By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 3, 2013 – The entire world is watching to see what the United States will do about the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime, and how America responds will make a difference, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told a Senate panel today.
Kerry, along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making the case for Congress to authorize the use of force against the regime of Bashar Assad.
“We’re here because against multiple warnings from the president of the United States, from the Congress, from our friends and allies around the world, and even from Russia and Iran, the Assad regime -- and only, undeniably, the Assad regime -- unleashed an outrageous chemical attack against its own citizens,” Kerry said. “We’re here because a dictator and his family’s personal enterprise, in their lust to hold onto power, were willing to infect the air of Damascus with a poison that killed innocent mothers and fathers and hundreds of their children, their lives all snuffed out by gas in the early morning of Aug. 21.”
There is no doubt that the Assad regime killed these people, the secretary of state added.
Kerry said he wants to avoid a comparison to the early days of the resolution that led to the Iraq War. The administration has “scrubbed and rescrubbed” the evidence, and “we can tell you beyond any reasonable doubt that our evidence proves the Assad regime prepared for this attack, issued instruction to prepare for this attack, [and] warned its own forces to use gas masks,” Kerry said.
Kerry stressed that the debate isn’t about a red line drawn by President Barack Obama, but a red line the world has drawn. “It’s about humanity’s red line,” Kerry said. “And it's a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw.”
The humanitarian considerations are important, but there are strategic national security interests at stake as well, Kerry said. The United States needs “to avoid the creation of a safe haven in Syria or a base of operations for extremists to use these weapons against our friends,” said he explained. Extremists on both sides could lay their hands on chemical weapons in Syria and use them outside the nation, he said.
“If nothing happens to begin to change the equation or the current calculation, that area can become even more so an area of ungoverned space where those extremists threaten even the United States and, more immediately, if they get their hands on those weapons, allies and friends of ours like Jordan, or Israel, or Lebanon, or others,” Kerry said.
Syria would regard America stepping away from a response as an invitation to use chemical weapons with impunity, Kerry told the Senate panel. “In creating impunity, we will be creating opportunity, the opportunity for other dictators and/or terrorists to pursue their own weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons,” he added.
Iran, North Korea and Hezbollah all want the United States to step away, Kerry said. “Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip for them to at least misinterpret our intention, if not to put it to the test,” he said. “Hezbollah is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries the day. They are all listening for our silence.”
Allies in the region – Jordan, Israel and Turkey – “look next door and see they are one stiff breeze away from the potential of being hurt, of their civilians being killed, as a consequence of choices Assad might take in the absence of action,” Kerry said.
There are limits to the resolution, the secretary of state emphasized, noting that Obama has said there will be no American boots on the ground.
“We have no intention of assuming responsibility for Syria’s civil war,” he said. “[The president] is asking only for the power to make clear, to make certain, that the United States means what we say, [and] that the world, when we join together in a multilateral statement, means what we say.”