The US defence secretary just gave a very telling answer to a question about Obama and Assad

RTX1JFBCREUTERS/Kevin LamarqueU.S. Secretary of Defence Ash Carter (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey testify during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on ‘Counter-ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) Strategy’ on Capitol Hill in Washington, United States, July 7, 2015.

At a Senate Arms Services Committee hearing on Tuesday, Republican presidential candidate and US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) asked Defence Secretary Ash Carter:

Who will leave office first: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or US President Barack Obama?

The Pentagon chief reportedly answered: “I hope Assad, but I don’t think so.”

Carter’s answer highlights the basic contradiction of the US policy regarding Assad: Over the last four years, the Obama administration has repeatedly said that Assad needs to step down — but has done very little to make that a reality.

“Are you actively discussing ways to remove [Assad] as a part of that political transition?” a journalist asked the president in November 2014.

“No,” Obama replied.

Carter’s response on Tuesday reflects the Obama administrations overall policy in Syria, which is solely focused on training Syrians to fight Islamic State militants while the Assad regime continues to
bomb, imprison, torture, and rape Syrian civilians en masse.

Obama has said that supporting nationalist rebels has “always been a fantasy” because the opposition of “former doctors, farmers, pharmacists, and so forth” was fighting “a well-armed state backed by Russia, backed by Iran, [and] a battle-hardened Hezbollah.”

ISIS oil mapTwitter/@KarybdamoidThe military situation in Syria as of June 2015.

Former administration officials have forcefully rebutted this characterization, arguing that Obama’s inaction allowed a vacuum to form that was filled by increasingly radical militant factions such as al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Fred Hof, a former special adviser for transition in Syria under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, highlighted that the commander in chief’s rationale “fails to mention the tens of thousands of Syrian Army officers and soldiers who abandoned the Assad regime rather than participate in that regime’s campaign of mass homicide.”

SyriaREUTERS/Abdalrhman IsmailCivil defence members and civilians search for survivors under the rubble of a site hit by what activists said were barrel bombs dropped by forces loyal to Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Aleppo, Syria June 21, 2015.

Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy has also detailed how there were “tens of thousands of defectors from the Syrian military, many of whom fled to neighbouring countries (some were put into a refugee camp in Turkey), while others stayed to fight as part of the overall [Free Syrian Army].”

The real problem, Tabler said, was that “as assistance didn’t arrive, the defectors became disheartened so not sure where they all are at the moment.”

Hof noted that the recommendation to arm to the moderate opposition early during the war was offered in some form not only by Clinton, “but by Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta, CIA Director David Petraeus, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey.”

Critics have argued that the Obama administration’s determination to secure a nuclear deal with Iran most likely informed its decision to refrain from intervening in the Syrian civil war.

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