Transcript: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s testimony on Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 3, 2013

Partial transcript of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s testimony on the use of military force against the Syrian government before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 3, 2013:

…As we all know in the coming days, Congress will debate how to respond to the most recent chemical weapons attack in Syria. Large-scale sarin gas assault perpetrated by the Syrian government against its own people.

As a former Senator and member of this committee, I welcome this debate, and I strongly support President Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria.

As each of us knows, committing the country using military force is the most difficult decision America’s leaders can make as Ranking Member [Bob] Corker noted.

All of those who are privileged to serve our nation have a responsibility to ask tough questions before that commitment is made.

The American people must be assured that their leaders are acting according to U.S. national interests with well-defined military objectives, with an understanding of the risks and the consequences involved.

The President, along with his entire national security team, asked those tough questions before we concluded that the United States should take military action against Syria because of what the Assad regime has done.

I want to address how we reached this decision by clarifying the U.S. interests at stake, our military objectives, and the risk of not acting at this critical juncture.

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 border, including Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.

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 in Syria supporting the Assad regime, would acquire it and would use it.

That risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends, our partners, and to U.S. personnel in the region.

We cannot afford for Hezbollah or any terrorist group determined to strike at the United States to have incentives to acquire or use chemical weapons.

The Syrian regime’s actions risk eroding the nearly century-old international norm against the use of chemical weapons, which Secretary [John] Kerry has noted. A norm that has helped protect the United States’ homeland and American forces operating across the globe from those terrible weapons.

Weakening this norm can embolden other regimes to acquire or use chemical weapons.

For example, North Korea maintains a massive stockpile of chemical weapons that threatens our treaty ally, the Republic of Korea, and the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed there. I just returned from Asia where I had a very serious and long conversation with South Korea’s defense minister about the threat – the real threat – that North Korea’s stockpile of chemical weapons presents to them.

Our allies throughout the world must be assured that the United States will fulfill its security commitments.

Given these threats to our national security, the United States must demonstrate through our actions that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.

The President has made clear that our military objectives in Syria would be to hold the Assad regime accountable, degrade its ability to carry out these kinds of attacks, and deter the regime from further use of chemical weapons.

The Department of Defense has developed military options to achieve these objectives, and we have positioned U.S. assets throughout the region to successfully execute this mission.

We believe we can achieve them with the military actions that would be limited in duration and scope.

Gen. Dempsey and I have assured the President that U.S. forces will be ready to act whenever the President gives the order.

We are also working with our allies, our partners. Key partners including France, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, friends of the region have assured us of their strong support of U.S. actions.

Defining our military objectives, we’ve made clear that we’re not seeking to resolve underlying conflicts in Syria through direct military force.

Instead, we are contemplating actions that are tailored to respond to the use of chemical weapons.

A political solution created by the Syrian people is the only way to end the violence in Syria.

With Secretary Kerry leading international efforts to help the parties in Syria move toward a negotiated transition – a transition that means a free and inclusive Syria.

We’re also committed to doing more to assist the Syrian opposition. But Assad must be held accountable for using these weapons in defiance of the international community.

Having defined America’s interests and our military objectives, we also must examine the risks and the consequences of action as well as the consequences of inaction.

There are always risks in taking action. The Assad regime under increasing pressure by the Syrian opposition could feel empowered to carry out even more devastating chemical weapons attacks without a response.

Chemical weapons make no distinction between combatants and innocent civilians and inflict the worst kind of indiscriminate suffering as we have recently seen.

A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitment, including the President’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The word of the United States must mean something. It is vital currency in foreign relations and international and allied commitments.

Every witness here today – Secretary Kerry, Gen. Dempsey and myself – have served in uniform, fought in war, and seen its ugly realities up close as has already been noted Sen. [John] McCain.

We understand that a country faces few decisions as grave as using military force. We are not unaware of the costs and ravages of war. But we also understand that America must protect its people and its national interests. That is our highest responsibility.

All of us who have the privilege and responsibility of serving this great nation owe the American people and especially those wearing the uniform of our country a vigorous debate on how America should respond to this horrific chemical weapons attack in Syria.

I know everyone on this committee agrees and takes their responsibility of office just as seriously as the President and everyone sitting at this table.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.



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2 Comments on “Transcript: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s testimony on Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 3, 2013

  1. Pingback: Syria: Chemical Weapons | What The Folly?!

  2. Pingback: Transcript: Secretary of State John Kerry's testimony on Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 3, 2013 | What The Folly?!

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