U.S. Not Rushing to War in Syria, Says White House Chief of Staff

June 17, 2013 - 5:35 AM

Syrian rebels

Syria rebels (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The United States is not rushing to war in Syria, President Obama's chief of staff said on Sunday. He was discussing President Obama's decision to arm the Syrian rebels, a topic that dominated the Sunday talk shows.

"We've rushed to war in this region until the past. We're not going to do it here," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough told CBS's "Face the Nation" with Bob Schieffer.

McDonough said the "Scope and scale" of U.S. assistance has been "robust" up to this point, and that assistance will now "expand."

"Why are we doing that?" McDonough asked. "We're doing that because we want to make sure that Syrians who want to take charge of their own country have the ability to do that."

Schieffer asked McDonough what the United States will do if other nations "try to put heavier weapons in there, like, say, anti-aircraft guns and things that might be turned against American people?"

McDonough said the Obama administration has undertaken "extensive efforts" to understand "who the opposition is."

"We have to be very discerning about what's in our interest and what the outcome -- what outcome is best for us and the prices that we're willing to pay to get to that place.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said he knows that some of the Syrian rebels are not friends of the United States, but he also believes that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must go:

"I do think it's imperative that Assad be removed," Chambliss told NBC's "Meet the Press" with David Gregory. "It's pretty obvious that he is pretty well entrenched now. He has gone to the extreme of letting Hezbollah have the run of Syria. That is simply not good. And while I know there are bad guys involved in the opposition rebels, we've done a pretty good job of ferreting out who are the good guys or who are the more moderate guys within that opposition, and I'm certain that's who the president is talking about providing arms to."

Asked if President Obama should do more than arm the Syrian rebels, Chambliss said a no-fly zone "may be the ultimate tactic that has to be taken."

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), appearing with Chambliss on NBC, said the ultimate goal in Syria is a political settlement. "We've got to tie up the unconventional and advanced conventional weapons over there. We've got to protect the Syrian people and, above all, we've got to make sure that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups don't take root in Syria."

Can't send a 'peashooter against a blunderbuss'

Udall's fellow Democrat, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said he agrees that the rebels need to be armed -- "the moderate elements of those rebels," he told CNN's "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley.

"Two years later we've come to know who they are. I think public intelligence sources have said that we've come to know who, in fact, we could ultimately arm.

"And the reality is, we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them. And the president's moving in the right direction. And, to a large degree, this is about whether or not we exert American leadership with our allies abroad, both in the Gulf Region and in Europe. A lot of what we might want to see done can be done through our allies, if we direct them and tell them this is where we want to head.

"But if Assad continues to have unlimited air power and artillery, that's a hard battle to win against, you know, simple arms."

Menendez said he favors giving "vetted moderate elements" of the Syrian rebels "the wherewithal" to force a political solution.

"You can't just simply send them a peashooter against a blunderbuss, at the end of the day, or else our vital national security interests -- you know, time is not on our side and our vital national security interests will not be pursued."

White House adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters on Friday that the United States has "relationships today in Syria that we didn't have six months ago that gives us great certainty, not just so we can get stuff into the country but also that we can put it in the right hands so that it's not falling into the hands of extremists."