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Syria: Why Obama's previous Defense secretaries criticize his approach

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Nomaan Merchant/AP

(Read caption) Former US Secretaries of Defense Robert Gates (l.) and Leon Panetta, discuss their thoughts on Syria and other current affairs with CNN political analyst David Gergen (r.) at a forum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013. Gates and Panetta expressed their concerns about President Obama's decision last month to ask Congress for its support for military action against the Syrian regime.

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It’s a tough day for President Obama when his previous two Defense secretaries jointly criticize his approach to Syria.

But that’s what happened Tuesday evening in Dallas as Robert Gates and Leon Panetta expressed their concerns about Mr. Obama’s decision last month to ask Congress for its support for military action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The men did disagree, however, about whether military action is ultimately necessary, with Mr. Gates opposed and Mr. Panetta in favor.

“When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Panetta said during a panel discussion at Southern Methodist University.

He said Obama should not “subcontract” his decision to lawmakers. "Mr. President, this Congress has a hard time agreeing as to what the time of day is," he added.

Meanwhile, Gates said action “would be throwing gasoline on a very complex fire in the Middle East.”

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