On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, both of whom are combat veterans, offered conflicting testimony about whether President Barack Obama’s potential use of military force against Syria would be defined as going to war.
Hagel said that every witness present–Kerry, General Martin Dempsey, and himself–had “served in uniform, fought in war, and seen its ugly realities up close. 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,” Hagel said. “But we also understand that America must protect its people and its national interests. That is our highest responsibility.”
In Kerry’s testimony, however, the Secretary of State said President Barack Obama was not asking the country to go to war.
“Let me be clear: President Obama is not asking America to go to war,” Kerry said. “And I say that sitting next to two men–Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey–who know what war is. Senator McCain knows what war is. They know the difference between going to war and what President Obama is requesting now.”
Kerry was referring to deploying American troops on the ground. In subsequent testimony, though, Kerry said that option should not be taken off the table, noting he did not “want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”
“If the world’s worst despots see that they can flout with impunity prohibitions against the world’s worst weapons, then those prohibitions are just pieces of paper,” Kerry said, noting the debate was about accountability and the world’s and Congress’s red line and not Obama’s. “That is what we mean by accountability and that is what we mean by we cannot be silent.”