White House press secretary Jay Carney on Friday defended President Obama's decision to overrule members of his Cabinet on arming rebel forces in Syria.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday revealed that he had endorsed a proposal to provide arms to rebel fighters who are battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad. The plan also had the support of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former CIA director David Petraeus.
Obama opted against the plan over concerns about the rebels' trustworthiness and doubts about whether the weapons would help their cause, according to Carney.
"We have to be very careful. We don't want any weapons to fall into the wrong hands and potentially further endanger the Syrian people, our ally Israel, or the United Sates," Carney said. "We also need to make sure that any support we are providing actually makes a difference in pressuring Assad. I think it's widely viewed that a lack of weapons is not the problem in Syria right now."
Defense hawks in Congress have blasted the White House as standing idly by as rebel forces have been slaughtered in Syria’s civil war. But Carney said additional firepower would not end the conflict.
The press secretary also said administration officials remained committed to aiding the campaign against Assad and the option of arming the rebels is still on the table.
"As a general principle, this is not the kind of thing around which there is one discussion," Carney said. "This is almost constant — continually review what we're doing in regard to Syria, and that discussion continues."
The revelation has been heavily criticized by Republicans who have suggested a more active approach in the Syrian conflict, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). More than 60,000 people have died in the nearly two-year-long struggle.
"The crisis in Syria represents a graphic failure of American leadership," McCain said in a statement. "I urge the president to heed the advice of his former and current national security leaders and immediately take the necessary steps, along with our friends and allies, that could hasten the end of the conflict in Syria. The time to act is long overdue, but it is not too late.”