On Sunday’s broadcast of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” former Obama Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta sounded off on the United States’ effort to combat the ISIS threat in Iraq and Syria, part of which he argued action could have should have been taken long ago by President Barack Obama in arming Syrian rebels.
“I think that would’ve helped,” Panetta said. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.”
Panetta went on to explain the desirable conditions to arm the Syrian rebels, which was ultimately decided against by Obama.
“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control,” Panetta said. “And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort.”
“I think the president’s concern, and I understand it, was that he had a fear that if we started providing weapons, we wouldn’t know where those weapons would wind up,” he added. “My view was, ‘You have to begin somewhere.’”
Panetta also indicated he had second-guessed Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq completely.
“I really thought that it was important for us to maintain a presence in Iraq,” Panetta said. “The decision was that we ought to at least try to maintain 8,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops there — plus keeping some of our intelligence personnel in place, to be able to continue the momentum in the right direction. And frankly, having those troops there I think would’ve given us greater leverage on [former Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al] Maliki to try to force him to do the right thing as well.”
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