Senate Holds Hearing on Potential Strike on Syrian Targets

John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, Gen. Dempsey answer senators' questions on potential action against Syria.
59:36 | 09/03/13

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Transcript for Senate Holds Hearing on Potential Strike on Syrian Targets
This is a special room. Report from ABC news. Look when I'm downtown for a New York with a CBC news digital special room. -- for the first time since President Obama publicly ask congress to authorize strikes in Syria. High ranking senators will question in public State Department and military leaders. Secretary of defense Chuck Hagel and -- you see -- secretary of state John Kerry making their way in along with Martin Dempsey the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. All of in this room this afternoon pushing. For military intervention and this was the scene just a short time ago. Some protesters being taken out before that hearing to get under way. And before that hearing that's -- wanna go now from the senate ABC news senior Washington correspondent Jeff sunny joining me now Jeff. Good afternoon to you senator's gonna room today who are either opposing action or who possibly may be on the fence. What is their main concern about the president's for. Mosul. -- -- -- their main concern is that they feel the White House and the president have not. Yet fully articulated why a military strike would be necessary. And we're talking from Democrats and Republicans here as well so what this hearing is today is really the first in a series of hearings we'll hear all week -- senators will have the opportunity. To ask questions of secretary of state John Kerry Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and they would probably will not focus on. Specifically -- chemical weapons used in Syria but. Instead of what type of and strike what type how limited will it be of a strike against a -- but there's been many developments on this. A story today house speaker John Boehner came out this morning in support of this so -- Republicans on the house that are -- but the senate here this afternoon some key questions that need to be answered. And certainly they will be it is of those answers and we're listening to senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey who make it's and the opening statements -- and you can see occasion. The secretary of -- secretary of defense and the chairman of charges of -- all the floor in the presiding committee sent there. Let's listen in -- they would that's good you have a couple of things went to talk to about the just as sure a couple of moments are gonna play out in this hearing. Violation of the committee rules. Let me welcome secretary Kerry. Back to the committee that he chaired secretary cable and a committee that he served on. And the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff general Dempsey to the committee. We convene this hearing as we have convened and many before. To make one of the most difficult decisions we're -- and -- to make. The authorization of the use of American military power. This time in Syria to respond to the horrific chemical attack of August 21. That took the lives of 1429. Syrians. Including. At least 426. Children. The images of that day for sickening. And in my view the -- could not ignore the inhumanity. And Behar of this act. I do not take our responsibility to authorize military force lightly. Or make such decisions easily. I voted against the war in Iraq. And strongly have supported a withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. But today I support the president's decision to use military force in the face of this horrific crime against humanity. Yes there are risks to action. But the consequences of inaction. Are greater and graver still. Further humanitarian disaster in Syria. Regional instability. The loss of American credibility. And around -- senator Menendez has begun hearing we of course and we'll listen in and did back in relation to some of the dialogue as those questions. Against the starts on the first here in black jets on a want to bring you back into this. Obviously getting congressional support is of utmost importance of the president but publicly though. What are polls showing how about the -- -- America's response to possible involvement in Syria. All day and -- right -- polls are showing. Priests wide and deep skepticism including -- -- latest ABC news Washington Post poll just out this hour. Is showing that nearly six in ten Americans oppose intervention in Syria. That six in ten perhaps not surprisingly but that is a significant number only thirty. Only 36%. Support for this action now that changes a little bit if there's more allied support -- the United States has support from other allies. But the opposition. Falls down just about 51%. About half so -- take away here is that the American public is uncomfortable with going at this alone. And I think that is first exactly the strain of questions -- hear from the a foreign relations committee hearing. We just heard a few moments ago the chairman -- Menendez saying he opposed the Iraq War but he is supportive of these so serious strikes so. We'll hear a lot about this harassment that is where this opposition comes from our poll shows there is still this war wariness. In the country and the White House needs to make its case for why this is different and Jeff just before we started -- takes. Her Menendez is opening comments you had mentioned the fact that. House's house leader John Boehner had come out in support. Making a very strong. -- show of confidence in the president's proposal today after the president met with congressional leaders. And you remarked earlier that yes in fact it was an interest -- show of bipartisanship but not necessarily surprised that he would be supporting the president. Not necessarily mean like in most cases of war. It is typical for congressional leaders to