Kerry Creates Uncertainty Over ‘Boots On The Ground’ in Syria

Secretary of State opens the door to boots on the ground, then tries to close it

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Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Secretary of State John Kerry testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 3, 2013.

Secretary of State John Kerry mixed messages Tuesday against a proposed congressional prohibition on the use of American ground forces in Syria, saying the war-torn country could “implode” and  that, if so, U.S. troops would be needed to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry first said he didn’t want to “take off the table” an option that might become necessary if Syria further destabilizes. Some lawmakers are proposing amending the Obama-administration authored legislation that would give congressional approval to military action in Syria — a change that Kerry said was ill-advised.

“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 of al-Nusra or someone else and 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 to a president of the United States to secure our country,” Kerry said.

Kerry’s comments, in response to a question from New Jersey Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, cast into doubt implications by the White House that President Barack Obama is not considering boots on the ground in Syria, even as he pushes for a more limited response to Bashar Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

“So the key point that I want to emphasize to the American people: The military plan that has been developed by the joint chiefs and that I believe is appropriate is proportional,” Obama said Tuesday morning before a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House. “It is limited.  It does not involve boots on the ground.  This is not Iraq and this is not Afghanistan.”

Kerry’s comments are likely to upset many war-weary members of Congress who are worried about the United States getting drawn into another conflict in the Middle East.

“I didn’t find that an appropriate response,” said Sen. Bob Corker, the committee’s top Republican, adding that his support for military force hinges on a commitment not to place boots on the ground.

Kerry later stated that under the plans currently drawn up, “the president doesn’t want boots on the ground fighting Syria’s civil war, period.”

Under questioning from Corker, he said he was offering a hypothetical for another situation entirely when he opened up the door to American forces on the ground in Syria. But Kerry’s walk-back was incomplete, only applying to the civil war and not the protection of Syrian chemical stockpiles.

“Let’s shut that door now as tight as we can,” Kerry said. “There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.”

UPDATE at 4:20 p.m.: Kerry, attempting to clean up his comments yet again, said the Obama administration has “no problem in having the language that has zero capacity for” boots on the ground.

UPDATE at 5:00 p.m.: State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf sends along this statement: “As Secretary Kerry made clear repeatedly during the hearing and over the last several months, the Administration is not considering and has no plans to consider boots on the ground in Syria. Period.”

The transcript of the exchange:

SEN. MENENDEZ: Mr. Secretary, we received from the administration a proposed resolution for the authorization of force, and of course that is a negotiation between the Congress and the administration.

Would you tell us whether you believe that a prohibition for having American boots on the ground — is that something that the administration would accept as part of a resolution?

SEC. KERRY: Mr. Chairman, it would be preferable not to, not because there is any intention or any plan or any desire whatsoever to have boots on the ground. And I think the president will give you every assurance in the world, as am I, as has the secretary of defense and the chairman. 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 of al-Nusra or someone else and 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 to a president of the United States to secure our country. So that was the only kind of example, that’s the only thing I can think of that would immediately leap to mind to say, you know –

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, if we — if we said that there’d be no troops on the ground for combat purposes, that clearly would, I assume –

SEC. KERRY: Well, assuming that in the going to protect those weapons, whether or not they had to, you know, answer a shot in order to be secure — I don’t want to speak to that. The bottom line is this — can I give you the bottom line?

SEN. MENENDEZ: We’re going to have to — we’re going to have to — we’re going to have to work to — (inaudible) –

SEC. KERRY: I’m absolutely confident, Mr. Chairman, that it is easy, not that complicated, to work out language that will satisfy the Congress and the American people that there’s no door open here through which someone can march in ways that the Congress doesn’t want it to while still protecting the national security interests of the country.

I’m confident that can be worked out.

SEN. MENENDEZ: Well, I –

SEC. KERRY: The 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 this civil war, period.

SEN. CORKER: I will say that — in response to your answer to Senator Menendez, I didn’t find that a very appropriate response regarding boots on the ground. And I do want to say that — that that’s an important element to me, and I hope that as we together work through this, we work through something that’s much clearer than the answer that you gave. I don’t think, while we’re all — we all feel the actions by the Assad regime are reprehensible, I don’t think there are any of us here that are willing to support the possibility of having combat boots on the ground.

SEC. KERRY: Well –

SEN. CORKER: And I do hope as we move through this, the administration can be very clear in that regard.

SEC. KERRY: Well, let me be very clear now because I don’t want anything coming out of this hearing that leaves any door open to any possibility. So let’s shut that door now as tight as we can. All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility — and I’m thinking out loud — about how to protect America’s interests. But if you want to know whether there’s any — you know, the answer is, whatever prohibition clarifies it to Congress and the American people, there will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the civil war.

58 comments
anti-government
anti-government

NO MORE FOREIGN WARS!

We have bombed and invaded far more countries since the end of World War II than any other nation. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was right many years ago when he called the United States "the world's leading purveyor of violence". Unfortunately, it's still true all these years later. Saying that we are "fighting for the world's values" or "fighting for freedom" has become a bad joke. In truth, we fight many of these wars for less elevated reasons, such as political philosophy, economic benefit and just plain stupidity. We need to address our many problems at home (among them the federal budget deficit, the adverse balance of payments with China and other cheap labor nations, repairing our crumbling infrastructure, reversing the flow of assets and money to the ultra-rich so the middle class can survive, and generating decent-paying jobs for skilled and semi-skilled workers) and STOP TRYING TO RUN THE WORLD

JacquesLaBranche
JacquesLaBranche

Let Russia be responsible for Syria, it is their sandbox let them deal with it. We the People do not want Obama to start WWIII. Congress, "just say no". We have had enough of these endless questionable conflicts thrown at us and want peace.

