- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2012

Top Pentagon officials on Thursday said the U.S. policy on Syria would continue to rely on diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime while providing humanitarian and nonlethal support to the Syrian people.

“There is no silver bullet,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the House Armed Services Committee. “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.”

Mr. Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress, as 16 Western foreign ministers met in Paris to discuss Syria’s brutal crackdown on opposition.

The defense secretary outlined all the options the Obama administration is pursuing, which include backing a U.N.-brokered cease-fire, imposing economic sanctions, providing communications and medical equipment to the opposition, and giving $25 million in humanitarian aid to the Syrian people.

His comments echoed statements by the committee’s chairman and its ranking Democratic member.

Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon cited a lack of information about the Syrian opposition and Syria’s robust air defenses as reasons for limiting military options.

“I am not recommending U.S. military intervention, particularly in light of our grave budget situation, unless the national security threat was clear and present,” the California Republican said.

Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the committee’s ranking Democrat, agreed: “Any [military] action will require vastly more resources than Libya, would last much longer, and would have a vastly more complex and dangerous aftermath, and we do not have infinite resources.”

Syrian activist Ahed al-Hendi, who fled Syria more than four years ago, expressed skepticism that the U.S. does not know who the opposition groups in Syria are.

“I think it’s just an excuse not to act. They know about the Syrian opposition more than the Libyan one,” he told The Washington Times. “Moreover, the Syrian opposition is more liberal and secular.”

Mr. al-Hendi, who keeps in contact with Syrian dissidents, contested U.S. officials’ assertions there are nearly 100 opposition groups in Syria. “The opposition is united on one goal, which is a democratic Syria based on civil values, and the biggest umbrella [group] is the Syrian National Council,” he said.

In Paris, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called for the U.N. Security Council to adopt an arms embargo and other tough measures against Syria to reinforce existing Western embargoes if the country fails to abide by a cease-fire designed to end 13 months of bloodshed, the Associated Press reported.

Mrs. Clinton stopped short of calling for outside military intervention in Syria and acknowledged that Russia and China would likely veto any U.N. measure. But she insisted it is time to impose more consequential measures on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

“We have to keep Assad off balance by leaving options on the table,” she said at a Paris meeting of top Western and Arab diplomats from the so-called “Friends of Syria” group.

The U.N. estimates that more than 9,000 people have been killed in Syria during its uprising over the past 13 months.