McCain presses for general’s views on Syria after threatening his nomination

McCain pressed Dempsey on Thursday to give his personal opinion on whether he thought U.S. military action was a good option, but Dempsey would not do so, saying it was inappropriate while deliberations were ongoing within the Obama administration.

The senator accused Dempsey of running afoul of the committee’s confirmation process, and said after the hearing that he would place a hold on Dempsey’s nomination until his questions were answered.

At the end of the hearing, Levin, the Armed Services chairman, asked Dempsey to outline an assessment of military options in Syria and the pros and cons associated with them, in an effort to help provide a satisfactory response for McCain.

While McCain wouldn’t say on Thursday whether Levin’s request would be enough, the Friday letter from both senators implies that Dempsey's answers could end any hold on his nomination.

“Senators Levin and McCain look forward to receiving the responses as soon as possible in order to move forward promptly with the confirmation proceedings,” Levin’s office said in releasing the letter.

But one of the Syria questions could still prove problematic.

The final Syria question follows up on the dispute McCain and Dempsey had Thursday, as it asks for Dempsey’s “professional military judgment” as to whether limited U.S. military action in Syria would outweigh the costs.

“Considering only military factors, what is your professional military judgment as to whether the benefits of limited kinetic military action in Syria would outweigh the costs of such action?” the senators ask.

The other Syria questions shouldn’t pose a problem. The first four questions take Levin’s approach, asking for Dempsey’s cost-benefit assessment of options like arming the rebels and a no-fly zone.

The fifth question asks for an explanation of what McCain on Thursday called Dempsey’s policy “pirouettes” on arming the Syrian rebels. Dempsey said on Thursday his shift was due to changing circumstances within the Syrian opposition.

On Afghanistan, McCain and Levin requested Dempsey’s thoughts on whether the war campaign is succeeding, this year’s drawdown plans, the post-2014 U.S. presence and reconciliation with the Taliban.

Asked about the potential hold Thursday, Dempsey’s spokesman said that the Joint Chiefs chairman “respects the confirmation process.”

McCain's threat of a hold appears to be the only thing standing in the way of Dempsey's confirmation for a second two-year term as chairman of the Joint Chiefs; no other senators have expressed any opposition.