Clinton and Panetta both called for Obama to attack Syria when Syria used chemical weapons against fellow Syrians.
President Obama had called the use of chemical weapons there a “red line.” So when the Syrian military used chemical weapons in August 2013 to kill an estimated 1,400 people, Obama decided to strike. But then the president abruptly reversed himself—without consulting his national security Cabinet members.But Obama resisted their calls for war. Instead, he participated in a deal brokered by the UN and Russia in which Assad promised to give up his chemical weapons voluntarily. No Americans dead. No Syrian civilians killed by gas.
But this outcome did not satisfy Panetta, who writes,
The result, I felt, was a blow to American credibility. When the president as commander in chief draws a red line, it is critical that he act if the line is crossed. The power of the United States rests on its word,” he wrote. “Assad’s action clearly defied President Obama’s warning; by failing to respond, it sent the wrong message to the world.The neocons and now Panetta and Clinton, who are being called neoliberals, are always concerned that other nations will disrespect the US if we don't reach for our guns whenever someone steps out of line. This makes no sense at all. The rest of the world will respect the US if we live up to our ideals. They will fear us if we constantly attack countries on the slightest provocation, such as when we attacked Iraq for having weapons of mass destruction which they didn't have.
The US public may still believe that Bush and the neocons did not make the whole story up, but the rest of the world is convinced that they did. The lies told in the UN Security Council hurt our credibility a great deal more than any failure to enforce a "red line" could ever do.
According to Panetta, Obama made a big mistake by refusing to listen to Hilary and himself on backing Syrian rebels. The Daily Beast quotes Panetta as saying,
Hesitation and half steps have consequences as well—and those remain to be determined.Actually, the consequences of backing muslim jihadists are well known. Against the Russians in Afghanistan, the US backed Osama bin Laden and helped him build up Al Qaeda. As has been shown in recent weeks, the Syrian rebels included ISIL, another group of fundamentalist jihadis. They are using captured US weapons to create havoc along the borders of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq.
Obama should be commended for trying a different approach in the Middle East. Sending American aid and American soldiers proves nothing but does recruit new Islamists eager to fight the Americans. Obama's strategy could be summarized as, "Don't poke the bear." So far, Obama has been successful keeping us from entering another bloody conflict.
Not deterred from his questionable agenda, Panetta believes Obama should ally himself with opponents of Assad. He says we would at least know whether there are any moderate Muslims fighting Assad. He doesn't prove that would be important, however.
The difference between Obama and Panetta--and, by extension Hilary Clinton--boils down to this: Obama wants to end existing wars and takes risks to do so; Panetta wants to start existing wars to prove that America is the biggest and toughest country in the world.
Panetta wasted no time after resigning from the CIA before joining a small lobbying firm in Washington. His book is doubtless his first step in recruiting new clients from the military industrial complex. No principled American should become a lobbyist seeking to spend more money on weapons of war.
During the fight over the sequester, Panetta was the only cabinet member who testified before congress that cutting the defense budget would harm the US military. The others probably obeyed Obama's instruction. If Panetta had succeeded in raising the military budget during the sequester, the liberal wing of the Democratic Party would have opposed the budget deal.
Panetta is a risk-taker, sure of his own prowess. Obama is risk averse. We should all become more like Obama in this.