Risky Business

Hagel: America Can’t Let Hezbollah Get Chemical Weapons

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The United States should strike Syria to prevent Hezbollah and other terrorist groups from getting their hands on chemical weapons, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify today.

“As President Obama said, the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only an assault on humanity—it is a serious threat to America’s national security interests and those of our closest allies. The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons poses grave risks to our friends and partners along Syria’s borders—including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq,” Hagel will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this afternoon, according to a copy of his prepared remarks obtained in advance by The Daily Beast. “If Assad is prepared to use chemical weapons against his own people, we have to be concerned that terrorist groups like Hezbollah, which has forces inside Syria supporting the Assad regime, could acquire them."

Hagel will argue that the risk of chemical weapons falling into the hands of terrorists is one more reason that America must use military force to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

“This risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends and partners, and to U.S. personnel in the region,” Hagel will say. “We cannot afford for Hezbollah or any other terrorist group determined to strike the United States to have incentives to acquire or use chemical weapons.”

North Korea also has a large stockpile of chemical weapons and must not be given any incentive to use them as well, Hagel will say.

“The Syrian regime’s actions risk eroding the nearly century-old international norm against the use of chemical weapons—a norm that has helped protect the United States homeland and American forces operating across the globe from these terrible weapons,” Hagel’s remarks state. “Weakening this norm could embolden other regimes to acquire or use chemical weapons.”

Hagel is set to testify with Secretary of State John Kerry and Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey as part of the congressional consideration to authorize President Obama to use military force in Syria. Hagel will refer to the August 21 attacks in the Damascus suburbs as “a large scale, and heinous, sarin gas assault perpetrated by the Syrian government against its own people.”

He will testify that the U.S. military can achieve the goals of Obama’s proposed Syria intervention—to punish, deter, and degrade the Assad regime’s ability to use chemical weapons—with a military mission that is limited in duration and scope. Congress is working now behind the scenes to add restrictions on the duration and scope of the Syria intervention to the president’s authorization to use military force.

“In defining our military objectives, we have made clear that we are not seeking to resolve the underlying conflict in Syria through direct military force,” Hagel will testify.