Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said Sunday in an interview with CBS News that the absolute worst-case scenario for U.S. foreign policy interests is currently unfolding in Syria.
In an interview with CBS News’ Margaret Brennan, former Obama Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the worst-case scenario in Syria is that “Assad continues to remain in power, continues to kill Syrians. That refugees continue to flow out of Syria, that the Russians continue to have a presence there and continue to attack our moderate forces that we’re trying to train in Syria. And that ISIS then uses that and creates an even bigger base from which to conduct attacks against this country.”
Panetta then immediately added that not only is the above scenario “what’s happening now,” but that this scenario will continue to play out unless the Obama administration switches its foreign policy.
Part of the switch will likely entail sending additional special forces past the current number of 300 operators, in order to mobilize moderate forces on the ground. The goal of mobilizing moderate forces is take out the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and also to obliterate the Islamic State. Apart from special forces deployments, Panetta thinks the U.S. Air Force will have to step up its airstrikes.
The U.S. will need to challenge Assad, ISIS and the Russians, as well.
“We are hoping upon hope that the Russians will do the right thing. They’re not gonna do the right thing without pressure,” Panetta said. “They’re not gonna do the right thing without giving our diplomats greater leverage than what they have now to deal with the Russians. To do that we have got to make very clear that we have objectives to achieve, that we intend to press to achieve those objectives, and that we will not allow them to divert us from the goals of defending ourselves.”
The Obama administration is forwarding an agreement with the Russians in Syria to share information on targets, but it’s unclear whether Panetta considers that genuine progress in gaining leverage over Moscow. Pentagon officials are incredibly wary of the agreement and don’t trust the Russians not to spin the arrangement to their advantage. GOP Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have panned the arrangement as “delusional” and described Secretary of State John Kerry’s approach to Russian President Vladimir Putin as “groveling.”
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