By Barbara Starr and Jamie Crawford
After weeks of collecting intelligence on Syria and watching the attacks by the forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad, the U.S. sees "no fracturing" of the Syrian regime and assesses al-Assad could remain in power for some time to come if the situation does not change, according to a senior U.S. official.
This the basic conclusion of top officials closely watching Syria, the official said. Unless something changes in the next several days, this will also be the message delivered to the Senate Armed Services Committee next week by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The hearing, called for Wednesday, is the first public hearing in which both men will be publicly questioned by Congress on the Syrian crisis.
Sen. John McCain, the senior Republican on the committee, has already called for arming rebel forces, something the defense secretary expects to be asked about, according to the official. The issue of U.S. military planning for options in Syria is also expected to arise, but officials say the secretary and the general may not be able to offer many specifics in an open session before the public.
Instead, they are likely to talk more about the current situation in Syria and how the U.S. views the al-Assad regime.
By CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jill Dougherty
Overcoming initial opposition to his appointment, Robert Ford has won unanimous confirmation by the Senate as U.S. ambassador to Syria.
President Barack Obama named Ford to the post at the end of last year as an interim appointment over Republican protest. Some Republicans argued that sending an ambassador back to Syria after a five-year absence would send the message that the United States was conferring legitimacy on the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
At his post in Syria, however, Ford has been an active supporter of the Syrian opposition and a vocal critic of the regime's brutal crackdown on protests. He has traveled to cities in Syria where the opposition has been under attack. He himself has been pelted with tomatoes and followed by pro-government supporters.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Senate Armed Services Committee could be forgiven had Tuesday's confirmation hearing for Gen. Martin Dempsey gone very quickly. Dempsey is President Obama's nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but he just went through a confirmation hearing four and a half months ago when he was nominated to be the Army Chief of Staff.
But this hearing provided an opportunity for Senators to discuss the issue that has dominated the hill for weeks; budget cuts.
"What concerns me most about our current debate is that the defense cuts being discussed have little or no strategic or military rationale to support them," Republican Senator John McCain said. "Our national defense planning and spending must be driven by considered strategy not arbitrary arithmetic."
Across the aisle, Senator Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the committee said "the fiscal realities that confront the nation will put tremendous pressures on the Defense Department's budget. Those fiscal realities require us, when considering defense planning and programs, to take into consideration historic budgetary constraints."
Two leading voices in the Senate on foreign policy continued their criticism of President Barack Obama’s plan to withdraw roughly 30,000 American troops from Afghanistan over the next 14 months.
Republican Sen. John McCain, speaking from Kabul, Afghanistan, said Sunday the president’s plan creates an “unnecessary risk” in the region.
“What I have seen and heard here, both from Afghans as well as a number of Americans, is that it is an unnecessary risk, it’s not recommended by any of the military,” McCain said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I hope that it will work out, but it certainly deprives us of the necessary troops that we need for the second fighting season.”