“Senator, somehow you’ve got me portrayed as the – you know, the one who’s holding back from our use of military force inside Syria,” he said. That decision, he noted, belongs to President Obama.
McCain had been advocating for the establishment of a no-fly zone, while Dempsey cautioned that the cost of such a move would be considerable – averaging as much as $1 billion per month – and likely have only a limited impact on violence in the country, since most of the civilian casualties are being caused by mortars, artillery, and missiles.
But with the recent increased confidence in the White House that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his people, the calculus has changed for many in Washington.
According to an intelligence report, the Syrians have more than 1,000 tons of chemical agents and precursor chemicals, and several hundred tons of sarin, which represents the bulk of Mr. Assad’s arsenal.
The regime also reportedly has the missile capability of delivering these chemical weapons to neighbors in Israel, Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq, Sen. Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois noted in a Senate Foreign Relations Hearing Tuesday.
Dempsey confirmed this information, saying it “very closely matches” the Pentagon’s assessment.
The guidance that Mr. Obama has now given to his military planners is to design an intervention plan with “a collateral damage estimate of low,” meaning to kill as few civilians as possible, Dempsey said.
These assessments will be “based on how much we know about a target through intelligence, its proximity to civilian structures, and weapons effects as we decide what weapon” to use, he added.