Dempsey: Securing Syria’s Chemical Weapons Is “˜Feasible’

Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
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Stephanie Gaskell, Defense One
Sept. 19, 2013, 6:02 a.m.

Part of the deal that avoided a U.S.-led mil­it­ary strike against the As­sad re­gime for the use of chem­ic­al weapons was an agree­ment to se­cure or des­troy Syr­ia’s stock­pile — something that many say will be nearly im­possible to do in the midst of a civil war. But on Wed­nes­day, Joint Chiefs Chair­man Gen. Mar­tin De­mp­sey said that it’s ‘feas­ible.’

“It’s a very chal­len­ging en­vir­on­ment,” De­mp­sey said dur­ing a press brief­ing at the Pentagon with De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel. “In­dic­at­ors are at this point, though, that the re­gime does have con­trol of its stock­pile. And so long as they agree to the frame­work which causes them to be re­spons­ible for the se­cur­ity, the move­ment, the pro­tec­tion of the in­vest­ig­at­ors or the in­spect­ors, then I think that the an­swer to your ques­tion is, it is feas­ible, but we’ve got to make sure we keep our eye on all of those things.”

The U.S. mil­it­ary is provid­ing some plan­ning as­sist­ance to the Or­gan­iz­a­tion for the Pre­ven­tion of Chem­ic­al Weapons, which is the lead agency in charge of se­cur­ing, des­troy­ing or mov­ing Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons.

“The frame­work calls for it to be con­trolled, des­troyed, or moved, and I think, in some com­bin­a­tion … it is feas­ible. But those de­tails will have to be worked by the OP­CW,” De­mp­sey said.

De­mp­sey and Hagel both brushed off cri­ti­cism from former De­fense Sec­ret­ar­ies Robert Gates and Le­on Pan­etta, who dif­fer on wheth­er to launch a mil­it­ary strike against Syr­ia for us­ing chem­ic­al weapons but agree that Pres­id­ent Obama should not have con­sul­ted Con­gress first. The two spoke at a for­um Tues­day night at South­ern Meth­od­ist Uni­versity in Dal­las.

“It would weak­en him” if Con­gress voted no, Gates said. “It would weak­en our coun­try. It would weak­en us in the eyes of our al­lies, as well as our ad­versar­ies around the world.” Pan­etta agreed and poin­ted out that “Ir­an is pay­ing very close at­ten­tion to what we’re do­ing. There’s no ques­tion in my mind they’re look­ing at the situ­ation, and what they are see­ing right now is an ele­ment of weak­ness.” But he went a step fur­ther say­ing Obama should haven’t “sub­con­trac­ted” the de­cision to strike to Con­gress. “Mr. Pres­id­ent, this Con­gress has a hard time agree­ing as to what the time of day is,” Pan­etta said.

Still, the two former de­fense sec­ret­ar­ies do not agree on what course of ac­tion to take in Syr­ia. Gates, who fam­ously said that any mil­it­ary lead­er who ever launches an­oth­er large-scale ground war “should have his head ex­amined,” said Obama’s plan to “blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple days, to un­der­score or val­id­ate a point or a prin­ciple, is not a strategy.” Gates said if the U.S. launches a mil­it­ary at­tack against Syr­ia, “in the eyes of a lot of people we be­come the vil­lain in­stead of As­sad.”

“Haven’t Ir­aq, Afgh­anistan and Libya taught us something about the un­in­ten­ded con­sequences of mil­it­ary ac­tion once it’s launched?” he said.

But Pan­etta said “when the pres­id­ent of the United States draws a red line, the cred­ib­il­ity of this coun­try is de­pend­ent on him back­ing up his word.” Once Obama de­cided to at­tack Syr­ia for us­ing chem­ic­al weapons, “then he should have dir­ec­ted lim­ited ac­tion, go­ing after As­sad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word … we back it up.”

Hagel said his pre­de­cessors have a right to their opin­ion, but “ob­vi­ously I don’t agree with their per­spect­ives. And I again un­der­stand what they’re say­ing, but as I have said a num­ber of times in the last two weeks on Cap­it­ol Hill, I was part of the de­cision and the pro­cess that led up to the pres­id­ent’s de­cision. I sup­port those de­cisions.”

In the mean­time, De­mp­sey said the U.S. mil­it­ary would “main­tain the cred­ible threat of force [against Syr­ia] should the dip­lo­mat­ic track fail.”

Re­prin­ted with per­mis­sion from De­fense One. The ori­gin­al story can be found here.

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