Washington D.C.House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith made the following statement at today’s hearing on the situation in Syria:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman.  And I would like to thank our witnesses for appearing today to talk about this important, and difficult, situation.

“The brutal actions of the Assad regime taken in a desperate attempt to maintain power are an affront to all civilized people of the world.  The United Nations estimates that at least 9,000 Syrian civilians have been killed by the regime during the last year, and there is no reason to doubt that with the apparent collapse of the Kofi Annan-negotiated cease fire, many more will die at the hands of the regime in the day ahead.

“There are no end of voices calling on the U.S. and the Administration to do “something.”  Some point to a responsibility to protect civilians around the world from the evil actions of their own regimes, which we would all like to do.  Others point out that eliminating the Assad regime would weaken Iran and pressure Hezbollah, both laudable goals.  Many of these observers draw a parallel with Libya—the United States and NATO intervened in Libya, so why not Syria?

“The reality is that this is a false comparison.  Conditions that existed in the Libya case are simply not present regarding Syria.  In the Libya case we saw a largely united international community, including other NATO members and countries in the Middle East who saw it as in their interest to take direct military action.  We have not seen that at all in Syria.  In fact, Russia continues to firmly stand with the Assad regime. In Libya, the opposition to the regime was relatively united, while in Syria the armed opposition is disjointed and disorganized and we lack basic knowledge of who they are. 

“The combat environment in Libya was comparatively simple as most fighting took place along a few roads.  In Syria, fighting takes place in urban environments, which is vastly more complex.  In Libya the threat of man-portable anti-air missiles was relatively easy to avoid, Syria possesses one of the densest integrated air-defense systems in the world.  Libya gave up its programs to construct weapons of mass destruction ten years ago, while Syria has chemical and biological weapons stored on military bases across the country.  Libya was a tribal society, while Syria is a powder keg of ethnic and religious groups who have been set at each other’s throats under the rule of the Assad family.

“None of this is to say that there are no actions we can and should take in Syria.  The regime is evil and, as President Obama has repeatedly stated, must give up power.  But we need to acknowledge upfront that the situation in Syria is vastly more complex and that given these complexities there very well may be no military solution.  We should support the Syria people in any way that we can, but we must be extremely cautious as we discuss the potential for the use of military force. Any such action will require vastly more resources than Libya, would last much longer, and would have a vastly more complex and dangerous aftermath, and we do not have infinite resources.  We cannot intervene everywhere, but instead have to make realistic judgments about when such intervention makes strategic sense and can help accomplish realistic goals.

“I hope our witnesses can help us think this through today.  We need to be clear ourselves and with the American people about the constraints on and risks of direct military intervention.  We need to consider what other options exist, and how we should make choices about what courses to pursue.  Bashar al-Assad is continuing the brutal and oppressive course charted by his father, and we would all like to see that end.  I hope our witnesses can help us about if, and how, we can help bring that about.”