SaneRepublican
SaneRepublican

Kerry and McCain, terrible twin warmongers, need to be the first troops in Syria, and the rest of us will stay home.  Not our fight, keep us out of it!

radiosyria
radiosyria

That doesn't mean the French won't consider sending in a ground force. With the right amount of degrading and a no-fly zone in place, France has demonstrated by the paratroop drop at Timbuktu in January that securing an airport is not as difficult as it might seem. If Assad shifts enough of his loyal forces out of Damascus, the country could fall overnight.

therealdude
therealdude

He opened that door because the possibility it could turn into another Iraq or Afghanistan is extremely obvious. The rebels aren't like the American revolutionaries, they're radical muslims. If we overthrow Assad, they could easily create a radical Islamic government that is very likely to be anti-American and thus very dangerous to us. We might be trading a horrible dictator who wasn't really that much of a threat to America for a radical Islamic government who really would be a very dangerous threat to the US. And if that happens we could easily end up in another 10+ year war.

aboutbebout
aboutbebout

Never trust a man whose had face work done.   Where are the Swift Boaters when you need them?  Kerry can't know what's going to happen, but why do the Republicans join in? Most Americans are against this, especially considering the 40% approval rated Commander-In-Chief. It appears more political, than the cover of compassion.

HawgRiderBC
HawgRiderBC

@TIME Here we go again, another Vietnam/Iraq/Afghanistan/Egypt/Libya...stay out of , its a Muslim problem, and they hate us all...

tmariesummers70
tmariesummers70

@TIME. That is what Syria wants. This attacking Syria should be with extreme caution, & should aprroach with surprise attack !

Hounddog00711
Hounddog00711

@DonteStallworth we should not help then take over the country what ever Assad is h had the country in line without al Qaeda

Hounddog00711
Hounddog00711

@DonteStallworth the rebels executed 13 teal old boy for not giving then free tea which he was selling to support his family

Hounddog00711
Hounddog00711

@DonteStallworth again USA and the no games they play on people throw CNN and Fox News. American people are run by what the news tell them

caseysnonna
caseysnonna

@bubusn @TIME If they think a strike will cause Syria to implode, why do it? We do not want boot on the ground in another country. No no no

Mickey_Dugan
Mickey_Dugan

Kerry said he didn’t want to “take off the table” an option that might become necessary if Syria further destabilizes. ... "[I]n the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else..."

 Heh-heh! "al-Nusra or someone else" already has the weapons and has most likely already deployed them, so there's your Benghazi two-fer - give the weapons to al-Nusra Front (aka AL QAEDA's SYRIAN BRANCH), trust them to deploy them (False Flag, nice!), use as a pretext to bomb, and oh-lookie! Al-Nusra has the WMD we gave them, here come the boots on the ground, TOTAL INVASION.

Politicalobservor
Politicalobservor

What if Russia puts their boots on the ground? will things change then? or the usual we neither confirm nor deny approach, wait till we are totally in debt to China, this is a total recipe for disaster. Have we learnt anything from our previous adventures which always ends in body bags. 

fireaziam
fireaziam

@TIME This is how it starts. There is no way to engage without engagement.

andreakirwan
andreakirwan

@TIME he probably said this with his fingers crossed. Easy to send ppl off to die when it doesn't affect you.

retiredfirstsgt
retiredfirstsgt

@TIME What the hell has happened to Kerry? From anti war hero to pro war nut job. Syria won't implode if we don't bomb it or remove Assad.

srmatamala
srmatamala

@lfaci @TIME esperaran a atacar al dia 22 de septiembre para que Frau Merkel no tenga problemas electorales?

AlanTonelson
AlanTonelson

@RobinEdgar Re Pearl Harbor attack being "bootless": In short term, it succeeded. In long run, inability 2 follow up led 2 disaster 4 Japan.

reallife
reallife

@radiosyria@radiosyria the French? hahahaha

you mean they have not surrendered yet? probably they can't find a white flag

LOL

Donplus
Donplus

@BtyBlk @ZekeJMiller @TIME @TIMEPolitics He wont get the vote in Congress if there is no boots on the ground, there have to give our Congressmen some contracts to supply the military, and they will now vote everything the President wants

DR_SHAHID
DR_SHAHID

@xinheyuyi ;-) He Wont. Rebels Don't Believe In POW, They Just Behead Everyone They Capture And Make Videos '-)

lfaci
lfaci

@srmatamala Ahí los sondeos también están mayoritariamente en contra, con lo que en todo caso le favorecería un ataque, supongo.

Hounddog00711
Hounddog00711

@DonteStallworth American media fails to bring that up that should tell you something it ain't about syrian people its about money

RobinEdgar
RobinEdgar

@AlanTonelson Indeed. BTW I am a specialist at Tweets, especially when hypocritical Unitarian Universalists are involved... LOL! ;-)

AlanTonelson
AlanTonelson

@RobinEdgar LIke I said -- same page! Twitter isn't the ideal medium for detailed conversations, is it, esp when tweets can so easily cross.