Dempsey: U.S. can’t stop Syrian chemical weapon attack

President Obama has drawn the line in the sand with Syrian Civil War. The U.S. will not get involved unless Syrian President Bashar al-Assad uses chemical weapons.

U.S. military analysts have seen movement at the Syrian chemical weapons depots leading some to believe the Syrians were preparing to use them as the rebels moved on Damascus. The Jordanians also found proof the Assad regime was outfitting fighter jets with the ability to carry chemical weapons. 

However, if the Syrians did choose to use their chemical weapons, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted the U.S. military could do little to stop them.

“The — the effort — or the act of preventing the use of chemical weapons would be almost unachievable, Jennifer, because the — you would have to have such clarity of intelligence, you know, persistent surveillance, you’d have to actually see it before it happened, and that’s — that’s unlikely, to be sure,” Dempsey said Thursday.

He explained the best deterrent to Syria using chemical weapons is the threat of the consequences from the U.S. and other allied nations.

“I think that Syria must understand by now that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.  And to that extent, it provides a deterrent value.  But preventing it, if they decide to use it, I think we would be reacting,” Dempsey said.

Defense Secretary Panetta tried to ease concerns that the Assad regime would use the chemical weapons. He explained that the Pentagon is more worried about what to do with the chemical sites should Assad fall from power. Military officials are working on plan to protect the sites from outside actors gaining access to the weapons.

“I think the greater concern right now is, what steps does the international community take to make sure that, you know, when Assad comes down, that there is a process and a procedure to ensure that we get our hands on securing those sites,” Panetta said.

He denied the immediate notion that the U.S. would send ground troops into Syria, but he said it depends on the situation on the ground should Assad fall.

“We’re not talking about ground troops, but, I mean, obviously, you know, it depends on what kind of — what happens in a transition.  Is there a permissive atmosphere?  Or is it a hostile atmosphere?  And that’ll tell you a lot,” Panetta said.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Pablo

    The US is afraid the fight might spread into the neighboring countries, especially Jordan. They want to contain the fight, but don’t want it to reach a certain level where it would put other countries in question whether they want to get involved or not.

  • Lance

    SO whats the point of all this babel anyway. Iraq used them and the Soviets did whats new. With the US withdrawing w/o victory from Afghanistan who cares about Islamist rebels in Syria when we might just lose our war against the Taliban due to Obama.

    • Dave M.

      Withdrawing without victory? What’s your definition of victory?

    • MckGyver

      Let’s be honest, NATO (read, America) can do a Libya 2.0, no troops just aerial bombardment. Effective and cheap.

      • tiger

        Which was not cheap or effective & dragged on for 6 months.

      • majr0d

        There have been attacks on the US launched from the Pakistan tribal regions (Times Square Bomber) and Yemen (printer cartridges, underwear bomber 2.0). Just an example of how effective drones are against terror plots.

      • zak

        Why should we? Let NATO do it themselves.

  • BlackOwl18E

    I don’t want to get involved in Syria even if Assad uses chemical weapons. I would much rather sit back and let them settle it themselves. The Assad regime has lost its legitimacy and its downfall is now inevitable. If they use chemical weapons it will only prolong the Civil War in Syria. One thing I’ve noticed in my studies in history is that the longer Arab-Islamic forces in the Middle East spend fighting each other the less they focus on us here in the west. We also never know what new enemies we will make in the process of intervening. Let the Syrians duke it out to their heart’s content.

    • crackedlenses

      Along with that I would also encourage Israel to do whatever they feel necessary to protect themselves. Hezbollah, I’m sure, would love to turn some of this stuff on Israeli cities. If we aren’t going to get involved, then we need to back Israel’s efforts to cope with the problem.

    • Nadnerbus

      Yeah, from what I have seen and heard out of Iraq, the only way things settled down was after the towns and neighborhoods had effectively finished self segregating and ethnic cleansing themselves. The US helped stand in between the factions and moderate, but the bloodletting kind of had to happen to come to a point of stasis.

      Unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that all the smart bombs and special forces in the world can’t change the fact that one side has to know they lost. And that usually means massive casualties and dead leadership. Trying to avoid the deaths just means dragging out the conflict over decades instead of years.

      Stay out of it, let them kill each other, and then figure out what we have to do after a new government emerges. How would the US look if France had tried to intervene in and stop our Civil War?

    • Tom

      Now tell all of that into the face of a mother living there. You so called professors in history schould know well that leaving the hands off something really bad can easily lead to a hemisphere-wide war or even global war. We will finally have to fight something bigger to correct the mistakes that were made.

