Secretary of State John Kerry said he would not "take take off the table an option" to send ground troops to Syria in Senate foreign affairs committee hearing on Tuesday. Kerry explained his hesitation in the classically Kerry roundabout way of speaking:
"In the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies — all of us, the British, the French, and others — to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the President of the United States to secure our country."
The Obama administration has been aggressively pushing back against any comparisons between military strikes in Syria and the war in Iraq, and a key talking point is that President Obama does not want to send American troops to Syria. As State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, for example, told ABC News last week, "Nobody's talking about boots on the ground in Syria; nobody's talking about regime change through military options."
But many people are somewhat skeptical of that, given that Obama said Syrian President Bashar al Assad needed to "step aside" way back in August 2011. The Obama administration began arming Syrian rebels earlier this year, and The New York Times reported on Tuesday that "the first 50-man cell of [rebel] fighters, who have been trained by the C.I.A., was beginning to sneak into Syria."
So naturally, Kerry's statement led to a lot of followup questions. "The president has no intention and will not and we do not want to put American troops on the ground to fight this or be involved in the fighting of the civil war," he clarified. As Time notes, Kerry Sen. Bob Corker, "All I did was raise a hypothetical question" and that he was just "thinking out loud." Sen. Ron Johnson asked if Obama really did want regime change, delivering a "knock-out punch" to Assad. Kerry assured him with a little more thinking out loud: "Is the Congress ready to pay for 30 days of 30,000 air strikes?" Kerry later assured Sen. Chris Coons Obama has "zero intention of putting boots on the ground."