Former Fort Benning commanders displeased with Obama's handling of Syria

September 3, 2013 

President Barack Obama’s handling of the crisis in Syria is sending the wrong message to the rest of the world, two former Fort Benning commanders said Tuesday.

Retired Lt. Gen. R.L. “Sam” Wetzel said the president made a serious mistake in 2012 when he set chemical weapons as a redline for U.S. engagement in the civil war between the Bashar al-Assad government and rebel forces.

“Now he’s trying to back out of it by seeking congressional approval,” said Wetzel, who once served in the Middle East. “And I’m not sure what that’s going to do.

“He’s made the United States look silly to all the other nations of the world,” he added. “If the Republicans don’t go along with it, he’s going to blame the Republicans for the whole thing. If they go along with it, he will drop a few token bombs or something. Then what? He has no strategy for Syria.”

Lt. Gen. Carmen Cavezza, another former Fort Benning commander, said the president had a tough decision to make, and he doesn’t envy his position. But Cavezza said he’s concerned the president, by waiting for congress reconvene before moving forward, isn’t acting with urgency.

“This is not a routine mission. It’s a crisis,” said Cavezza, who previously served as Columbus city manager and is the current director of Columbus State University’s Cunningham Center. “It’s not being dealt with at the pace a crisis should be dealt with. Congress should have been back there a couple days ago working on this thing.”

The delay is only giving Assad time to readjust, Cavezza added. “This is not business as usual. I think waiting until (Sept. 9) almost sends a cavalier message.”

Wetzel said he’s also concerned about what the strikes would mean for Fort Benning, where leaders found out just a couple of weeks ago that they would have to cut 25 percent of the budget. He said the military has already been drawing down, and probably won’t have enough troops to fight another war.

“I think in Syria, we should leave them alone and let them work it out,” he said. “I never like to get involved in a civil war and that’s what you’ve got there - civil war.”

Cavezza, on the other hand, said the president should move forward with, or without, congressional approval. And he doesn’t think Fort Benning will play a big role in the mission, except to train insurgents in the future.

“I think this is going to be more of an air/sea launch type of thing,” he said. “I don’t see any ground troops in Syria."

Related stories:

Fort Benning: No decision yet on 25 percent cuts from budget, personnel costs

Fort Benning's post-wide yard sale set for Sept. 7

Gallery: The Syrian civil war, around the world

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