Kerry and Hagel testify on Syria before Senate committee 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
President Barack Obama's national security team made their case publicly on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, arguing in front of sympathetic senators why an attack on Bashar Assad's regime in Syria is both a moral and strategic imperative.
Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, opened the hearing with an endorsement of the resolution, calling it "not a declaration of war but a declaration of our values to the world."
The hearing was the first of its kind, considering the merits of authorizing the use of force, in over a decade.
"There are risks to action, but the consequences of inaction are greater and graver still: further humanitarian disaster in Syria; regional instability; the loss of American credibility around the world; an emboldened Iran and North Korea; and the disintegration of international law," Menendez said.Crisis in Syria - full JPost.com coverage
Ranking member of the committee Bob Corker said he is inclined to support the resolution, but hopes the White House will reinforce military support to moderate opposition forces.
"I know that people in the region are watching," he said, charging that America's credibility is on the line.
Secretary of State John Kerry-- who previously chaired the committee during his time in the Senate-- acknowledged the weight of the vote now imposed on his former colleagues.
"This debate is about the world's red line. It's about humanity's red line," Kerry said. "And it's about Congress' own red line."
"Only two tyrants dared to cross the world's brightest line," Kerry added. "Now Bashar Assad has become the third."
Kerry cited the Nuremberg trials and Hitler's atrocities, charging that "never means never" when the US says "never again."
He said the US cannot send a message that its government has turned inward since Iraq.
"Iran is hoping you look the other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip," he said. "Hezbollah is hoping isolationism will prevail."
A protestor answered Kerry's charge, saying that "nobody wants this war," mentioning the stances of Ban Ki-moon and Pope Francis.
"When someone kills hundreds of children with a weapon the world has banned, we are all responsible," Kerry said.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that the borders of Israel, Jordan and Turkey are "directly" threatened by an increasingly desperate Assad.
"We've made clear we're not seeking to resolve the underlying conflict in Syria with military force," Hagel said, vowing an operation "limited in duration and scope."
"We also must examine the risks and consequences of action, as well as the risks and consequences of inaction," he said, noting that the word of the United States is "vital currency" in world affairs.
"Chemical weapons make no distinction between combatants and innocent civilians," Hagel said.