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Graham Questions Obama’s Commitment to Removing Assad From Power

'Who leaves first, Obama or Assad?'

• July 7, 2015 1:16 pm

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On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) pressed Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to admit that the Obama administration is not committed to deposing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

"As to Assad, what's more likely?" Graham mused. "President Obama leaves office in 2017, or Assad goes first?"

"Uh, well, it's certain that President Obama will leave then, so that’s an easy question," Carter said. "It ends up turning on whether Assad will be in power then."

"Yes, well I know that," Graham chuckled.

The senator repeated his question: "Who leaves first, Obama or Assad?"

"Well, I certainly hope it’s Assad," Carter answered.

"Yeah I do, but I don’t think so," Graham said.

The exchange occurred during Tuesday’s hearing on U.S. involvement in the Middle East before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Obama administration officials insisted as early as 2011 that Assad must go, but have since done very little to effect a change of power in Damascus, even after the Syrian regime murdered thousands of its citizens with weapons of mass destruction in 2013.

President Obama repeated Monday that the Syrian civil war would only end if there is "a new government without Bashar Assad," but so far he has forbidden the U.S. military from targeting Syrian government forces in airstrikes as part of Operation Inherent Resolve.

"In Syria, the only way that the civil war will end … is an inclusive political transition to a new government without Bashar Assad, a government that serves all Syrians," Obama said. "We’re intensifying our efforts against ISIS’ base in Syria. Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations … We’re going after the ISIS leadership and infrastructure in Syria, the heart of ISIS that pumps funds and propaganda to people around the world."

Carter told Graham that the United States is committed to finding "a political exit for Assad."

The Syrian Civil War has killed more than 310,000 people in four years, according to the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.