‘US Syrian policy confused and contradictory’

US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said that President Assad should “get the hell out” of power. Statements such as these, however, are symptomatic of a confused and contradictory foreign policy on Syria, expert Lawrence Freeman told RT.

Panetta, currently on tour of the Middle East, said in a CNN interview that the US is ramping up economic and diplomatic pressure “to have Assad step down and to transition to a democratic form of government." At the same time, the US Defense Secretary noted that it would be "important to maintain as much military and police” as possible after Assad leaves.  

Lawrence Freeman, editor of Executive Intelligence Review magazine, believes Panetta’s statements indicate that Washington lacks a comprehensive policy in Syria, making it all the more the possible that the war could spill over and grasp the entire region.  

RT: Is it too early to suggest that Assad’s days are numbered?

Lawrence Freeman: Absolutely. What you have in the United States is, you really have a conflict between two policies. On the one hand, you have Susan Rice, Samantha Powers, President Obama in a very aggressive, regime change mode to get rid of the President of Syria. On the other hand, if you look at General Dempsey’s comments, he continues to say that this is not the right moment for the military to intervene, that we need to have diplomacy; we need to find other ways to resolve the crisis. So Secretary of Defense Panetta is effectively being affected by this Susan Rice-led regime change faction, and his statements today are counterproductive to the future development of Syria.

RT: Do Panetta’s recent statements sound more like military threats?

LF: It certainly is a threat. If you look at what he is saying, it's paradoxical because he is saying we have to keep the Baath military in check and in power when President Bashar al-Assad is removed. But yet, the US is supporting absolute chaos and destruction on the ground. So there’s not going to be any stability. It’s been publicized that al-Qaeda is very aggressive in the Syrian opposition. And in fact al-Qaeda wants an Iraqi-Syrian Sunni al-Qaeda force to take on the Shia. So this is going to cause massive chaos and destruction in the country, and yet Secretary Panetta says, ‘no, let’s try to keep the military in force to not repeat the stupid mistake we made in Iraq.’ But it shows you that there’s no forward policy coming from the US to help this situation.

RT: So the US is accusing the military of massacring its own people, along with the aggressions committed by al-Qaeda?

LF: Exactly. It’s a confused, contradictory policy. I don’t think Panetta himself has a policy. I think you’ve got this regime change faction, and the real concern we should all have is the bigger question, which is that Russia, in particular, has said that it will not allow a regime change. If Susan Rice and others decide to bypass the UN, it would a violation of the UN Charter itself, and therefore they will defend the notion of sovereignty beyond Syria, and this could bring us to the danger of war. President Putin has remained absolutely steadfast for several months on the danger of war if Syria and other countries' sovereignty is violated.

RT: How realistic is it to avoid repeating the mistakes of the Iraq war in post-Assad Syria?

LF:  In the Iraq war, Paul Bremmer went in and disbanded the Baath party and military. This was the stupidest move one could make, and it caused years of chaos. How can you say that we can get rid of the president and the government, and yet keep the military intact and have al-Qaeda as our major allies in the streets. And yet al-Qaeda is supposed to be our number one enemy since 9/11. What you really have is Saudi Arabia and other countries funding not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but the more extreme Salafists and al-Qaeda. That is a force that we, in the United States, stupidly align ourselves with. So you couldn’t ask for a more confused and silly policy, except that it brings about the danger of war, which makes it very serious and not so silly.