support the president support the commander in chief but interestingly about speaker Boehner. He after he made those remarks outside the White House. His. Spokesman sent out a follow up by. A press release to reporters as saying -- to look he's speaking only for himself. The house Republican leader -- speaker Boehner is not urging other Republicans in the house to do this this is what they call. A vote of conscience that members are able to make their own decisions here that's why we're seeing a lot of unusual alliances some support from some. Moderate -- -- for Republicans if you will. And strong opposition from a libertarian strain as well as many Liberal Democrats -- And I want to now go from the house to obviously with the -- gonna have to say in. So the answers that we might find out from today's hearing. Who will we be hearing from today either questions and obviously responding. We'll be the secretary of defense secretary of state and the -- of the Joint Chiefs of Staff but. But when someone in particular that I know a lot of folks -- going to be paid attention to would be senator Marco Rubio it 3016 likely presidential candidate. He has and he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and so he. Whatever questions -- alas we'll certainly be a noted -- since he is a freshman senator when we of course -- -- hear a lot about him. Because of his prominence he's a rising Republican figure but. Because his seniority status -- ask his question. Almost last today so most things probably will be asked by the time he gets to -- he is. What he decides on this his vote -- next week when the senate -- votes. Will likely stick with -- this is a vote. A deep consequence here but and you really get the sense right now certainly in the last 24 of 48 hours that. The movement on Capitol Hill the sentiment on Capitol Hill. -- is shifting a little bit more in the direction of supporting the white house on -- serious strikes there was some more skepticism over the weekend when these first briefing started. But day by day as these briefings go on more. Senators and members are saying this support this -- this is still going to be a very. Tough. Challenge for the White House we've not yet heard from Rand Paul. He is not a member of the committee he will likely not be seen this afternoon BC has some tough questions of course Republican of Kentucky. Leading libertarian he is deeply opposed to this and is leading the opposition. And I do want to make a correction and that we saw some video at the very top as this hearing was about to get under way. Some members of code pink peace activist group there. -- Had been making some statements and a senator Menendez did not have them removed from rather -- that they respectfully remain quiet throughout the proceedings so. I just -- to correct that from what we did see from the very top of the video that was plain out. That Jeff I want to ask you we've heard senator Bob Corker from Tennessee to communities in the committee's ranking member. He expressed his support for intervention in Syria earlier today and I want to listen to what he said because there was a bit of a caveat that he yet. Based on the conversation just ahead in the -- -- that I think that we are in agreement as to. The office space it needs to address. And again I think these hearings today while I know that. Senator in the -- sectarian hate. Certainly addressed the the fact that we have regarding use of chemical. I think it's very important for them -- also address the other aspects. -- what are those other aspects that the senator is talking about. Well some of those other aspirants charges specifically what a military strike would look like you -- you see some opposing. Suggestions -- Senator John McCain and senator Lindsey Graham you know two of the most prominent hawks if you will on the Republican side in the senate. Visited the White House on Monday and they are looking for a broader military strike. So many other senators are looking for -- more limited strikes so. It's not necessarily. The the biggest unanswered questions are not necessarily what happened in Syria. Him over the past two weeks with a chemical weapons attack but what the US would do about it and what type of strike. Would be for which is why a lot of these. Things -- hearing in classified briefings we're hearing reports. We probably of course will not hear the exact military prescription for this in this public setting because this is a military operation but. Members are very concerned about the scope of this war resolution. Who's there is a concern among several on both sides of the of the -- about having too broad -- -- war resolution here so. With the White House administration the Defense Department still needs to clarify exactly what type of strikes they're talking about. I wanna talk just for a minute and as we are watching here at this proceeding to get under way I want to talk about the international community and the support and really -- a larger scale the United Nations. As the evidence -- arrived in The Hague today that was gathered over the past couple of days by those UN weapons inspectors. In Syria. Ban Ki Moon the UN chief said today that the -- Syria needed to stop on the chemical weapons was unacceptable but in fact that. He opposed any kind of military intervention and it begs the question what is the role of the UN plane now at this point. Three and certainly does and that actually hits it. Exactly what it it it echoes much of the opposition. Here on Capitol Hill they're saying look if the UN. Time is saying that you know yes this was a chemical weapons attack but you know are opposing a strike then why should the United States become involved we see this same -- -- -- -- opposition. In these public opinion polls and why should the US be going at this alone but. -- secretary Kerry has made this fairly clear he's saying that is the moral obligation moral responsibility. Of the United States two. Go in and -- react