until Assad made a more or less graceful exit impossible America was already well into retreat from the region.
Iran is a regional problem, created and allowed to fester by the United States but still a problem demanding response. So long as the Arabs refuse to acknowledge Israel a necessary ally; so long as Israel refuses to accept that the US will not step in as defender of last resort: so long will Iran be a threat to every country in the region, from Turkey to Yemen, Egypt to Morocco.
An Israel-US Special Relationship has always been at the convenience of the (past) superpower. Israel cannot afford the luxury of Denial.