Pentagon Leaders: We Wanted to Arm Syria Rebels Panetta, Dempsey suggest military disagrees with White House decision By John Johnson, Newser Staff Posted Feb 7, 2013 5:03 PM CST 23 comments Comments Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, testify on Capitol Hill Thursday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Newser) – The response seemed to catch even questioner John McCain off guard, notes the Washington Post: When he asked Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs chairman Martin Dempsey whether they supported a plan last summer to arm Syrian rebels, this exchange followed: "We did," said Panetta. “You did support that?” McCain responded. "We did," said Dempsey. None of the three elaborated on the point, which puts the Pentagon at odds with the White House decision not to arm the rebels. The plan to supply them with weapons was floated by David Petraeus and backed by Hillary Clinton, but the White House feared a prolonged conflict, reports the New York Times. Today's Capitol Hill testimony will likely put a focus on President Obama's "cautious response to the conflict in Syria," says the Wall Street Journal's story. In other testimony, the two military leaders defended the US response to the Benghazi attack, but McCain and other Republican lawmakers said it fell way short. It was a "very weak response and reaction," said Saxby Chambliss.