Gen. Dempsey Favors Building “Moderate Opposition” in Syria

By:  Warren Mass
Gen. Dempsey Favors Building “Moderate Opposition” in Syria

In an appearance before a reconfirmation hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 18, Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he favors a U.S. role in “building a moderate opposition” against the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

A report on the hearing in the U.K. Telegraph quoted Dempsey’s statement that President Obama had asked him whether the United States “could,” but not whether it “should,” stage a military intervention in Syria. The “issue is under deliberation inside of our agencies of government,” said Dempsey.

Dempsey, the Army’s highest ranking general, told the Senate hearing that under current conditions, he believed that Assad would still be in power in a year's time, observing: “Currently the tide seems to have shifted in his favor.”

Also appearing at the hearing was Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James Winnefeld. Both Dempsey and Winnefeld have been nominated by the White House for a second two-year term in their positions — nominations that require Senate confirmation.

During the hearing, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican candidate for president, was especially strident in his grilling of Dempsey, as the two exchanged remarks in debate-like fashion. Bloomberg news cited Brian Rogers, McCain’s communications director, as stating that McCain plans to hold up Dempsey’s confirmation until he gets satisfactory answers.

“You testified this February you had advised the president to arm vetted units of the Syrian opposition,” said McCain. “In April, you testified you no longer supported the position. Now we read in published reports that the administration has decided to arm the Syrian opposition units. How do we account for those pirouettes?”

“I wouldn't accept the term pirouettes, sir,” Dempsey replied. “We have adapted our approach based on what we know of the opposition and if you recall, at the beginning of the year, there was a period where it was pretty evident that the extremist groups were prevailing inside the opposition."

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Photo of General Martin Dempsey before Senate Armed Services Committee: AP Images

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