The week ahead: Panetta, Dempsey to discuss Syria on Capitol Hill

Panetta and Dempsey testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee last month on Syria, where they cautioned against military action, saying there were steeper risks involved than in the NATO campaign conducted in Libya last year.

But since then, a peace plan from U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, agreed to by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is teetering. There were reports of renewed violence in Syria on Saturday, and Assad’s forces are not withdrawing from population centers as required in the plan.

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Some in Congress want the United States to take a more active role in Syria, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has called for arming the opposition and an airstrike campaign.

McCain and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey during the congressional recess, where they said the international community was “failing” the people of Syria.

If the Obama administration decides it’s time to change course on Syria, Panetta and Dempsey’s hearing provides a potential opportunity to discuss some of the options.

At the March hearing, Panetta and Dempsey warned that Syria was not like Libya because the opposition there was more splintered, Libya’s defenses were not as strong as Syria’s and there was not the same regional dynamic.

At the same time that Panetta and Dempsey are testifying in the House, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will also hold a hearing on Syria. Analysts from Brookings, National Defense University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies are scheduled to testify.

Panetta and Dempsey are also traveling over to Capitol Hill Monday for a briefing with members on sexual assault within the military. They will speak to the press with several House members afterward about sexual assault prevention initiatives.

On Wednesday, McCain is scheduled to give a speech on Afghanistan, another issue in which the Senate Armed Services ranking member has criticized the Obama administration. McCain will be speaking at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The House Armed Services Committee is winding down its hearings on the Defense Department’s 2013 budget and preparing for its markup of the Defense authorization bill. On Tuesday, House members who aren’t on the committee will have the opportunity testify about what policies they want to see included in the bill.

There are also two hearings this week on the Navy’s shipbuilding: the House Armed Services Oversight and Investigations subcommittee is holding one on the Navy’s 30-year plan Wednesday, and the Senate Armed Services Seapower subcommittee has a hearing on the subject Thursday morning.