to this and we're also hearing. Of all the different strains of -- support. An opposition here one significant a string of support for strikes comes from the pro Israel the community. And they are very concerned about Iran here so that is a lots of what we're going to be hearing. I'm here at the hearing today the consequences of this in the UN not much attention is being paid to what the UN is doing no one really expected the UN. Two I recommend action on this with the Russia. Opposed to this in the -- essentially non starter so that's why these debates are happening in Washington. Yet the relationship between Israel Turkey Jordan a lot of other countries in the Middle East has certainly been brought up over the past several days as the potential of a military strike has been discussed. And the various military options that that in fact could be employed it can if congress does -- that kind of approval. But is far as the divide. On the debate it is not necessarily just along party lines this is not a Democrat Republican issue. It's not at all and this is often -- The case of a military action -- war action but even more importantly this is a very different congress were talking about here than the last time that there is a significant -- war debate but you're right it's not divided along. Republican and democratic -- we are seeing these unusual alliances that often happen during these. Matters of national security and on the opposition side which is largely being led by Rand Paul or at least he's the -- forefront of this. You know a libertarian. Strain and with the liberal side of the Democratic Party have strong opposition camp. A more hawks and more moderate Democrats. Are more likely to support this so the question is if this is very close how many arms can be twisted. How much capital does the president have on the matter like this. I actually asked a member of the Congressional Black Caucus on Sunday -- represented Bennie Thompson for Mississippi. And I -- isn't the president's. And prestige and stature on the line here. And he said that is not as important as what's right we night in another military action so interestingly a lot of members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Liberal Democrats are opposed to this action. Since since -- just grades based on -- on the idea of it. All right -- as they -- this I wanna go now ranking member senator Bob Corker speaking on the floor. One of the issues that many members -- -- have is. The fact is that should we support an authorization for the use of military force and I think that. Everyone here knows that I am very -- inclined to do so and am working closely with senator Menendez for something that will be a starting point for this committee's discussions and I know each member. We'll have a ten foot and -- -- and France on what it is that we end up deciding to vote upon. The one of the problems that members have and I think this hearing and Mars hearing is important to answer. Is while we make policy. You ample man. And the implementation of this is very very important. And I think -- -- mixed signals about what that implementation. Actually is going to Maine and the effect it's gonna have on the country. That were involved in. I wanna say that I was just in the region as I know many people have men and I am still. Totally. Dismayed. At that lack of support. We are given and given to them that and moderate. Opposition. We publicly stated what that support is going to be even though it's being carried out and -- -- way. But it is to some degree humiliating. To me in a refugee camp. When our policy has banned that we are going to. Trying. We're going to aquae. We're going to get humanitarian aid to them that an opposition. And yet when you sit down with the people or coalescing around like general -- and others -- level of that has occur. -- today's focus is going to -- largely. On the issue of chemical warfare just. And I know that the case has to be made and I know -- each of us have had the opportunity to hear that case to say intelligence. To understand on what basis. These claims have been made in my guess is that most everyone here fully. Believes that chemical weapons have been used on civilians. So large -- very. Son -- -- -- made to the American people today as you're making -- But it's my whole. That a big part of what you're gonna do here today -- -- we talked about this earlier this morning at the White House. But -- to make a case. As -- watts area. Is important to our national interest. Watts area matters to the region. Why it's important for us to carry out this stated strategy. And Howard game continued -- to carry out that stated strategy. One of the things that I do not want to say in a solvers -- nation. He is after if it's authorized and forced takes place. -- -- as to how wanna see as continued to carry out the strategy that has been stayed in man is building. The capacity. Of the that'd moderate opposition -- I'd like to have you address that. I'm like to have you today also addressed. How this years of military force supports that strategy. How it's going to affect the region in the aftermath. So I thank you for being here today I know a big part. Of what we're discerning today in what we're making decisions upon is the credibility of the United States of America. I know that people in the region are watching. I know that we -- has an -- to move along with many of the activities that we've stated we're going to be can hang out so today I hope they need to be. We'll bring clarity to -- I know we're gonna talk about chemical warfare but I hope -- -- give us even more clarity about our opposition. Strengthening. About how this is gonna affect us overall and I -- all leave here today with a clear understanding. How this strategy is going to be carried out that thank you -- -- -- your testimony. Secretary -- -- -- members of the committee. Ranking member corker thank you very very much for. Having us here today we