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Dempsey: No Immediate Intervention in Syria Dempsey: No Immediate Intervention in Syria

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Dempsey: No Immediate Intervention in Syria

'It would be a big mistake to think of this as another Libya,' he says

Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

photo of Margot Sanger-Katz
February 19, 2012

It’s not in America’s interest to intervene in Syria right now, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said on Sunday on CNN.

Dempsey said that the Syrian conflict has become an arena in which many countries, including Turkey, Russia, and Iran, are demonstrating their influence. Who the U.S. would be helping if it tried to arm the country’s rebels would be uncertain, he said.

“There’s a number of players, all of whom are trying to reinforce their particular side,” he said on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS. “And until we are a lot clearer of who they are and what they are, I think it would be premature to talk about arming them.”

 

He also underlined how difficult it might be to intervene in the country, despite the ongoing conflict and humanitarian concerns there. The Syrian military has a capable air defense and access to chemical and biological weapons, Dempsey said.

“It would be a big mistake to think of this as another Libya,” he said.

Speaking in Kabul on Sunday, Senators John McCcain, R-Ariz., and Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. called upon the U.S. to help arm the Syrian rebels, according to The New York Times.

The Senators “laid out a series of diplomatic, humanitarian and military aid proposals that would put the United States squarely behind the effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad,” the Times said. McCain and Graham both sit on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Like Dempsey, the senators acknowledged that the Syrian conflict had become a kind of proxy war among international powers. But the Senators disagreed that the influence of other countries made intervention a poor choice for the United States.

“I believe there are ways to get weapons to the opposition without direct United States involvement,” McCain said, according to the Times. “The Iranians and the Russians are providing Bashar Assad with weapons. People that are being massacred deserve to have the ability to defend themselves.”

On Iran, Dempsey responded to mounting rumors that Israel might strike Iran’s nuclear facilities by urging the U.S. ally to hold off. Intervention right now would not be prudent, he said.

Dempsey said that he believed Israel would be capable of setting back Iran’s nuclear capabilities, even if it would not be able to knock out the entire program.  Nevertheless, Dempsey said he would not welcome such action, which could prompt retaliation against the U.S.

The Iranian regime has shown itself to be a “rational actor,” Dempsey said, suggesting that diplomacy and ongoing sanctions might work. Dempsey also said that the country’s intention to develop a nuclear weapon remains unclear.

“I think it is unclear, and on that basis, I think it would be premature to exclusively decide that the time for a military option was upon us,” he said.

Dempsey also addressed matters closer to home. Though Republicans have criticized President Obama for proposing cuts to the military in his budget request last week, Dempsey said that the president’s blueprint leaves the military with the resources it needs.

“Any strategy and any budget that supports any strategy has risks,” he said. “I think the risks to our strategy, and the risk that this budget may not deliver what we intend, are manageable.”

He continued: “I am confident it will protect our national interest and allow us to provide options to the nation when, by the way, we confront things we didn’t predict.”

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