May 5th, 2013
04:51 PM ET
1 year 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. PoliticsNation

    Obama is doing the right thing here and he does get credit. Unlike the Bush era we aren't going to just take action right away. Sorry republicans you can't always have it your way.

    May 6, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  2. Sharon Mahart

    John McCain never met a conflict he was unwilling to support with military force. That's why I voted for Hussein in 2008, since he vowed to bring all troops home. Huh... so much for that, I guess...

    May 6, 2013 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  3. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    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,"
    -------------------------------------------------
    I wholeheartedly concur with Ruppersberger, ranking membe of the House Intelligence Committee.
    Those, like McCain et al, who are just itching to get us into another melee that is none of our business, with or troops worn the hell out fromt he last "skirmish" their pointing trigger fingers got us into, they can volunteer their children to go; and if they are not too decrepit they can pick up a gun and go man the new front.
    I am sick to death of sending our troops "over there" to kill or be killed, and I don't think we should arm anybody just yet withouth getting ALL of the facts.
    Whoever started this fight needs to think about doing most if not all of the fighting WITHOUT our men, our women,our guns, or our involvement.
    IMO.

    May 6, 2013 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  4. Mike

    The other side of McCain's mouth must be tired and resting for tomorrow's speech for the exact opposite of what he just said. Didn't McCain used to complain that Obama was too gung ho toward attacking sovereign nations such as Syria? Now Obama isn't ordering enough attacks?

    What a brilliant plan! It will work just as well as helping Libya!!! We helped their rebels and they thanked us by assassinating an ambassador!!!!! Syria will do even better for us if we get involved in yet another foreign war that isn't our business!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!

    May 6, 2013 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  5. Mike

    The other side of McCain's mouth must be tired and resting for tomorrow's speech for the exact opposite of what he just said. Didn't McCain used to complain that Obama was too gung-ho toward attacking sovereign nations such as Syria? Now Obama isn't ordering enough attacks?

    What a brilliant plan! It will work just as well as helping Libya!!! We helped their rebels and they thanked us by assassinating an ambassador!!!!! Syria will do even better for us if we get involved in yet another foreign war that isn't our business!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!

    May 6, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  6. Mike

    The other side of McCain's mouth must be tired and resting for tomorrow's speech for the exact opposite of what he just said. Didn't McCain used to complain that Obama was too gung-ho toward attacking sovereign nations such as Syria? Now Obama isn't ordering enough attacks?

    What a brilliant plan! It will work just as well as helping Libya! We helped their rebels and they thanked us by assassinating an ambassador! Syria will do even better for us if we get involved in yet another foreign war that isn't our business! Yay!

    May 6, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  7. Data Driven

    I saw the headline and knew before reading the article that John McCain would be quoted extensively. I think even Republicans have had enough of this old warmonger.

    We have NO business in Syria. If Israel wants to carpetbomb Syria, that's their lookout, and they can deal with the consequences - alone, please.

    May 6, 2013 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  8. omeany

    The last thing we need is ANOTHER endless war. We have already gone broke trying to sustain 2 of them. We need to work with the rest of the world to secure a good outcome to this issue. If we continue to be the world's policeman we will remove any hope of a financial recovery.

    The GOP claim to be financial conservatives but this always goes out the window when they want to start another war...or help out their rich cronies with generous tax incentives.

    May 6, 2013 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  9. Jack

    And America did, Senator McCain, did you think of that!

    May 6, 2013 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  10. christian

    Why is this still a discussion.
    US Government arming Al-Qaeda rebels. We should contemplate Treason charges against our government official if this happens.

    May 6, 2013 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  11. DDM

    USA taxpayers can NOT afford more war to make the profiteers richer! Pay down our debts! Take care of our many problems at home! Fix our crumbling infrastructure! Man our own borders! Cut down on tax and other fraud! Get busy at home, not in more endless meaningless wars that are strangling our nation!

    May 6, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  12. Larry L

    If America wants to police the world we must reinstate the military draft – without ANY exemptions for gender, age, educational or marital status. If dying for the very people who cheered 9/11 is a good idea – let's all have our name in the draft pool. Let's see how motivated Republicans are to fight when their kids get called to leave the private schools to fight in a biological/chemical civil war with no real exit strategy. "W's" foolish war exhausted our military and crashed our economy. We'd be absolute morons to rush into another conflict because Republican's have defense contractors to satisfy. Reinstate the draft w/o exemptions and let's all have a dog in the fight!

    May 6, 2013 10:37 am at 10:37 am |
  13. Tcar

    Are we trying to reduce spending or not GOP? Let those countries take care of themselves!

    May 6, 2013 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  14. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    John McCain is a hypocrite and a traitor. During the Libyan conflict, he said the same thing in that President Obama should have intervened "a long time ago." But when the President finally got the coalition on board for military intervention, McCain's colleagues in congress accused the President of " rushing to war, then the asked sarcastically "what's the mission and the end game and who was going to pay for the war.?" And some of McCain's colleagues even threatened impeachment proceedings against the President. And what did McCain say? Well, he said nothing and remained silent and did NOT come to the defense of the President.

    But one thing about the American constitution as we know is that it gives Americans the freedom to bear arms and harm innocent Americans on one hand and on the other hand, it gives you the freedom to take your family and go fight for a foreign country or group if you so choose. Hey triggerman McCain, you can take your family and the GOPT/D gun lobbyists with you to Syria!

    May 6, 2013 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  15. candy 24

    John McCain wants war all the time he needs to retire maybe start is own war with a rocking chair he has never fought in a war only a pow I did have respect for him but no more he just needs to go away for good

    May 6, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  16. scott

    If we are not the sheriff someone ells will be and you will not like it.

    May 6, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  17. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Hey Senator McCain, as soon as you and the GOPT/D gun lobbyists and your families volunteer to go fight for the rebels, I'll donate money for your trip. Just say the word!

    May 6, 2013 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  18. Remembe:r McCain Picked Palin

    After TWO $4 trillion wars that cost tens of thousands of US military lives and accomplished NOTHING, why does he want a third? McCain is a very dangerous fool. Let him send his own family to be massacred for NOTHING. No matter what we do, the most powerful Sheik will win.

    May 6, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  19. MaryM

    Ah, the old dogs of war never stop barking, do they. Time for McCain to retire.

    May 6, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  20. Larry L

    I propose we tax the top 5% with a special 25% war surcharge on their gross income including capital gains and dividends w/o any possible deductions. Since they are very unlikely to send their children to die and are quite likely to profit from the war's contractors, they should fund the endeavor.

    May 6, 2013 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  21. MIkeM

    ENOUGH WAR! GOP Please STOP!

    May 6, 2013 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  22. Peoples State of Illinois

    The way I understand it, WWIII is supposed to start in the Middle East. Looks like the early stages to me.

    May 6, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  23. Mike

    Another call for war from the CONservatives? How about you raise taxes and reinstate the draft first. Then maybe we can discuss a war with a cost that will be shared by all.

    May 6, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  24. sonny chapman

    We went from Vietnam to Gulf War II(1975-2003) without doing something stupid on war. Looks like the Shelf Life of the Lessons of Iraq is real short.

    May 6, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  25. Gun control in Syria?

    Mr. King says "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". So, how do we do that? Background checks? The Republicans have already told us those are useless here in the USA. Will they work with desperate Muslims 10,000 miles away?

    May 6, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
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