Panetta says US ready on Syria if required
The Secretary of Defense insisted, however, that diplomacy was the best option.
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In a bipartisan response, House Republicans and Democrats echoed the military leaders' reluctance about using force. Many members of the committee had challenged President Barack Obama last year after Obama dispatched the military to protect Libyans under siege in Benghazi. The rebel effort, with the help of NATO forces, toppled the decades-long regime of strongman Moammar Gadhafi.Skip to next paragraph
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Lawmakers complained that Obama failed to get congressional approval for his actions against Libya. Several members of the panel pressed Panetta on whether Obama would seek congressional authorization for any military operation against Syria.
"We won't take any action without proper legal authority," Panetta said, adding that Obama would act based on his constitutional powers and the War Powers Act.
The leaders of the committee cautioned against military force against Syria, acknowledging that the conditions created by Damascus were not comparable to Libya, with a united opposition and a united international community.
"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," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., the committee's chairman. "Nevertheless, these reflections lead me to wonder what the United States can do to stem the violence and hasten President Assad from power."
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington State, the panel's ranking Democrat, said the United States should support the Syrian people "but we must be extremely cautious as we discuss the potential for the use of military force."
Their comments highlighted the split in Congress on military action. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential rival, along with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have been outspoken in calling for military airstrikes against Syria.
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"Changing the military balance inside Syria requires the United States, in close coordination with our Turkish, Arab and other allies, to provide the Syrian opposition with the help they are pleading for to defend themselves. This can include training and equipping the Syrian opposition with weapons, providing them with tactical intelligence, and using airpower to target Assad's command-and-control and help the Syrian opposition to create safe zones inside Syria," the three said in a statement.
McCain and Graham also were among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who introduced a resolution Thursday condemning the Syrian government for crimes against humanity and urging the president to collect information about such crimes to be used in an appropriate tribunal.
"If we bear witness today, justice will come closer for the Syrian people," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in introducing the resolution. "The president and government of Syria, its leaders, and senior officials who are responsible for crimes against humanity will be brought to account for such crimes."