Kerry distances himself from Clinton backing of arming Syrian rebels
February 8th, 2013
08:30 PM ET

Kerry distances himself from Clinton backing of arming Syrian rebels

By Jill Dougherty

The president's top diplomat said Friday he wasn't looking "backwards" at the White House quashing of a proposal last summer to arm the Syrian rebels, but was instead looking at what the United States will do regarding helping the opposition.

Last summer President Barack Obama's national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CIA Director David Petraeus, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, backed a proposal to provide weapons to Syrian rebels but, U.S. officials told CNN on Thursday, the White House blocked the idea.

That rift was unexpectedly revealed Thursday in testimony on Capitol Hill. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, asked Panetta and Dempsey: "Did you support the recommendation by Secretary of State - then-Secretary of State Clinton and then-head of CIA General Petraeus that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria? Do you support that?

Both Panetta and Dempsey said they supported the proposal, later revealing it was the president who opted not to provide lethal support.

"Obviously there were a number of factors that were involved here that ultimately led to the president's decision to make it nonlethal," Panetta said.

Asked Friday to comment on divisions in the administration over arming Syrian rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry refused to be drawn into the controversy.

"I'm not going to go backwards," he said. "I'm the new secretary of state and we're going forward from this point."

But, he added, "We are evaluating right now. We're taking a look at what steps, if any - diplomatic particularly - might be able to be taken in an effort to try to reduce that violence and deal with the situation."

For now,the White House seems to have shut the door on one idea that involved arming Syrian rebels vetted by CIA agents already on the ground in neighboring countries.

At his November 14 press conference, Obama presented the rationale that became the administration's mantra: "We have seen extremist elements insinuate themselves into the opposition, and one of the things that we have to be on guard about - particularly when we start talking about arming opposition figures - is that we're not indirectly putting arms in the hands of folks who would do Americans harm, or do Israelis harm, or otherwise engage in actions that are detrimental to our national security."

Frederic Hof, who was Obama's special adviser for Syria until last September, said Friday "It's more complicated than just 'arm the rebels.'"

Speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hof said there are "legitimate questions" about who would end up using the weapons, as well as about weapon proliferation. It's an "enormous challenge," he said, to "make sure the people we think ought to have arms get them; try to make sure the people we think should not have arms don't get them. This is easier said than done."

The administration is facing a dilemma, said Hof: "The thing it's really wrestling with here is that it has an objective: bring about a peaceful, managed transition." And yet all indications are that "the future of Syria - near-, mid-, long-term - is very likely going to be decisively influenced by men with weapons on the ground."

McCain, calling for arming the rebels, said, "The time to act is long overdue, but it is not too late."

It's not too late, Frederic Hof believes, but, "The United States will not have the luxury of standing aloof from what is happening in Syria, under any circumstances."

But with Syria rapidly turning into a failed state, he said, "One way or the other the United States - and I don't like the phrase - but one way or another the United States is going to be sucked into this."

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. playground equipment companies michigan

    best commercial playground equipment for preschoolers

    February 24, 2021 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  2. Beckie Granderson

    This website is really a walk-through for all the info you needed about this and didn’t know who to ask. Glimpse right here, and also you’ll positively discover it.

    February 23, 2021 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  3. Tracey Beckerdite

    Tomato ketchup was sold locally by farmers. A man named Jonas Yerks (or Yerkes) is believed to have been the first man to make tomato ketchup a national phenomenon. By 1837, he had produced and distributed the condiment nationally.[7] Shortly thereafter, other companies followed suit. F. & J. Heinz launched their tomato ketchup in 1876.'`.^

    http://www.picturesofherpes.coMy blog

    May 23, 2013 at 6:09 am | Reply
  4. Melody

    Anybody who wants to get involved in another country’s civil war should do two things:

    (1) Donate ALL of their own money and assets to help pay for the war.
    (2) Register themselves and ALL of their children and relatives to fight the war.

    If they can’t do it, they should STOP the drum beats to war, because we should STOP spending money $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ that we do NOT have on wars, and we should STOP sending American troops to kill people we don't know. There is something seriously wrong with McCain and ALL those people who want to perpetually getting Americans involved with Islamic War.

    Is it possible that Israelis are greasing up these people's pocketbooks????

    February 12, 2013 at 4:07 am | Reply
  5. Melody

    McCain, calling for arming the rebels, said, "The time to act is long overdue, but it is not too late."
    The time for Old McCain to retire is long overdue, but it is not too late for him to resign IMMEDIATELY before he gets Obama to send American troops to die for another country’s civil war – Frankly, I think McCain needs to see a mental health doctor regarding his Vietnam war PTSD. Why is he so eager to get Americans involved in wars? Is it possible that he thinks that he has some "unfinished" war to fight due to the fact that America pulled out of Vietnam before total victory is attained?

    Or, is the Military Industrial Complex War Machine is greasing him up?

