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McCain Will Not Hold Up Dempsey's Nomination

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

One of the U.S. Senate's top Republicans on Tuesday said he won't block Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey from being confirmed to serve another term after the general offered lawmakers options for intervening in the civil war in Syria.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., made the comments a day after the release of a July 19 letter from Dempsey, in which the Army general detailed ways the U.S. military could support forces opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The lawmakers requested the response last week after Dempsey and McCain argued over the issue during his reconfirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

While McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, on Tuesday reportedly said he's dropping his threat to place a hold on Dempsey's nomination to another two-year term, he also criticized the general's assessment of what U.S. military involvement in Syria might look like as "most disappointing."

In his letter, Dempsey outlined several potentially costly scenarios, including the establishment of a no-fly zone. Dempsey estimated such an operation -- which McCain supports -- would involve "hundreds" of ground- and sea-based aircraft and may cost as much as $1 billion a month to take out the regime's aircraft, air defenses, oil fields and other infrastructure.

Dempsey also said that automatic budget cuts known as sequestration will complicate a U.S.-led intervention in the conflict.

"Some options may not be feasible in time or cost without compromising our security elsewhere," he wrote.

More than 100,000 people have died in the two-year-old uprising against al-Assad, according to a June estimate from the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the death toll through a network of activists in the country.

During last week's hearing, McCain accused Dempsey of flip-flopping on whether to arm the opposition, saying the general backed the idea in February, changed his mind in April, and has since decided to support the measure again.

"How do we account for those pirouettes?" McCain asked.

"I wouldn't accept the term pirouettes, sir," Dempsey said. "We have adapted our approach based on what we know of the opposition and if you recall, at the beginning of the year, there was a period where it was pretty evident that the extremist groups were prevailing inside the opposition."

Dempsey's concerns were highlighted earlier this month, when a fighter linked to the terrorist group al-Qaeda reportedly assassinated a high-ranking Syrian rebel commander.

McCain had also said the general disagreed with him in a similar debate in 2006 over whether to send some 20,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq to quell violence in Baghdad an al-Anbar province. President George W. Bush ultimately ordered the deployment, which was known as "the surge" and credited it with helping to turn the tide of the war.

"I think history shows that those of us who supported the surge were right and people like you who didn't think we need a surge were wrong," McCain said.

Dempsey in his letter hinted at the challenges involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and cautioned that the use of force in Syria may bring similar unintended consequences.

"We have learned from the past 10 years … that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state," he wrote. "Should the regime's institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control."

Dempsey also repeated his reasons for declining to provide his person opinion on what course the U.S. should take in Syria, saying it's not his call to make.

"Deliberations are ongoing within our government over the further role of the United States in this complex sectarian war," he wrote. "The decision over whether to introduce military force is a political one that our nation entrusts to its civilian leaders."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Related Topics

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey Senator John McCain Congress Brendan McGarry
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