look forward to this opportunity to be able to share we do. -- Obama's vision with the respect too not just this action. But as senator corker is inquired appropriately. About Syria itself. And the course of action in the Middle East. Mr. chairman. Thank you for welcoming Torres of this deserve first public event since early -- so. We're all. Happy -- here. As we convene. For this debate. It's not an exaggeration to say to you all of -- my former colleagues. That the world is watching not just to see what we decide. But -- watching to see how we make this decision. Whether in a dangerous world. We can still make our government speak with one voice. They want to know -- American will rise to this moment and make a difference. And the question of whether to authorize our nation to take military action is as you have said mister chairman and you've echoed. -- ranking member. This is obviously. One of the most important decisions one of the most respect of -- responsibilities of this committee. -- of any senator in the course of -- career. The president and the administration of -- Appreciate. That you have returned quickly to the nation's capital to address it -- that you are appropriately beginning a process. The focusing was great care and great precision. Which is the only way to approach the potential use of military power. Ranking member -- I know that you want to discusses his said why Syria matters to our national security and our strategic interest. Beyond the compelling humanitarian reasons. And I look forward with -- secretary -- and general Dempsey. To laying that out here this afternoon. But first. It is important. To explain to the American people why we're here. It's important for people who may not have caught every component of the news over the course of the Labor Day weekend. To join us all of us and focusing in on what is at stake here. That's why the president the United States made the decision as he did contrary to what many people thought he would do. Of asking the congress to join in this decision we are stronger. As a nation. When we do that. So we're here. Because against -- global warnings from the president of the United States. From the congress. From our friends and allies around the world. And even from Russia and Iran. The Assad regime and only undeniable lead the Assad regime -- Unleashed an outrageous chemical attack. Against its own citizens. We're here because a dictator. And his family's personal enterprise. In their lust to hold on to power. We're willing to infect the year Damascus with a poison that killed innocent mothers and fathers. And hundreds of their children their lives all snuffed out by gas. In the early morning of August when he first. Now some people here in there are amazingly. Have questioned the evidence of this assault on conscience. I repeat here again today that only the most willful desire. To avoid reality. Can assert that this did not occur as described. For that the regime did not do it. It did happen. And the Assad regime did it. I remember Iraq. Secretary hagel remembers Iraq. General Dempsey especially remembers Iraq the secretary -- alumni and many of you sitting on the -- us remember Iraq. In a special way because we were here for that vote. We voted. And so we are especially sensitive. -- denied to never again. Asking any member of congress to take a vote. On faulty intelligence. And that is why our intelligence community has scrubbed and -- scrubbed the evidence. We have declassified. Unprecedented. Amounts of information. And we ask the American people in the rest of the world to judge that information. We can tell you beyond any reasonable doubt. That are evidence proves the Assad regime prepared for this attack. Issued instructions to prepare for this attack. Warned its own forces to use gas masks. -- we have physical evidence. Of where the rockets came from and win. Not one of rocket landed in regime controlled territory not one. All of them landed in opposition controlled. Or contested territory. We have a map. Physical evidence. Showing every geographical point of impact. And that is concrete. Within minutes of the attack. Ninety I think to be precise maybe -- slightly shorter. The social media exploded with horrific images. Of the damage that had been cause men and women the elderly and children sprawled on -- hospital floor. Would no wounds no blood. But all dead. Those scenes of human chaos and desperation were not contrived. They were real -- no one could contrive such -- scene. We have certain that none of the opposition has the weapons or capacity to -- to strike of this scale. Particularly. From the heart -- regime territory. Just think about it in logical terms common sense. With high confidence our intelligence community tells us that after the strike the regime issued orders to stop. And then fretted openly we know. About the possibility of UN inspectors discovering evidence. So then they began to systematically tried to destroy it. Contrary to my discussion with their foreign minister. Who said we have nothing to hide I said if you have nothing to hide then let the inspectors in today and let it -- on restrictive. It was and they didn't. It took four days of shelling. For that he finally allowed the -- under constrained. Prearranged structure. And we now have learned that the hair and blood samples. From first responders in east Damascus. Has tested positive for signatures of Sarin. So my colleagues we know what happened. For all the lawyers. For all the former prosecutors for all those who have sat on a jury. I can tell you. That we know these things beyond the reasonable doubt that is the standard by which we send people to jail for the rest of their lives. So we're here because what happened two weeks ago. But we're also here. Because of what happened nearly a century ago. In the darkest moments of World War I. And after the horror of gas warfare when the vast majority of the world came together to declare. In no