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Congressional Panel Criticizes Obama's Policy on Syria

Soldiers loyal to the Syrian regime with their military tanks in Qusair, after the Syrian army took control of the city from rebel fighters, June 5, 2013.
Several U.S. lawmakers are expressing frustration with the continued slaughter of civilians in Syria, and some are calling for more clarity and tougher action from President Barack Obama.

The Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and Africa, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen acknowledged that the title of the hearing may have revealed her views on recent U.S. policy towards Syria. The hearing was called: "A Crisis Mismanaged: Obama's Failed Syria Policy."

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen atends a hearing on Capitol Hill, Apr 11, 2013.(US House of Representatives).
Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen atends a hearing on Capitol Hill, Apr 11, 2013.(US House of Representatives).
Republican Ros-Lehtinen accused President Barack Obama of failing to speak up clearly on the side of peaceful protesters in Syria when the conflict began more than two years ago.

"Instead of supporting the popular uprisings from the onset, and immediately calling for [Syrian President Bashir al] Assad to step down, President Obama waited five months to publicly call for his removal," she said.

The White House said President Obama has long been working to mobilize the entire international community to put more pressure on the Assad regime to relinquish power and accept a political transition.

One of the witnesses at the hearing, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute criticized the president for saying that if the Syrian government used chemical weapons it would be "crossing a red line". She said by failing to act on that statement, Mr. Obama is putting the credibility of the President of the United States on the line.

"What does this say to the Iranian government about our credibility on its nuclear program if in fact on the question of Syria we are not serious?," she asked.

The White House has said it is gathering information about who in Syria used chemical weapons, and the president needs to have all the facts before taking action.

Jon Alterman of the Center for International and Strategic Studies said he does not believe President Obama's policy on Syria has failed, though he is dissatisfied with the current situation there. He said recent history shows that the president should act with caution.

"Iraq is a reminder of our limited ability to shape outcomes in complex and polarized situations," said Alterman.

All the witnesses agreed that U.S. policy needs to focus on Iran's support of Hezbollah fighters in Syria, who played a role in helping Syrian government forces seize control of the strategic border town of Qusair from the opposition.