Fox News on September 18, 2013, reported that former defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta criticized President Obama’s strategy regarding the Syrian civil war, with both agreeing that Obama should not have sought the approval of Congress for a military strike against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Speaking at a forum in Dallas on September 17, Gates and Panetta, Obama’s first two defense secretaries, disagreed on whether the United States should ultimately carry out a military strike in retaliation for a chemical attack that the U.S. says killed 1,400 people. However, both expressed skepticism (and occasionally sarcasm) about ongoing negotiations, led by Russia, for Assad to hand over his stockpile of chemical weapons to the international community.

Panetta said he supported a strike because Obama needed to enforce the “red line” he set over Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

“When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Panetta said.

Both Gates and Panetta spoke freely — and often critically — about how they would handle Syria differently.

Asked if he trusted Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gates said: “My answer would be, are you kidding me?”

Panetta, who replaced Gates and served until earlier this year, said he would have told Obama not to go to Congress once he decided military action was needed.

For Obama to not back up his words with a strike would embolden Iran on nuclear weapons and other American enemies, Panetta said.

Once the president drew a red line, Panetta said, “Damn it, you’ve got to do it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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