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Kerry Admits Possibility of 'Boots on the Ground' in Syria

Immediately tries to retract troubling answer, but Senate hearing exposes Obama administration's difficulty in answering key question: 'What happens after US attack?'

- Jon Queally, staff writer

Boots on the ground?

Asked by Senate Robert Menendez (D-NJ) whether or not language should be inserted in a congressional authorization for an attack on Syria that would prohibit 'U.S. boots on the ground,' U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that would not be good idea. Kerry stammered, and then declared—"in the event Syria imploded, for instance"—that he wouldn't want to take that option "off the table" by inserting such a clause.

The exchange occurred as Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff Adm. Martin Dempsey delivered testimony about the Obama administration's push for military action—also known as war—against Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

In a follow-up question on the issue, Kerry said he wanted to "shut the door" on the impression left by his previous answer regarding boots on the ground.

"All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility, and I'm thinking out loud about how to protect American interests," he said. Then added, "There will not be boots on the ground with respect to the civil war." Whether that calculation would change "with respect" to some deeper conflict was not clear.

Later, after being handed a folded piece paper from a staff aid, Kerry once again returned to his comments about the possibility of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria to reiterate that his earlier comments were simply "hypothetical" and not reflective of administration policy.

However, pressed by Sen. James Risch (R-ID) on what would happen "if this thing gets away from us" in Syria, Kerry again pushed off a direct answer, arguing that Assad would simply be crazy to respond to a U.S. assault on its military or sovereign territory.

Throughout the afternoon testimony, neither Kerry, Hagel, or Dempsey were eager to engage in the "what next?" question posed by senators from either side of the aisle.

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