    • tiger

      If the Syrians duke it out,You could have it’s Arsenals emptied just like Libya’s. Only now with chemical stuff in the hands of ??????????

    • Phono

      Hm, sorry you missed the tough question at the End of the Article – what if Assad looses control over his chemical arsenal? Would you like to have al-nusra or boko-haram related groups gain control of it?

      Many people stated that with time it would be unavoidable to intervene in Syria, Dempsey’s Statements seem to make that even clearer.

      • BlackOwl18E

        Chemical arsenals have an expiration date. Also, chemical weapons are not that good for killing large amounts of people. They are brutal in method but it is very difficult to disperse them to anywhere near the kind of effect that biological and nuclear weapons can be used to. These weapons are still not worth jumping into a new conflict and making a whole new string of enemies. If the U.S. did use any kind of military action it should only be to destroy those chemical weapons and leave as quickly as possible. It looks like we couldn’t get all of them even if we tried though. I would still prefer to sit back and let whatever happens just happen.

  • kiwiwni

    “President Obama has drawn another line in the sand with Syrian Civil War”


  • C-Low

    I agree with the O on this one. If the Syrian gov goes with the WMD we should intervene with areal firepower to limit, contain the effect then continue to destroy the WMD so it is no longer a option for either side.

    Meanwhile let the old way work. “the only thing better than killing your enemy is getting to watch two enemies kill eachother” it was true in Iran Iraq 80’s and true today Syria vs Islamist.

    Are part in this meat grinder should be maintaining the grind evenly so regardless the victor neither side will threat US or the neighborhood for sometime.

    The end loser being Assad has benefits by breaking the Iranian crescent, taking the Hezbo’s strategic depth/safe resupply, also checking the radical leaning Shia in Iraq by giving Anbar strategic depth/safe resupply. The catch is it only works if the balance is right and the Syrian Islamist are ground down to the point were they will not be able to run over the liberal Syrians and will have to compromise power share.

    So far so good. Let her grind while setting up the liberal Syrians for the day after.

    • Jeff

      EXACTLY!!!! Lets hope this very thing occurs in Iran soon so we can watch it bleed to death too. I’d like to see a Kurdish country from eastern Syria through northern Iraq and into western Iran. And lets keep the turmoil on the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt.

      Afghanistan will likely turn into a bloody civil war after 2015 (more Muslims killing Muslims) and if we are lucky India will get real tired of Pakistan’s S#@T and nuke um.

      Muslim’s were suppose to overtake the Christians in population by 2030…..

    • majr0d

      “the only thing better than killing your enemy is getting to watch two enemies kill eachother”

      Soviet vs. Mujh, Taliban vs. Northern Alliance

      There’s a lesson there…


      Sounds like you have had a few briefings in the recent past. Good luck with your efforts.

    • Benjamin

      Airpower alone will not be able to stop the use of ballistic missiles armed with chemical weapons. They are to easily hidden. That requires grounds forces to weed them out.

  • david

    More lies from Obama just like when Powell lied to the world about Iraq’s WMDs. Don’t be fooled again by these lying politicians.

  • Hefe

    I wanted to post that the US sent special agents from the CIA to analyze what the rebels political philosopy was. As it turns out they think the US is the great Satan and Isreal should be obliterated. They don’t sound like a group of people that we should spend billions of dollars defending should Al -Assad decide to use chemical weapons. Lets let them fight it out and not be the world’s police. Why replcae the devil we know with the one we don’t?

  • STemplar

    We need to put up or shut up. The Obama national security approach is far worse than Bush 2. We keep running around all over the place making pronouncements and not backing any of it up in any meaningful way. If we don’t want to get involved I’m fine with that, but this constant drum beat of calling for Assad’s ouster and how we’ll ‘hold him accountable’ makes us look like a lot of hot air. The UN is the international version of the US Congress, a bunch of useless bags of poop in suits standing around arguing, accomplishing nothing, and wasting a ton of money in the process.

  • vvvvvvvvvvvv

    somali haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaf

  • Name

    Why the hell are they so worried about chemical weapons? What did we use when Hussein was using mustard gas and shit back in the Gulf war. Freaking gas masks and other protective gear.

  • majr0d

    We’ve put ourselves in an incredibly difficult position.

    Stand aside and do nothing means the Jihadis take power. Not our problem today or even tomorrow but no doubt they will be. Egypt is on the path of another Iran, a gift that keeps on giving.

