Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel offered a summary of his inaugural trip in April to the Middle East as America's top military official on Thursday night, but stopped short of filling in the details that could define the outcome of a two-year-old brutal civil war in Syria.
"The conflict in Syria is intensifying and becoming more sectarian," Hagel said at a dinner in Washington organized by think tank The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He outlined the additional $100 million Secretary of State John Kerry pledged to the Syrian rebels earlier that day in Rome, bringing the total U.S. contributions to more than $500 million in non-lethal aid. The U.S. military has been "very involved" in delivering these supplies, Hagel said.
Hagel referenced U.S. concerns over Iranian involvement in the volatile Syria, however he did not make any mention of the U.S. plan for responding to alleged chemical attacks. He also omitted any follow up on the yet-unnamed consequences President Barack Obama has referenced in crossing a "red line."
"[Obama] has said, I have said, that we continue to assess and collaborate with our intelligence agencies and other intelligence agencies," Hagel told moderator Robert Satloff, executive director of the institute, following his prepared remarks.
America's military planners and the president himself have stopped short of revealing any specific military options for intervention in Syria. More than a decade of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan has produced a war-weary American public, almost two-thirds of whom oppose direct military action in Syria.
"If you take action, there's always a reality – and you accept it – that there's going to be consequences, and unintended consequences, maybe," he added. "There are also consequences, and unintended consequences, that come from inaction."
The Pentagon continues to "dwell very seriously on what happened, and when, and all the other questions that must be asked," he said.
"We deal with facts. That may not be a good enough answer, or a good answer, but right now that's the most honest answer I can give you."
Much of Hagel's recent trip involved rolling out new military hardware deals with countries in the Levant and Middle East regions, including the inaugural V-22s. Israel has not yet confirmed how many they will buy. The U.S. will also sell F-16s to the United Arab Emirates and F-15s to Saudi Arabia.
Hagel championed these alliances as easing the burden off the U.S. military – currently battered by sequestration cuts and ever tightening purse strings – and further explanation for White House hesitancy over intervention in Syria.
"Great powers use all their tools. It isn't just about carriers and carrier battle groups, and the air wings, and all the missiles," he said on Thursday. "Those are important, but those are elements – important elements in protection one's interests."
No nation is powerful enough to fix every problem itself, he added.
"Even if we had twice the budget we had now, we couldn't fix all the problems," said Hagel. "That lead most of us to believe the alliances are critical – you multiply your force capability with alliances."