Former Defense secretaries blast Obama's Syria strategy

President Obama’s two former Defense secretaries late Tuesday criticized Obama's handling of Syria. 

Robert Gates and Leon Panetta questioned Obama’s Syria strategy at a forum in Dallas, with Gates saying U.S. presidents are too quick to “reach for the gun to solve an international problem,” according to the Associated Press.  

Panetta said Obama should have avoided requesting congressional approval for a military strike in Syria. 

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"Mr. President, this Congress has a hard time agreeing as to what the time of day is," Panetta said. 

A request for the authorization of military force in Congress has been put on hold after Secretary of State John Kerry negotiated a deal with his Russian counterpart to require its Syrian ally to hand over its chemical weapons by mid-2014. 

But lawmakers have been working on an alternate resolution that could give a timeline for Syria to hand over its weapons by threatening force.

Gates, who served as Obama’s first Defense secretary, said a military strike in Syria would be like "throwing gasoline on an extremely complex fire in the Middle East." He brought up the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as reasons for caution. 

He also advocated for arming the rebels covertly and naming President Bashar Assad a war criminal in order to seize  his assets. 

Gates disagreed that the enforcement of Obama’s “red line” against the use of chemical weapons is justification for an attack. 

"I believe to blow a bunch of stuff up over a couple of days to underscore or validate a point or principle is not a strategy," Gates said.

But Panetta, who stepped down from his post earlier this year, disagreed. When a president sets out conditions for the use of force, "Damn it, you've got to do it," he said. 

Both former secretaries have expressed skepticism about trusting Russian President Vladimir Putin to hold his Syrian ally accountable. 

My answer would be, are you kidding me?" Gates said when asked if the U.S. could trust him.