The U.S. and allied forces probably will impose a “no-fly zone” over Syria and take other “more aggressive action” against the Syrian regime, former Defense Secretary William Cohen said.
While the U.S. has been leery of another military intervention after a decade of wars, “We’re coming to the point, however, where the violence is getting so severe, I think, that you’ll see a movement towards setting up those no- fly zones,” Cohen said on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend.
The former Pentagon chief and Maine senator, now chairman and chief executive officer of the Cohen Group consulting firm in Washington, said any U.S. military action would depend on participation and support from allies.
“I think that the United States is not going to go into this alone,” said Cohen, who served as defense secretary during the NATO air strikes in the Kosovo conflict during the Clinton administration. “That’s why we’ve been working with the Gulf states.”
John Brennan, President Barack Obama’s top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, said on Aug. 8 the administration is studying the option of a no-fly zone with air protection “very carefully, trying to understand the implications, trying to understand the advantages and disadvantages of this.”
Cohen, a Republican, also criticized the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, for promising to issue an executive order on his first day in office labeling China a currency manipulator.
“We have to be careful, not deferential, but be careful how we use language and what policy positions we stake out during a campaign because you may have to end up really rejecting your own stand,” Cohen said. “And that will undermine the credibility of Governor Romney should he become president.”
Cohen also suggested Romney should flesh out his foreign policy positions more clearly as he strikes a more aggressive tone against Russia, Iran and China.
If he adopts an overly aggressive posture, Cohen said, “then I think we’re going to find ourselves in a situation where everything is going to be very competitive and antagonistic. That doesn’t necessarily work to our benefit.”
On Iran, Cohen said the odds are increasing that Israel will strike the Islamic regime’s nuclear facilities to prevent the Persian Gulf state from being able to produce a nuclear bomb.
“I would say it’s a little bit better than 50-50 that the Israelis would take action,” Cohen said. “The rhetoric is starting to get ratcheted up,” he said, though the sharp language may be a “tactical” move to pressure Russia and China to sanction Iran.
Cohen also faulted both political parties for failing to come up with a deficit-reduction plan that would avoid $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts -- known as sequestration -- over a decade.
“I blame both parties, both the president and the Congress, for failing to come up with that,” Cohen said. “I think we’ll end up there eventually, but we’ll do some damage to our credibility in the international, the capital markets and our rating agencies.”
He said the solution could have come from a deficit- reduction package proposed by a bipartisan commission led by former Republican Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming and former White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, which offered a mix of defense and domestic spending cuts and revenue increases.
If sequestration is allowed to take effect in January, national security would be harmed, Cohen said.
“There’s a way to avoid that, and that’s to take the exit ramp off this highway that we are rushing down, traveling down with no one driving, and we’re going down the wrong way,” he said.
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