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. Chuck

    Al Qaeda is so deep in the opposition at this point any help we give the "rebels" (read: Terrorists) is going to come back and bite us. Like his policies or not, Assad is merely fighting a war to keep his country together and under his control. It's nothing different than our own president would do had their been an insurrection in the United States. If "rebels" were trying to overthrow the government here, does anyone seriously think Russia or China should intervene?

    May 5, 2013 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  2. unretired05

    The longer it goes on before the US intervenes the less shopping bags of money the CIA will nave to deliver to the new president of Syria after it's over. There will be less palms needing grease.

    May 5, 2013 08:24 pm at 8:24 pm |
  3. Anonymous

    Dont arm people who hate US

    May 5, 2013 08:31 pm at 8:31 pm |
  4. Ismail Aljazaeri

    Carla Del ponte, the UN investigator confirmed the Syrian government claim that the opposition terrorist groups have used the Sarin gas against the populated area. The US government, NATO and Arab despotic sheik regimes for this horrific drama in Syria. The victims of this conflict have the right to sue the above mentioned powers and claim compensation for the lost lives and properties. The US government should be ashamed for supporting those who killed over 3000 American victims in 911. I am appalled!!

    May 5, 2013 08:33 pm at 8:33 pm |
  5. Steve

    McCain's Brain is Fried from the Special Treatment he received from his buddies in North Vietnam – he wasn't your 'typical' POW & now he's an even bigger 'idot'

    May 5, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  6. marctheduck

    STAY OUT OF IT. There are no friends of ours there on either side. It's their problem to sort out.

    May 5, 2013 09:00 pm at 9:00 pm |
  7. Incredulous

    I am amazed that American senators are suggesting that we arm our sworn enemies, al Qaeda and other Islamist, radicals, simply because Israel has chosen them as allies. Everyone must now question their patriotism.

    May 5, 2013 09:12 pm at 9:12 pm |
  8. lex

    The rebels will win sooner or later. There is really nothing to lose if we support at least the rebels we believe are the good guys. We will only lose if we do nothing. But perhaps that's acceptable to Obama and Pelosi and Reid.

    May 5, 2013 09:16 pm at 9:16 pm |
  9. Nodack

    Syria is land mind for Obama. It's a no win situation. Sure Republicans are demanding Obama act ... until he does. Then they will be demanding his impeachment for acting. What happened in Libya? Republicans along withMcCain, Bachman, Rush etc all demanded Obama take action and called him all kinds of pleasant things for not acting. Then the US met with Europe, the UN, NATO and the Arab League and they all decided together to act as one and enact a no fly zone. The very next day Republicans wanted Obama impeached for starting a war without consent.

    Ya, Republicans want Obama to act on Syria.... until he does, then they will reverse their position overnight. I would bet a years salary on it.

    May 5, 2013 09:18 pm at 9:18 pm |
  10. ipmutt

    Where is president donothing hiding

    May 5, 2013 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  11. mountainlady

    If Israel is willing to take the flak on this one, more power to them. This is a case of not being able to tell the players without a score card. President Obama will be damned no matter what decision he makes on this one. I feel deeply about the women and children over there but I'm not sure even the rebel soldiers care about the innocent and it's obvious that the Assad regime does not care. The US cannot rescue everyone. John McCain is an old, old warrior. It's all he knows. The Bush administration had no clear evidence of WMD. We went to war anyway. That didn't work out so well for us. To the best of my knowledge the US currently has no clear evidence of use of chemical weapons. I don't blame President Obama for not wanting to make the same mistake Bush did.

    May 5, 2013 09:29 pm at 9:29 pm |
  12. PortOurTroops

    "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."

    EXPENSIVE? What an embarrassment to the US you are. We're talking people's lives here and you're worried about expenses? By the way, I'm sure that whatever we might spend, it would be peanuts compared to the waste in Iraq where we only built hate toward the US and gave the terrorists their best marketing tool.

