By Mike Mount
The United States military is continuing to plan for various military options for Syria, but U.S. and international diplomatic efforts will remain the primary effort to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his government to step aside, the top Pentagon leadership told a congressional panel on Thursday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey told members of the House Armed Service Committee there would be no unilateral military action in Syria and there would have to be an international consensus for the United States to play a part in any military operations against the Syrian government.
"There is no silver bullet," Panetta told the congressional panel. "We also know that the complex problems in Syria cannot all be solved through the unilateral actions of the United States, or any other country. They demand a coordinated international response that is uniquely tailored to the situation," he said.
While diplomatic efforts continue, the U.S. military has been providing "information and intelligence with regional partners," Dempsey said. The U.S. government is also providing assistance to the opposition with nonlethal support, including communications and medical equipment as well as providing $25 million in emergency humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, according to Panetta.
Panetta said that sanctions and targeting of the central bank of Syria were also working. "The result is that 30% of the regime's lost revenues have occurred as a result of those sanctions. The U.S. and the E.U. have imposed a strong oil embargo. The exchange rate has depreciated by more than 50% and their GDP has been in a serious decline, approaching almost a minus 8% in 2011 and more now," Panetta said.
The two were on Capitol Hill to update the committee on the security situation in Syria, where congressional members remained split on whether the United States should assist the Syrian people.
"There is much we do not know about the Syrian opposition," said Rep. Howard McKeon, R-California, the chairman of the committee. "Therefore, I am not recommending U.S. military intervention, particularly in the light of our grave budget situation, unless the national security threat was clear and present," he said.
But the ranking Democrat on the panel, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, said the United States and other nations should support the Syrian opposition, but the United States should also be extremely cautious when discussing the use of military force.
Both the top U.S. military leaders repeated to the panel they were confident al-Assad and his regime would eventually fall. Neither one, however, offered a timetable of when they thought that could be, because of the complexities involved inside Syria.
One example of these complexities is the continued support of al-Assad by his military. The United States has said one of the keys to the regime collapsing would be major defections by the military. But what is actually happening inside the Syrian military ranks is not following that pattern.
"Part of the problem here is that Assad still seems to maintain the loyalty of the military even though there have been significant defections, that the military still seems loyal and they continue to strike back at the Syrian people," Panetta said.
In a further attempt to explain why Libya was less complex than the Syrian situation in terms of using NATO to help push the regime out, Panetta was succinct.
"This is not Libya," Panetta said. "In Libya, there was widespread international support in the Arab world and elsewhere, and a clear Security Council authorization for military intervention, and NATO was authorized to act on that. No such consensus currently exists regarding Syria."