    Intervene if Assad uses chem? How? Airpower doesn’t remove ordnance from the enemy. After chem weapons are distributed it takes troops on the ground to stop their use and we have no belly for that. Do nothing and we look even more helpless.

    • crackedlenses

      Let the Israelis handle it. The world is fond of dumping on them anyway; short of getting WMD thrown at them compliments of Hezbollah they have nothing to lose.

    • Musson

      Or, we could get involved and hand the country over to the Jihadis.


    • blight_

      It feels like the late ’80s/early ’90s again, complete with the same result. Handing Afghanistan over the jihadis.

    • orly?

      Airpower doesn’t remove ordinance, but it can very well make them harder to get.

      You can hit the bunkers they are in and rupture them if there is no consideration of civilian losses.

      It would take a ton of effort, luck, PPE, and equipment to retrieve chemical weaponry intact after they’ve been hit by regular ordinance.

  • No oil..

    It is a shame that a military intervention is limited to rich oil countries in the name of Human Rights. Preventing daily aerial bombing against civilians and possible chemical attacks become a difficult job to the US!! When peacefull protestors were fired last year in Syrian streets they were asking for freedom.. Someone here says “let arabs and muslims kill each other, it is better for us”. His comment is largely acceptable ! Are they all human beings or we are the lords of a jungle??

    • Tiger
    • Musson

      The Middle East is like High School.

      It is better to be feared than liked.

    • Benjamin

      Unlike Vietnam, Korea (1950’s), Desert Storm, Libya, Iraq and others Syria has an extensive ballistic missile and NBC program. It is far greater then the program Iraq had during the 1980’s. Also based upon there location, they could fire there missiles at several large westernized cities.
      If foreign forces intervene, the amount of dead may easily be 10 fold.

    • zak

      You can’t slash military spending while also getting involved in another major Arabic war. You can’t have both as it isn’t possible.

      It’s amazing how so many Americans don’t connect funding with capability.

  • James
  • Sev

    A Syria with chemical weapons is dangerous for the same reasons Iran is dangerous with nukes.

    An Iran with nukes is dangerous for precisely the reason Israel’s nukes or China’s are not dangerous. The Iranian regime is unstable — like Pakistan and North Korea — and using nukes to give it an artificial solidity only means loose marbles will have to be collected when it inevitably falls over. The same scenario applies to Saudi Arabia. If Iran’s bomb brings on the Kingdom’s — supplied presumably from Pakistan — and the other Gulf States follow in their nuclear path the danger is what happens afterward.

    t is only since the Arab Spring that we can clearly see how fragile these authoritarian regimes are. Underneath the facade they are rotten to the core. The WMDs and big armies gave their strongmen a false sense of security which obviated the incentive for internal reform. Khadaffy and now Assad are learning that while such weapons may protect you against foreign enemies they are useless against internal rebellion. In fact they may act something like the eggs laid by an ichneumon wasp in a host. When they hatch, they kill you. WMDs can eat out a rotten regime from within. They incubate power centers, ambitious ‘mad majors’ or invite an invasion of jihadis (as is the case with Syria) who desire to possess them.

  • Papi1960R

    Having spent 16 years of my adult life and 8 years of my childhood in Islamic countries I do not agree with any bombing or armed intervention into these countries.
    I do not agree that the are people like us, they are a sub-species that needs to be exterminated permantly.
    US intervention just too expensive, never works and a gross assault on the US taxpayer.
    Muslims killing off Muslims is best for the world and our pocketbooks.

  • frank

    Can’t America go 5sec without bombing somebody?

    • tiger

      Ok, we will all join hands, have a Coca Cola, & sing Peter Paul & Mary songs while we reload the bomb racks……..

    • Can’t the world go 4 seconds without doing something stupid.

    • joey pepperoni

      somebody bomb this guy

  • Mr. Aguacates
  • Catch22

    According to news reports, Syria may have already used chemical weapons. I don’t hear anything out of the POTUS about that.

  • Sydney F. Haase

    the United States is no longer a threat. All these other countries will do what they want. because they do not fear us anymore.

  • Edward

    It may sound heartless but let them kill each other. Both sides in this war are evil, there are no good guys. The govt. forces are murdering civilians and the mindless rebels only know two words “Allah Ahkbar” and we all know what that means. I had the same feeling when Iran ad Iraq were battling it out..let them slaughter each other.

    • matthew

      allauh akbar means god is great of thats what your trying to say

  • matthew

    the picture up top is misleading, its actually a picture of an american made missile with a chemical warhead and is being disposed of by an american service member