    May 5, 2013 10:08 pm at 10:08 pm |
  13. Name Uche Agonsi

    Since Obama Administration existed the Republicans ( majority ) have never supported the President's policies, so is Al Qaeda. The Repubs think like Al Qaeda. The have become Al Qaeda Agents. The President should only listen to the views of majority Americans, UN, Majority of European Allies,.....& how far these groups would support him physically /economically. Right now Israel's mission is a mirage. They can never prevent any enemy nation from acquiring nukes...Iran, NK, Pakistan, Afghan Rebels, etc, its invitation to world war 3 .......& for the killing of civilians.....for crying out laud, these are Moslems we are talking of here. The love wars & never supported the US. Turkey, is EEC member, should allign its security policies with NATO. Jordan refugees problems could be helped by neighbours like Saudis, etc. Obama must remember US debts, sequestration, unemployment, wars, etc.....must strive to give US peace that they need for progress.

    May 5, 2013 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  14. Kelcy

    If McCain and crowd are so hot to trot to go to war again then I certainly hope their children or grandchildren would be on the front lines. Too, where is their proposal for a new war tax. Even using stand off weaponry costs money we don`t have. There should have been a war tax established to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan. If they want more war then pay for it.

    May 5, 2013 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  15. Marcus Wel

    We have never had success at throwing money and weapons at a problem and then walking away. At best we are creating another dictator to replace the current one. If Obama is to weak to do something, he should have kept his mouth shut about crossing the red line.

    May 5, 2013 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  16. Xi Gua

    To set a No Fly Zone or a Safe Zone over Syria would mean war with Iran. To supply heavy weapons to rebels would mean Iranian heavy weapons flooding into Syria. There is no end to the Syrian conflict in the near future, at least until after the May 2014 Syrian presidential election is over.

    May 5, 2013 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  17. chrissy

    Israel is not picking their battles wisely. That does not mean the US should follow in their footsteps.

    May 5, 2013 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  18. Jim g

    Let's not send weapons to Syria, because they include al qaeda forces. We supplied weapons to Iran, then Afghanistan rebels, which included al Qaeda, while fighting Russia and they are using them against us now. I hope in my lifetime we can wise up enough to avoid supplying weapons to those we don't trust. Allies and only Allies.

    May 6, 2013 12:03 am at 12:03 am |
  19. frank godsoney

    A country like Syria can't have weapons of mass destruction. You're either with us or you're with the terrrorists.

    May 6, 2013 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  20. Grand Funk Railroad...

    Closer to home...I don't blame the lawmakers one bit...don't be afraid to stand up to agendas! that is why we elected you!!!

    May 6, 2013 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  21. Marie MD

    Arm the rebels and stay out of Syria. If mcnasty and ms Lindsey want to go fight the war go ahead. Make sure you take the twit's five sons who have never served.

    May 6, 2013 06:30 am at 6:30 am |
  22. GonzoinHouston

    Bad idea. Any weapon would be quickly shared, sold, or stolen, and wind up in the hands of some terrorist. Syria is now like Behruit all over again. Stay clear of this one.

    May 6, 2013 07:34 am at 7:34 am |
  23. Sunflower 52

    McCain is living proof of the old saying: "Old men start wars and young men fight them". Why is this man called a "hero" anyway? He got shot down because he disobeyed orders. Oh, that's right, he has always been a "maverick". Maybe he and Palin could pick up their guns and go over a fight. Don't we have enough maimed soldiers without getting into another conflict. How would we know who we would be arming or fighting for that matter. Not our problem!!!

    May 6, 2013 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  24. Jules

    Why is John McCain so intent on getting us into another war? Is he willing to vote for a war tax to pay for it? The man has never seen an armed conflict he doesn't want to be a part of.

    May 6, 2013 08:43 am at 8:43 am |
  25. Linda

    McCain's hilarious. Now he's criticizing the President for NOT "taking action" in Syria. That's how we got into the war in Iraq–remember, McCain? You want the President to involve us in another war so you can then criticize him for involving us in another war. You can't have it both ways, McCain. If you're such a hot shot foreign policy advisor why did you & Congress allow the Iraqi war then criticize President Obama for not bringing the troops home sooner–remember who sent them to Iraq? Uh–that would be President Bush and you and the other members of Congress–all those WMD's were a threat-remember??

    May 6, 2013 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
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