May 5th, 2013
04:51 PM ET
12 months ago

Lawmakers divided over arming rebels in Syria

(CNN) – Lawmakers had varying opinions Sunday on whether the United States should supply Syrian rebel forces with weapons now that the situation has escalated with Syria accusing Israel, a close U.S. ally, of launching rockets into the country.

While some argued President Barack Obama should continue weighing his options, others, like Sen. John McCain, said the U.S. should have intervened militarily a long time ago.

"The whole situation is becoming more and more expansive, and unfortunately, the red line that the president of the United States had written was apparently written in disappearing ink," McCain, an Arizona Republican, said on Fox News.

The Obama administration recently said there was evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Syria. Obama had previously said such action would cross a "red line."

The president, however, has since said he wants to make sure the United States has all the facts before taking any action.

"Unlike the president of the United States, (Israel) saw a red line, and they acted," McCain told reporters later Sunday. "Unfortunately, this president, President Obama will not act, and that's a tragedy because the massacre goes on and the use of heavier and heavier weapons and more massacres are taking place of the Syrian people."

He suggested the United States establish a "safe zone" in Syria, take out the government's air assets - "which we can do from long range-no American boots on the ground" - and supply the rebel forces with the weapons they need.

McCain has long been pressing the Obama administration to further intervene in the civil war in Syria, where, the United Nations estimated, 70,000 people have been killed since the conflict flared in March 2011.

But Rep. Peter King, former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said handing over weapons to the rebel forces might be "counterproductive," arguing they could end up in the wrong hands.

"Unfortunately, to a large extent, al Qaeda elements have a lot of control within the rebel movements. My concern is that, by arming the rebels, we could be strengthening al Qaeda," King, R-New York, said on CNN's State of the Union.

"If we are going to arm the rebels, we have to make sure that those arms are not going to end up in the possession of al Qaeda supporters, nor at the end game is al Qaeda going to be in a position to take over this movement," he added.

Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vermont, agreed that some of the groups include radical elements.

"And we've seen like in Libya and Egypt and elsewhere the Islamists tend to get the upper hand if they get in there," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

But he added the United States has already showed support in the Syria conflict by giving hundreds of millions of dollars in refugee aid and anti-aircraft equipment to Turkey. Supplying weapons may be the next step, he said.

"The idea of getting weapons in, if we know the right people to get them, my guess is, we'll give them to them," he said.

Rep. Tom Cotton, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, felt more strongly, saying arming the rebels is "something that should have been done months ago."

"We have to arm the opposition. I think we also need to move towards imposing a no-fly zone so Bashar al-Assad cannot continue to use helicopter gunships against civilians," Cotton, R-Arkansas, said on NBC. "And so his refugees - so the refugees he's creating aren't destabilizing our allies like Jordan."

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said "we're going to have to play for the best worst option at this point."

"That's the bad news. We've waited such a long time. Our Arab League partners are already in Syria and trying to provide help to the opposition," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Rogers, R-Michigan, said the U.S. could "be hugely helpful" in bringing down the Assad government by providing intelligence and training – but not boots on the ground.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, stood by Obama, saying he agrees with the president in waiting until "we have all the facts" and that any further efforts should be made with other countries.

"We can't be the sheriff for the whole world. We have our own issues right now - Iraq, Afghanistan, we have a sequestration, those types of issues. So when we move and make the move to go in, we have to do it with a coalition, the Arab coalition, the other countries in the area," Ruppersberger, D-Maryland, said on CBS.

White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters on Air Force One Sunday that the president feels "that the Israelis are justifiably concerned about the threat posed by Hezbollah obtaining these advanced weapon systems. And the president many times has talked about his view that Israel, as a sovereign government, has the right to take the actions they feel are necessary to protect their people."

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Filed under: John McCain • Mike Rogers • Peter King • Syria • Tom Cotton • TV-State of the Union
soundoff (210 Responses)
  1. john.nosetip

    There's a shock... McCain wants to kill people. Someone should tell him he can kill everyone and it won't change the fact that he was a miserable failure as a soldier

    May 6, 2013 07:35 pm at 7:35 pm |
  2. navaJohn

    McCain, ever since you selected a half-term nitwit from Alaska as your running mate, I have lost all respect for any decision that comes out of your mouth. Boy did you really blow it there!

    May 6, 2013 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  3. YUCK

    Send mc Cain and the rest of the gang to the middle east and let them fight.....

    May 6, 2013 07:38 pm at 7:38 pm |
  4. SecrtSqurl

    They will not appreciate out help, and if given, will turn it on us as soon as they can. Let them weed each other out.

    May 6, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  5. Clint

    Its ironic that he right is all about saving life, but the first wanting to end it with war. Maybe they need all those babies so they can keep feeding their war machine.

    Can we have at least a couple years without war. Let the UN deal with it, right or wrong, its their job.

    May 6, 2013 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  6. yogi

    McCain is in love with wars, he is drooling just with the thought of another opportunity to use those weapons, the bigger the better. And you ask him why? he will say "Oh, we will think about that later". Intelligent analysis is not a GOP's strength,and we know very well where that has brought us in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    May 6, 2013 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  7. Sajjad

    If Israel is free to act in whichever way it thinks right then so are other countries, there goes International Law and all the red lines that the USA or Israel claim to see. Also when we talk about Red lines the whole world can see how these lines are drawn at convenience. Chemical weapons were supplied by USA to Iraq and nobody saw a red line then – rather photo ops were done with Saddam then. The USA used depleted Uranium in Gulf war on Iraq and nobody seems to care. Israel developed nuclear weapons and no red lines were drawn then. The whole masquerade of righteous international indignation by the powerful is a charade and a mask to further their "interests". There was colonialism and now captialism has equipped itself with a lot of firepower to further the same agenda of exploiting natural resources from places outside their borders and interfere in other countries.

    May 6, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  8. giggig

    when nukes start exploding over major cities of EUR and USA ,they will come back to this here,"why didn't we stop them in the phase of enrichment process. Hizbolla and iran have one thing in mind.Grind down both civil-war-parties,first the syrian rebels ,with the help of Asad , therafter of course Assad too. Assad must pair up with Israel,if he wants to remain in his throne .

    May 6, 2013 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |
  9. joe

    Sen McCain needs to STFU and go back to AZ. Permanently. "We should have acted already"? Doing what? To what end? Helping who? Both sides are dirty in this conflict. Newsflash...We are hated there. Let them sort their own affairs out and back Israel to the hilt. THEY have the interests in the region. Not us.
    For the record, I have kids deployed (Marines) at the moment, and I am too old to re-activate. If Mccain wants to take action, I suggest we send him.

    May 6, 2013 09:10 pm at 9:10 pm |
  10. joe

    madman senator..he needs to leave his post and let another jnsane politician take his place.

    May 6, 2013 09:23 pm at 9:23 pm |
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