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Panetta vs. McCain on stepping in on Syria -- in a picture

March 7, 2012 |  3:06 pm


Striking out unilaterally to try to stop the violence in Syria would be a mistake, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta warned a Senate committee on Wednesday, saying it could exacerbate the risk of civil war.

"We all wish there was a clear and unambiguous way forward to directly influence the events in Syria," Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "That unfortunately is not the case."

His remarks pushed against a call for forceful action by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who issued a statement Tuesday along with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) arguing that the U.S. should help organize airstrikes on Syrian forces to protect civilians.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, maybe the reverse is true. The Times used the website to create two word clouds showing which words popped up most often in the Panetta remarks and in the statement of McCain and his colleagues.

The most obvious difference is that McCain and company brought up the Syrian opposition much more often, saying, "we should work with our closest friends and allies to support opposition groups inside Syria, both political and military, to help them organize themselves into a more cohesive and effective force that can put an end to the bloodshed."

Panetta, in contrast, mentioned the word "opposition" only twice, warning: "It is not clear what constitutes the Syrian armed opposition -- there has been no single unifying military alternative that can be recognized, appointed or contacted." 

Syria has been racked for nearly a year by an uprising against President Bashar Assad. The United Nations has condemned human rights abuses committed by the Syrian regime as troops crack down on the opposition, but the Security Council hasn't been able to agree on any action.


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Image: Two word clouds based on remarks by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and a statement by Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham. Credit: Tagxedo