WASHINGTON, March 7, 2012 — The Syrian regime will fall, and the United States will help to speed that day through political and diplomatic efforts, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Though now is not the time for U.S. military boots on the ground in Syria, Panetta said, the United States will continue to evaluate the situation there.
Syrian President Bashar Assad must stop his attacks on his own people, the secretary said, as Syrians try to follow in the footsteps of other Arab nations that have overthrown despots in the past year. Assad’s forces are indiscriminately murdering those opposed to the regime.
“He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately,” Panetta said.
The regime has lost whatever legitimacy it once had, and the situation demands an international response, the secretary said, noting that the United States has been leading efforts in the international community to pressure Assad to stop his violence against the Syrian people and step aside.
Panetta acknowledged that some say it is time for U.S. military intervention, while others worry that this would get the United States embroiled in another long-term commitment in the Middle East. Military action like the intervention in Libya is not a one-size-fits-all model, he said.
“Each situation — by virtue of the politics, geography, and history of each country — is unique, and demands a unique response,“Panettatold the Senate committee. “There can be no cookie-cutter approach for a region as complex and volatile as the Middle East.”
The secretary stressed that American response in the region is governed by three principles.
“First, we oppose the use of violence and repression by regimes against their own people,” he said. “Second, we have supported the exercise of universal human rights — which include the right to freedom of expression, the right of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the prohibition against discrimination, and the right to vote through genuine elections that express the will of the electorate. Third, we support political and economic reforms that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.”
These principles have shaped the American response to events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and now, Syria, he said.
The United States is forging an international consensus that the Assad regime’s brutality must end and that a democratic transition in Syria must begin, Panetta said. Russia and China have blocked the United Nations Security Council from taking action, but the U.N. General Assembly has supported the Arab League’s transition plan for Syria.
The United States is sending emergency humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people, with an initial commitment of $10 million, the secretary said. The United States is working with the Friends of Syria and other anti-Assad groups to help in strengthening the opposition. There currently is no effective opposition group that can handle a peaceful, orderly transition to a democratic government, Panetta told the senators.
“We are reviewing all possible additional steps that can be taken with our international partners to support efforts to protect the Syrian people, end the violence, and ensure regional stability, including potential military options if necessary,” he said.
Panetta emphasized that the problems in Syria have no easy solutions.
“We believe that the best resolution to this crisis will be a peaceful, political, democratic transition led by the Syrian people and along the lines suggested by the Arab League,” he said. “We believe there is still an opportunity to achieve that goal.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)