The chief commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East testified this morning that any way the U.S. could assist in ending the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria, would be a devastating setback for its ally Iran. The testimony comes just a day after Senator John McCain called for U.S. airstrikes against Syria.
Spencer Ackerman, of Danger Room, reports on the details of the testimony of Marine Gen. James Mattis to the Senate Armed Services Committee today:
Marine Gen. James Mattis, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, didn’t come out and endorse U.S. intervention in Syria. But he did everything short of it, playing up the opportunity for the U.S. to bloody the nose of an Iranian proxy. Mattis told a Senate panel that knocking off dictator Bashar Assad would represent “the biggest strategic setback for Iran in 25 years.”
Mattis did however seem to indicate that U.S. intervention may not be necessary. From Jennifer Rizzo’s writeup of the hearing at CNN:
“He [Assad] will continue to employ heavier and heavier weapons on his people,” Mattis said. “I think it will get worse before it gets better.”Mattis said al-Assad will be in power “for some time” and is “clearly achieving what he wants to achieve.” Though later he said he has no doubt al-Assad will eventually fall, saying the question is “not if, but when.”
When Mattis said that it would be worthwhile to understand the motives and ambitions of the Syrian rebels before committing to help them topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime, Senator John McCain pushed back hard:
“Every time I’ve seen one of these crises the first answer is, ‘We don’t know who these people are and it could be al Qaeda,’ McCain said. “I’ve heard that (on) Egypt. I’ve heard that (on) Tunisia. I heard it (on) Libya.”
McCain concluded, “I suggest we find out who these people are, and I guarantee we will find out it’s not Al Qaeda.”
Overall, though Mattis continually stressed the link between Syria and Iran, and the potential upside of toppling the Syrian government.
“If we were to provide options, whatever they are, to hasten the fall of Assad,” Mattis testified, then as long as other nations were on board, “it would cause a great deal of concern and discontent in Tehran.”
Notably, Mattis did not endorse a bombing raid on Iran itself, either by the U.S. or Israel. Though Ackerman reports that he did go beyond the White House’ own statements to say that Iran was “enriching more uranium than they need for any peaceful purpose.”
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