WASHINGTON, September 18 (RIA Novosti) – Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates did not mince words this week when asked if he trusts Russian President Vladimir Putin as Washington and Moscow negotiate a plan to secure Syria’s chemical stockpiles.
“Are you kidding me?” Gates told a forum in Dallas on Tuesday evening, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
Gates spoke alongside fellow former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta at the forum, where both men questioned US President Barack Obama’s response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Gates and Panetta, who both served as US defense secretary under Obama, said they would not have advised Obama to seek Congressional approval for a punitive military strike against Syria in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that Washington blames on Assad, according to the AP.
But the two men differed on the wisdom of intervention in the civil war, with Gates saying US military action in Syria would be like “throwing gasoline on an extremely complex fire in the Middle East.”
“Haven’t Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya taught us something about the unintended consequences of military action once it’s launched?” Gates asked, The New York Times reported.
Panetta, meanwhile, said Obama should have backed up his words with force and launched military strikes after the White House concluded that Assad had crossed a “red line” by using chemical weapons.
“Once the president came to that conclusion, then he should have directed limited action, going after Assad, to make very clear to the world that when we draw a line and we give our word,” then “we back it up,” Panetta said, the Times reported.
Gates was appointed secretary of defense by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, and remained in his post under Obama, who replaced him in 2011 with Panetta, who was serving as head of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Gates took issue with Panetta’s position that military force was necessary to enforce Obama’s “red line” on Syria’s chemical weapons.
“I believe to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple of days to underscore or validate a point or principle is not a strategy,” Gates was quoted by the AP as saying.
Washington and Moscow on Saturday announced an ambitious plan to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control for eventual destruction, but the two sides remain at loggerheads over how to enforce the agreement should Damascus fail to comply.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia would soon submit to the United Nations findings indicating that Syrian rebels had used chemical weapons during the conflict.
Gates said at Tuesday’s forum that he doubts whether Putin is sincere in Moscow’s efforts to hammer out a deal with Washington over Syria and that he is skeptical that Assad’s government will disarm, the Times reported.