A U.S. Senate panel has confirmed Army Gen. Martin Dempsey to a second term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a vote that was temporarily delayed over his comments on the civil war in Syria.
The Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday voted for Dempsey and Navy Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to serve another two years in the positions. They were among many Defense Department nominees the panel approved.
"All nominations were immediately reported to the Senate floor following the committee’s action," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the panel's chairman, said in an e-mailed statement.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., threatened to place a hold on Dempsey's nomination after the general refused during testimony to reveal whether he thinks the U.S. military should intervene in Syria. The senator, who has called for establishing a no-fly zone in the country, relented after Dempsey provided the committee with written responses to some of his questions.
More than 100,000 people have died in the two-year-old uprising against the regime of Syrian President Bashar 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 a hearing earlier this month, McCain accused Dempsey of flip-flopping on whether to arm the Syrian opposition and being "wrong" about a similar debate in 2006 over whether to send an additional 20,000 U.S. troops to Iraq in what became known as "the surge."
Dempsey said he supports building a moderate opposition in Syria but cited concerns over “extremist groups” such as al-Qaeda infiltrating rebel forces, and he stopped short of recommending U.S.-led strikes against the regime.
In his unclassified responses to the committee, the general outlined several potentially costly scenarios for a military intervention, including the establishment of a no-fly zone.
Dempsey estimated that such an operation 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.
McCain criticized the general's assessment of what U.S. military involvement in Syria might look like as "most disappointing."
Meanwhile, the Senate panel also approved the nominations of Stephen Preston to be general counsel, Jon Rymer to be inspector general, Susan Rabern to be assistant secretary of the Navy for financial management and comptroller, and Dennis McGinn to be assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.
The nominees during their confirmation hearing last week faced questions about last year’s attack on Americans in Benghazi, the military prison at Guantanamo Bay and the Navy’s alternative-energy plans.
The hearing came a week after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., helped to broker a deal between Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the minority leader, to avert a constitutional showdown over president nominations.
The Pentagon’s inspector general’s office has been without a permanent leader for more than a year and a half.
A spokesman for Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader, didn't respond to a request seeking comment on when the chamber may hold a vote on the nominations.