Rogers would not confirm the use of chemical weapons, saying only that there was a “high probability” they had been used and that he was waiting for additional “forensic evidence” in an interview on CBS’s “This Morning.” But he warned that the U.S. could not delay acting any longer.
“We’ve got a growing bloody conflict, a regime that’s under pressure, there’s a least a high probability they’ve used at least recently or in the past some amount of chemical weapons. This is the time to act,” said Rogers. “Don’t wait until we have 5,000 dead. That’s too late.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday refused to confirm those reports, but said the administration was “looking carefully at the information as it comes in.”
President Obama has promised “consequences” if the Syrian regime uses weapons of mass destruction on its own people, saying such an action would be a “red line” inviting a U.S. response.
Rogers on Wednesday said that the U.S. would lose credibility with allies and the anti-Assad opposition if it failed to act on the latest fears of a chemical attack.
“The United States has lost the faith of the opposition. They’ve at one point turned down a meeting with the secretary of State of the United States, they’re so fed up. And our allies in the region are getting very nervous about us,” said Rogers.
“If we’re ever going to have a diplomatic solution where this regime doesn’t get to the point where it uses mass quantities of chemical weapons, we’ve got to rebuild our credibility and one way to do that is to remove their capability to use chemical weapons on civilians,” he added.
A Pentagon report last year suggested that the U.S. would need up to 75,000 troops on the ground for an operation to seize Syria’s chemical arsenal.
Rogers, though, said he was not considering sending troops into the country.
“No, not at all. Everybody always leaps to the worst conclusion of boots on the ground,” he said. “We have lots of capabilities in the United States arsenal where it wouldn’t require boots on the ground.”
“We do have the ability to remove their capability to use these particular weapons,” he added. “We certainly would like to do that with an international coalition, but we are the one of few countries that have these special capabilities.”
Obama arrived in Israel early Wednesday to begin a three-day tour of the Middle East and is expected to discuss the Syrian civil war with leaders in Israel and Jordan.
The White House has stressed that it hopes to find a diplomatic solution to end the conflict, but lawmakers are intensifying calls for the administration to do more to aid the Syrian rebels.
Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Tuesday called for arming opposition forces and launching targeted strikes against Assad’s missile batteries if the chemical attack reports are confirmed. And last week, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation to arm some rebel groups.
“If we know that there’s intention to use these chemical weapons and don’t do anything about it, that’s a stain on our national character,” said Rogers.