uncertain terms that chemical weapons crossed the line of conscience. And they must be banned from use forever. Over the years that followed. Over a 180. Countries. Including Iran. Iraq. And Russia. Agreed and they joined the chemical weapons convention. Even countries with whom we agree on little. Agreed. On that conviction. There are some -- tried to suggest that the debate we're having today. Is about president Obama's. Red line. I could not more forcefully state that. Is just plain and simply wrong. This debate is about the world's red line. It's about humanity's red line and it's a red line that anyone with a conscience ought to draw. This today it is also about Congress's own red line. You the United States congress agreed to the chemical weapons convention. You the United States congress passed the Syria accountability act which says. Syria's chemical weapons are quote. Threaten the security of the Middle East and the national security interest of the United States. -- the congress have spoken out about grave consequences. If -- in particular used chemical weapons. So I say to senator corker that is one of the reasons. Why Syria is important. And as we debated in the world watches as you decide and the world wonders. Not whether Assad's regime executed the worst chemical weapons attack of the 21 century. That fact I think is now beyond question. The world wonders. Whether the United States of America will consent. Through silence. To standing aside while this kind of brutality is allowed to happen without consequence. In the nearly 100 years since the first global commitment against chemical weapons. Only to tyrants. Dared to cross the world's brightest -- line. Now Bashar Al -- -- has become the third. And I think all of you know that history holds nothing but infamy for those criminals. And history reserves also. Very little sympathy for their enablers. So the reality. Is the gravity of this moment. That is the importance of the decision that this congress faces -- that the world is waiting to learn about in these next days. Now ranking member corker asked. A central question. Why should Americans care beyond what I've just said which ought to be enough. In the judgment of the president and this administration. Well. It is clear that. In addition to what I've just mentioned about the Syria accountability act and the threat to the Middle East. We cannot overlook the impact of chemical weapons. And the danger that they -- to a particularly volatile. Area of the world. In which we've been deeply invested three years. Because we have great friends there we have allies there we have deep interest there. Since president Obama's policy is that Assad must go. It is not insignificant. That to deprive. -- of the capacity to use chemical weapons. Or to degrade the capacity to use those chemical weapons. Actually deprives him of a lethal weapon in this ongoing civil war and that has an impact. That can help to stabilize the region ultimately. In addition we have other important strategic national security interest not just in the prevention of the proliferation of chemical weapons. But to avoid the creation of -- safe haven in Syria. -- a base of operations for extremists. To use these weapons against our friends all of us know. That the extremes of both sides. Are there waiting in the wings working and pushing and fighting. They be desperate to get their hands on these materials. And the fact is that if nothing happens. To begin to change the equation -- the current calculation. That area can become even more so. An area of -- governed space where those extremists threaten even the United States and more immediately. If they get their hands on those weapons. Allies and friends of ours like Jordan or Israel or Lebanon or others. Forcing -- -- to change his calculation about his ability to act with impunity. Can contribute to his realization. That he cannot gas or shoot his way out of his predicament. Then as I think you know it has been the president's primary goal. To achieve a negotiated resolution. But you gotta have parties prepared to negotiate to achieve that. Syria is also important because quite simply I I can't put this to you more. More plainly. And it just ask each of -- to ask yourselves. If you're -- -- -- -- named one of the other dust that's in that region. And the United States steps back from this moment together with our other allies and friends. What is the message. The message is that he has been granted impunity. The freedom to choose to use the weapons again. Or force us to go through this cycle again with -- who knows what outcome after once refusing it. We would have granted him the capacity to use these weapons against more people. With greater levels of damage because we would have stood and stepped away. As confidently as we know what happened in Damascus from our friends on August 21. We know that I side would read are stepping away -- are silence. As an invitation to use those weapons -- impunity. -- creating impunity we will be creating opportunity. The opportunity for other dictators and or terrorist to pursue their own weapons of mass destruction. Including. Nuclear weapons. I will tell you there are some people hoping that the United States congress doesn't vote. For this very limited request the president has put before you. Around -- hoping you look the other way. Our inaction would surely give them a permission slip. For them to at least misinterpret our intention. If not to put it to the test. Hezbollah -- is hoping that isolationism will prevail. North Korea is hoping that ambivalence carries today. There are all. Listening for our silence. And if we don't answer Assad today we will -- a standard that has existed. For those hundred years. In fact we will -- the standard that has protected our own troops in war. And we will invite even more dangerous tests down the road. Our allies and our partners. Are also counting on us in this situation. The people of Israel of Jordan. Of