    February 12, 2013 at 3:52 am | Reply
  6. khftuk hgs


    February 11, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  7. Bejamin

    Gun manufacturers keep pressing politicians to arm the opposition in Syria. They don't care if those same weapons will be used later to kill Americans. The same as they don't care if their weapons are used to kill inocent children in an elementary school. Greed is their only motivation. Not too often we have a president that cares more about our nation than about our gun manufacturers.

    February 10, 2013 at 11:57 pm | Reply
    • Ernierod

      Bejamin-Maybe people like you should look into the (history) concerning the rise of Adolf Hitler.You will see many of the tactics he used are being used by another leader of a country.Ineffective gun control laws-one way or another-leads to disarming of the masses. Crime will still be with us. "The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow
      the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all
      conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms
      have prepared their own downfall by so doing."
      Adolph Hitler. It didn't work out for the German people-did it.Do we learn from history or repeat it???

      February 11, 2013 at 7:12 am | Reply
  8. hifly3r

    I would not trust Kerry, Hillary, Obama, or any of these progressive, honor student, ivy-league know-it-alls to negotiate the price of a used car on my behalf. They will get rolled every time. Why do we entrust them with negotiating on behalf of our country? The problem is, they are so afraid of making a mistake, they will never accomplish anything. Not making a decison is a decision in iself, and it leaves you back on your heels, reacting to everything that happens in the world.

    February 10, 2013 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  9. larry5

    It won't take Kerry long to learn what his opinions are on subjects he will be dealing with. After all that's why he got the job.

    February 10, 2013 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  10. It's Over

    These things usually end up going badly. Look at all the regimes that we have backed who became our worst enemies once gaining power. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is often not so.

    February 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Reply
  11. Bruce fitzGerald

    Swiftboat Johnny doing what he does best...cut and run when things get tough. If you wanted Sgt. Schultz you should have appointed Him not this spineless coward.

    February 10, 2013 at 11:15 am | Reply
  12. Tamar

    Thank God that Hillary and Panetta are fired. They loved to get US involved in two or three more wars. I am happy that Obama for once showed to be in charge.

    February 10, 2013 at 8:49 am | Reply
    • Pete

      @Tamar,they weren't fired you ignorent fool..You wish it were they who wanted wars buts its your chickenhawking republicans,the ones who really ran from any military involvement themsves are the major cause for our overseas messes...Just ask Bushs the problems he caused overseas with his wars created with lies just as Eisenhower did getting us involved in Vietnam so he could get reelected..Republicans historicly have been the owners,creators of many of this countries conflicts so don't be so ignorent in trashing people like Hillary,Panetta who use diplomacy instead of military might..It's a lot cheaper showing intelligence over ignorence ,try reading some time you'll see how problematic your republican party have always been!!

      February 10, 2013 at 10:26 am | Reply
      • franklovesfl

        I have two words for you 'President' and 'Johnson'.

        February 11, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  13. andrea

    I am dissapointed in the obvious confusion regarding who the " bad guys" are in Syria. The Syrian government and army are waging war on its own people. The "rebels" are people fighting FOR the citizens. The government in Syria have been trying to put all of the blame on the rebels by blaming the killing of innocent people when, in fact these murders are being carried out by the Syrian army. They have been mostly unsuccesful in their efforts to pass the blame due in large part to camera phones and the internet. So how is it that some people who have taken the time to comment on this story STILL do not seem to understand basic knowledge about the conflict in Syria. It is frightening to see how easily some are influenced by the use of the word "rebel"or "insurgent". Sometimes it's the men in uniforms that are doing the most evil. God help the innocent in Syria.

    February 10, 2013 at 7:44 am | Reply
  14. jon

    Arming Syrian rebels so they can defend themselves from tyranny=good
    Allowing American's their second amendment to defend themselves from tyranny=bad

    February 10, 2013 at 2:44 am | Reply
  15. Matt cusumano

    It's a terrible idea to arm the insurgents in Syria. The are using terrorist tactics. Car bombing, suicide bombing, indiscriminate mortar fire on towns, and lots of be headings of those who refuse to join them. I can't believe the idea was ever even considered. Non lethal aid is a violation of the patriot act. We are supporting hard core terrorists in Syria. The rebels are Islamic extremists. Wherever they go, they set up Sharia law..anybody doubt that? Check it out..the towns they control, they immediately place under Sharia law, and the residents always flee. The refugees run from the rebels

    February 10, 2013 at 2:31 am | Reply
  16. Ken

    Thank God that McCain never became president.

    February 10, 2013 at 1:17 am | Reply
  17. helenecha

    Patient: I'd like to know my surgical operation will be successful.
    Doctor: Sure. But you need to get ready for accepting more operations.
    Patient: Why?
    Doctor: You're too old.

