The PJ Tatler

Did Leon Panetta Lie About Hillary Clinton Wanting to Arm the Syrian Rebels?

Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tossed President Obama under the bus Sunday night on the Islamic State.

On the season premiere of 60 Minutes, Panetta lamented the current state of Iraq. He said that Obama should have left U.S. troops there longer, to create more leverage over now former Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.

Panetta even said that he, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pretty much the entire Obama national security team wanted to arm Syria’s rebels. But President Obama disagreed, and would not allow it to happen.

“The real key was how can we develop a leadership group among the opposition that would be able to take control? And my view was to have leverage to do that, we would have to provide the weapons and the training in order for them to really be willing to work with us in that effort,” the former Obama administration official added.

Pelley observed that Obama’s national security team was “virtually unanimous” on the need to arm Syrian rebels – advice the president ignored. Panetta kindly conceded that Obama was concerned over where those weapons provided to Syrian rebels might end up, but the former CIA director summed his own position as, “You have to begin somewhere.”

“I think that would’ve helped,” Panetta said of the aborted plan to arm moderate opposition in Syria. “And I think in part, we pay the price for not doing that in what we see happening with ISIS.”

That’s about as close as we’ll get to seeing a serious Democrat directly blame Obama for the rise of ISIS.

But there’s a problem with Panetta’s version of history. Hillary Clinton pre-emptively disagreed with it. Take at look at this clip from February 2012 — and 60 Minutes.

Wyatt Andrews interviewed then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton specifically on the subject of arming the Syrian rebels. Clinton was nonplussed about the whole idea.

“Well, first of all, we really don’t know who it is that would be armed,” Clinton said. “We have met some of the people from the Syrian National Council. They’re not inside Syria. This is not Libya where you had a base of operations in Benghazi, where you had people who were representing the entire opposition to Libya, who were on the road meeting with me, rather, constantly meeting with others. You could get your arms around what it is you were being asked to do, and with whom. We don’t have any clarity on that.”

Andrews interjected, “Madame Secretary, what’s the fear of arming the rebels?”

Clinton replied: “Well, first of all as I just said, what are we going to arm them with and against what? We’re not going to bring tanks over the borders of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. That’s not going to happen. So maybe at best you can smuggle in, you know, automatic weapons. Maybe some other weapons that you could get in. To whom? Where do you go? You can’t get into Homs. Where do you go? And to whom are you delivering them?”

Clinton was far from finished outlining the problems with arming the Syrian rebels: “We know al Qaeda – Zawahiri is supporting the opposition in Syria. Are we supporting al Qaeda in Syria? Hamas is now supporting the opposition. Are we supporting Hamas in Syria? So I think, Wyatt, despite the great pleas that we hear from those people who are being ruthlessly assaulted by Assad, you don’t see uprisings across Syria the way you did in Libya. You don’t see militias forming in places where the Syrian military is not, trying to get to Homs. You don’t see that, Wyatt. So if you’re a military planner or if you’re a Secretary of State and you’re trying to figure out do you have the elements of an opposition that is actually viable, that we don’t see. We see immense human suffering that is heartbreaking and a stain on the honor of those security forces who are doing it.”

That’s clear. That was February 2012. Six months later, Obama did the opposite of what Panetta claimed Sunday night, and signed an order to secretly arm the Syrian rebels. If Clinton’s opinion from February had not changed, then Obama was arming the rebels against the objections of his own secretary of State, and in direct conflict with what Panetta now says was Clinton’s opinion. She was for it, he says. But Hillary Clinton clearly argued against it.