Turkey. Each looked next door and they see that there one stiff breeze away from the potential. Of being hurt there civilians. Being killed as a consequence of choices Assad might take in the absence of action. They anxiously await our assurance. That our word. Mean something. They await the assurance that if the children lined up in -- bloodied burial shrouds were their own children. That we would keep the world's promise that's what they're hoping. So the authorization the President Obama seeks. Is definitively. In our national security interest. We need to send to Syria -- to the world to dictators and to terrorist allies and two civilians alike the unmistakable. Message. That -- in the United States of America and the world say never again we don't mean sometimes we don't mean somewhere. Never means never. So this is a vote for accountability. Norms and laws that keep the civilized world civil mean nothing if they're not enforced. As justice Jackson said in his opening argument at the Nuremberg trials. The ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars. Which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness. Is to make statesman. Responsible. To the law. If the world's worst desperate see that they can -- -- with impunity prohibitions against the world's worst weapons. Then those prohibitions. Are just pieces of paper. That is what we mean by accountability and that is what we mean by we cannot be silent. So let me be clear. President Obama is not asking America to go to war. And I say that sitting next to two men secretary Agilent chairman Dempsey who know what war is. Senator McCain knows what war is. They know the difference between going to war. -- what President Obama is requesting now. We all agree there will be no American boots on the ground. The president has made crystal clear we have no intention of assuming responsibility. For serious civil war. He is asking only for the power to make clear. To make certain. That the United States means what we say that the world when we joined together in a multi lateral statement mean what we say. He's asking for authorization. To degrade and deter by -- -- -- capacity. To use chemical weapons. Now some will undoubtedly ask and I think appropriately. What about the unintended consequences of action. Some fear -- retaliation that leads to a larger conflict. -- let me put it bluntly. If -- is arrogant enough and I would say foolish enough. To retaliate to the consequences of his own criminal activity. The United States and our allies have ample ways to make him regret that decision without going to war. Even Assad supporters. Russia and Iran. Say publicly that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable. Now some will also question the extent of our responsibility. To them I say. When someone kills hundreds of children with a weapon in the world has banned. We are all responsible. That is true because of treaties like the Geneva convention and the chemical weapons convention. And for us to Syria accountability act. But it's also true. Because we share a common humanity. And a common decency. This is not the time for armchair isolationism. This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. Neither our country nor our conscience can afford the cost of silence. We have spoken up against unspeakable are many times in the past. Now we must stand up and act. And we must protect our security. Protect our values. And lead the world with conviction. That is clear about our responsibility. Thank you. When he was secretary of committee will be in order. Do you -- in order. The line. Police whose daughter. Secretary. -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- I have feelings very similar to. That protestor. And I would just say that is exactly why it is so important that we are all here having this debate. Talking about these things before the country. And and that the congress itself -- -- Represented the American people and I think we all can respect those of revenue from point of view and we do. Secretary and mr. chairman thank you. -- Mendez and -- -- member corker members of the committee. As we all know in the coming days congress will debate. How to respond. To the most recent chemical weapons attack and Syria. Large scale. Serin gas assault. Perpetrated by the Syrian government. Against its own people. As a former senator and member of this committee and I welcome this debate. And I strongly support president Obama's decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force Syria. As each of us knows. Committing the country don't using military force. Is the most difficult decision America's leaders can make. As ranking member of 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 US national interest. With well defined military objectives. -- understanding of the risks. And the consequences and -- The president. Along with his entire national security team ask those tough questions before we concluded. That United States should take military action. Against Syria because. Of what the aside regime has done. Want to address how we reach this decision. By clarifying the US interest 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 interest and those of our closest allies. The Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons. Poses -- grave risk to our friends and partners along Syria's borders. Including Israel Jordan Turkey Lebanon and Iraq. If -- side is prepared to use chemical weapons against his own people. We have to be concerned that terrorist groups like Hezbollah which -- forces in serious supporting this -- regime. Would -- And would use them. That risk of chemical weapons proliferation poses a direct threat to our friends our partners in the US personnel in the region. We cannot afford for Hezbollah -- any terrorist group determined to strike the United States. There 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 Kerry. As noted. And norm that is help. Protect. Help