    February 10, 2013 at 12:33 am | Reply
  18. cacique

    No need to rush in even if it looks to be late in the game. The worst thing the USA can do is to help an old enemy gain control of a whole country from which to catapult well-organized attacks against us. Senator McCain should know better by now and stop thinking that "freedom" fighters sprout out from any desert rock. Instead, true and solid intelligence must be gathered before any help from our "bleeding heart" is committed.

    February 9, 2013 at 11:59 pm | Reply
  19. Re-posted With Intent To Educate John Kerry on South Asian Foreign Policy

    Kerry now needs to focus on Pakistani tyrants. The American war on terror in Afghanistan have brought them to the forefront, and proved how irrelevant they are when comes to killing al Qaeda terrorists. Their rag tag army continued to hid in the trenches working for Talibans, and fired on US/NATO forces at the Afghan boarder to create distraction for Taliban crooks. Pakistani tyrants have tucked away billions in military and non-military aids by US, and UK. Their Swiss bank accounts are swelling, while more than 2/3 of Pakistani population live on one meal a day. It's time poor Pakistanis unit against tyrants, and corrupt government officials and ship them to Middle East. Kerry needs to stay clear of Pakistani politician, and keep droning al Qaeda inside Pakistan.

    February 9, 2013 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  20. John the Historian

    We should be concerned about the dead in Syria and this horrible dictator. Don't understand why we can do a Libya II. Get the Russians to stop arming this dictator NOW.

    February 9, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Reply
    • Alex279

      Relax. Just elect McCain as president. Then see where US would be one year into his presidency.

      February 9, 2013 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  21. George Patton-2

    Since Hilary Clinton has proved herself to be a national disgrace by her support of our only too aggressive foreign policies, can anyone truly blame John Kerry for not following in her footsteps? Furthermore, we need to quit financing these so-called "rebels" in Syria as this is only prolonging that country's civil war bringing ever more misery to the Syrian people!!!

    February 9, 2013 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  22. Leopold B. Stotch

    Ketchup King replaces the Old Hag Queen. Outcome is the same. Failure.

    February 9, 2013 at 9:51 am | Reply
    • Pete

      @Leopold,just put McCain or any of your sanctumonious republicans in Kerrys place and see, what happen,Bingo another war from the mouths of babes!!And to a poster on another site commented about Bushs not knowing about 9/11,he did get info from the Clinton administrations security briefings but failed to follow up so you tell me after being told where terrorists might strike as well as when!!

      February 10, 2013 at 10:36 am | Reply
  23. empresstrudy

    This is why SecState does not matter. Obama is running the country alone with input from non cabinet personal advisers like Axelrod and Jarrett. Everyone else is a mouthpiece – the could replace every cabinet job with page on the White House website.

    February 9, 2013 at 9:50 am | Reply
  24. larry5

    Which side of the fight is Obama on? His problem is that he supports Islam for better or worse and there are Muslims on both sides. If Obama is going to continue to be an agent for the spread of Islam then he has to pick the winning side. If he arms the rebels and Russia arms Assad then all they've done is put more weapons in the hands of Muslims and the fight continues. It's time for Obama to step up to the plate and prove to the world that he can do something more useful than raise taxes and make speeches.

    February 9, 2013 at 9:23 am | Reply
  25. StanCalif

    Good for Obama! Past administrations have been too anxious and willing to send weapons to unreliable people. We have armed many who are now our enemy, we simply cannot repeat these mistakes over and over. I agree that the Syrian rebellion is a huge disaster, but we really don't know who all the "rebels" really are. I truly hope the US does not get drawn into this war. Our "solution" is always to call for elections! When there is no rule of law established, elections don't solve anything. Look at Egypt! Sure, a dictator was disposed of, but the holding of elections solved nothing! Countries such as Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia and others are not in anyway prepared for democratic governance. They actually NEED a dictator! Even the great nation of Russia has not established any governance that resembles democracy, it continues to be ruled by a dictator named Putin.
    Putin has kept his own people happy because he spends huge amounts of money rebuilding cities. His money comes from exporting cheap gas to Europe. Putin is in for a big surprise. New technology makes it possible for most of his "customers" to produce their own gas and stop buying Russian gas. What will he do when his customers no longer want his gas. He is already targeting Ukraine. He wants to take back Ukraine at any price. He will fail. Then what?

    February 9, 2013 at 9:22 am | Reply
  26. mojacar

    why does the whitehouse continue to try to convince us they havent already bee arming the terrorists?
    hardly a secret anymore

    February 9, 2013 at 8:44 am | Reply
  27. mf3

    Can this trigger happy grand dad retire? Please!

    February 9, 2013 at 7:56 am | Reply
  28. BringBackUSA

    It's understandable. Regardless... HILARY CLINTON 2016!!!!

    February 9, 2013 at 5:01 am | Reply
  29. Tembisa

    Reblogged this on World Chaos.

    February 8, 2013 at 8:46 pm | Reply

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.