Washington Bureau

09.11.13

Levin: Kerry’s Statements on Syria ‘Unhelpful’

Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is not happy with John Kerry.

Secretary of State John Kerry, along with other administration officials, has been making statements on the Syria crisis that are “unhelpful” and have muddied President Obama’s case for a strike, according to Democratic Senate Armed Services chairman Carl Levin.

President Obama himself is not responsible for the confusion over his Syria policy and the various explanations of how significant the strike he is planning against Bashar al-Assad would be, according to Levin. The Michigan senator said that several staffers, including Kerry and Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken, have said things that have confused and hurt the president’s case, he said.

“There are a number of things that have been said that are not helpful at all, including some by Kerry,” Levin said,

For example, Kerry stated in a London press conference last week that the strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small,” a statement that seemed to contradict briefings Levin attended as well as statements by other officials that the point of the strikes would be to deter Syria from using chemical weapons and degrade their capability to do so.

“I admire people who can reconcile [these statements],” Levin said. “I think Kerry was probably talking about the length of time being short rather than the effect, which will not be small. The president, when he said we don’t do pinpricks, was right. Dempsey was right. That’s the best I can do to reconcile” Kerry’s statements.

Blinken said last weekend that it was neither the president’s desire nor his intention to use his authority without congressional backing, which Levin said removed some of the pressure of the threat of force.

Levin also thought the president erred by claiming there was a “direct” security interest for the United States in Syria. “I believe we have a security interest. I wouldn’t use direct or indirect,” the Michigan senator said.

Levin also weighed on a potential political resolution to the Syria crisis as well. President Obama announced Tuesday evening that he asked Congress to delay a vote on authorizing the use of force in Syria in order to pursue a new diplomatic path with Russia centered around placing the Assad regime's chemical weapons stockpiles under international control. Secretary of State John Kerry is on his way to Geneva to discuss the new effort with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and representatives of all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council will meet Wednesday to discuss the issue of placing Syria chemical weapons under international control.

The United Nations Security Council resolution currently being debated between the United States and Russia must address how the international community would actually take control of Assad’s stockpile, Levin said. Many reports have pointed out that the logistics of setting up such a weapons control regime and verifying Syria’s compliance are difficult.

“Those details—how do you verify, how do you implement—those all have to be part of a political resolution,” said Levin. ”You have to lay out in a U.N. resolution who will verify, who will implement … “There are some things that you won’t be able to address in a U.N. resolution, including the security environment.”

Levin is part of a group of senior senators working to revise the congressional resolution on the use of force that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved narrowly last week. He said the new resolution will include language linking authorization directly to the discussions with the Russia. The Michigan senator also endorsed Obama’s claim that the current possibility of a new diplomatic breakthrough was only possible because of the threat of American military intervention in Syria.

“The prospects for something like this getting a positive vote are better than they were for the previous resolution,” Levin said, adding that he wasn’t sure even a recrafted resolution would pass. “The best time to vote is when it can win.”