protect the United States homeland. And American forces operating across the globe from those terrible weapons. Weakening this norm. Could 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 28000 US troops stationed there. I've just returned from Asia. We're at a very serious and long conversation with South Korea's defense minister. About the threat the real threat. That North -- 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 Arab military objectives in Syria. Would be to hold the Asad 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 are positioned to US assets throughout the region to successfully -- execute this mission. We believe we can achieve them with a military action that would be limited in duration and scope. General Dempsey and I have assured the president that US forces will be ready to act whenever the president gives the order. We are also working with our allies and our partners in this effort. -- parks including France Turkey. Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates and friends in the region of assured us there strong support. Of US action. In defining our military objectives. We've made clear. There we are not seeking to resolve the underlying conflict 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 ultimately end the violence. In Syria. And secretary care. Is leading international efforts to help the parties in Syria move. Toward a negotiated transition. The transition that means a free. And inclusive Syria. We're also committed to doing more to assist to Syrian opposition. But -- must be held accountable for using these weapons in defiance of the international community. Having define America's interest in 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 aside 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 innocents 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 commitments 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 and foreign relations. And international. And allied commitments. Every witness here today. Secretary Kerry general Dempsey myself. As served in uniform fought in war. And seen its ugly realities of close as has. Already been noted Senator McCain. We understand that a country faces few decisions. As grave as using military force. We are not unaware of the cost and ravages of war. But we also understand that America must protect its people and its national interest that is our highest responsibility. All of us who have the privilege a 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 -- 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 -- -- Thank you secretary hazel and I know the general -- is available to answer questions. On the members of the committee. And in that regard let me is -- off by. Urging members tomorrow there will be. A intelligence briefing for the committee both the issues at hand as well as. Potential military action so in this adding we obviously somewhat constrained about. What we might discuss. -- who with greater specificity tomorrow. This -- secretary. -- -- Make and have made a compelling case. And I think it's important. I appreciate you reiterating the high degree of confidence. That exist in our intelligence assessments I think those are the conditions precedent to be able to move forward. This weekend I was at a soccer tournament. And I had a group of moms come up to -- and -- Senator we. We saw those pictures of their horrific. -- can't imagine. The devastation. Those parents must feel about their children. Why us. -- Hands so I ask you would you tell them that we would be more secure or less secure. By the actions that are being considered -- which is the president's ask for the authorization of the use of force. Senator I would say unequivocally be unequivocally. That the president's actions will make us more secure. Less likely that side can use as weapons or chooses to use as weapons. And the absence of taking the action the president has asked for will in fact be far more threatening. And dangerous. And potentially ultimately cost lives. And do you consider the consequences. Of inaction are greater than the consequences of action I do. General Dempsey U what do we envision in broad terms. This potential military campaign. To be in terms of its effect what do we expect. At the end of any authorize. Action. Sissy. With the results. -- look like what what is our expectation. Yes thank you chairman the task I've been given -- to develop military options to -- terror that is to say change the -- calculus about the use of chemical weapons and degrade his ability to do so. That is -- -- vote activities directly related to chemical weapons themselves but also potentially. The means of employing them. And anything further than that I would. Prefer to speak about in class -- and I understand it at let me ask you this in the process of achieving those two goals that you just outline. Would -- not -- -- collateral. Consequences of the regime. Further degrading his overall capabilities. The -- Mr. secretary. We received. From. The administration they propose. Resolution -- of the authorization of force. And of course that is a negotiation between. The congress and the administration. This would you tell us what the -- believes that. A prohibition four. Having American boots on the ground is that something that the administration would accept. As part of a resolution. Mr. chairman it would be proper. -- not to not because. There's any intention rate plan -- any desire whatsoever to have boots on the ground. And I think the president will give -- every assurance in the world as MIA. As as the secretary of defense and determined. But in the event Syria. Imploded for instance or in the event. There was a threat of a chemical weapons cache. Falling into the hands. -- -- someone else. That it was clearly in the interest of our allies. And all of us the British the French and others. To prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements. I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available -- -- the United States to secure country. So I was the only kind of example it's the only thing I can think of that would. Immediately leap to mind to say. You know. Well if we if we said that there'd be. No troops on the ground for combat purposes that clearly. Who assuming that in the going to protect those weapons whether or not they. Have to you know. Cancer shot in order to be secure. I -- -- that at the bottom line is this where we're gonna and I -- to the bottom line afterward I'm absolutely confident. Mr. chairman. That it is. Easy not that complicated to work out language that -- satisfy the congress and the American people that there is no. Door open here. Through it -- -- -- akin march in ways that the congress doesn't want to do while still protecting the national security interest of the country. Confident that can be worked out line bottom line is the president has no intention and will not and we do not want to. Put American troops on the ground to fight this or be involved in the fighting of the civil war. A period I appreciate and I appreciate. Response about chemical weapons and -- possibility. Of securing this in our national security interest as well as our allies but. I do they were gonna have to work on language that makes it clear that this is an overriding issue. That I think that members as well as the American people want to know let me let me ask you what. You mentioned did it in your remarks. What do you think is the calculus. Iran. North Korea. If we fail to act and what is the capital -- of our allies. If we fail to act. What if we fail -- -- we're gonna fewer allies. I mean we're gonna have fewer people who count on a certainly in the region we have. We we have huge doubts right now I hear them and have the privilege of talking -- many of the leaders of -- countries with respect to what they may or may not be inclined to do. I've heard their warnings the very clearly. About what is at -- it's not just for them but for us in the region. And I think that it's fair to say that. Our interest would be seriously set back in many respects. If we are viewed as not capable or willing most important. To follow through on the things that we say matter to us. As I said earlier in my testimony. This really is not. President Obama's red line. The president drew a line that -- One should draw. With respect to this convention that we have signed up -- and which has been in place and stars of World War I. And the truth is that through all of World War II. Through Vietnam through Korea. Through both gulf wars through Afghanistan through Iraq. The combatants. In in in in in those efforts to have never resorted. To this -- So. I think that it's clear where those two prior usage is that I referred to. That. We would be opening pandora's box with respect to a whole -- Of dangerous consequences as a result the United States not keeping its word. And it would make our life very very difficult with respect to North Korea and Iran there's no question in my mind. That those. Countries are watching the mullahs -- and and many others are watching what we are doing now with great interest. And that's why even the -- It's easy listening this -- is days earlier hearing that secretary of state John Kerry. Present before ranking members -- your senate formulations committee talking about possible military action. In Syria. And I want to bring in -- -- who isn't DC's been watching these hearings go on and -- I want to ask you because one of those points. That's old and that the senators have been talking about right now -- secretary has been addressing the specific language. If in fact there were to be military action by the US Hollywood -- not -- the general public but also the international community. That this would not be an open ended commitment that anybody. Right they are talking about that specifically and essentially secretary of state John -- if -- -- down his. Opening statement in his argument here it's trust us. I oppose the Iraq war in fact that his first he he made. This particular note of the fact. His first time sitting before the Senate Foreign Relations -- came at age 27 is a protest for the Vietnam War himself -- saying trust us. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bill. A critic of the Iraq War -- saying trust us as well so they are saying it's a very limited operation. Excuse me. And now -- though that's very good please brownies and as these as this hearing -- continuing on of course annually over the next couple of days. When it won't reduce the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but it will also be larger congress as well. On an Asian currency as the secretaries are presenting themselves. -- soon Jeff let me ask you this -- as the president is headed overseas of the G-20 summit. Are those three gentlemen that we are seeing today are than those the president's strongest allies to make their case to congress. I mean they certainly are the ones that have the most information -- Vice President Biden also canceled a trip to Florida he was supposed to be in Florida tomorrow. He is staying behind in Washington so you -- seeing a full court press. From the White House but John Kerry or Chuck Hagel to -- veterans themselves to critics in the Iraq War very important. Are really the front -- here this operation she's all right now absolutely. -- of course very continue to follow this hearing as it takes place going to be live stream and I And a complete report Jeff sunny thank you so much for your time and your insight on this course as more information is coming out. About a potential strike in Syria as the president is making this case. Now into the American public but also to congress as well. Years from now I'm Dan tougher New York with this ABC news digital special report to be -- This has been a special report from me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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