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. mitch

    Mr. McCain should just go somewhere, sit down, and shut-up. He clearly indicated his complete lack of judgement when he chose the dingbat Sarah Palin as his running mate.

    May 6, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  2. jkantor267

    Obama's Legacy: more death and misery.

    May 6, 2013 11:59 am at 11:59 am |
  3. Guest

    Always respected McCain but, like others, he is selling out conservatism. Anyway, hopefully our officials are smart enough to stop arming our enemies, people who hate Americans and persecute – or kill – christians. Unfortunately, the president (and I use that term loosely) is one of them, brought up by people who hate what Amercia has been and seeking some form of revenge for what he perceives to be injustices throughout our history, apparently he doesnt understand we're supposed to learn from history not repeat it.

    May 6, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  4. Bill Zimmerman

    This is the same McCain that thought the Iraqi War would last a few months. While I applaud his prior Military service, I believe he should spend more time on the Issues affecting us at home, like Military Spending being way to high.

    May 6, 2013 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  5. Bill Zimmerman

    @jkantor267 Just how many of our own have paid the price for the previous administrations rush to War ??

    May 6, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  6. Doyle Wiley, MI

    McCain never met a potential war he didn't fall in love with.

    May 6, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  7. Ferathka

    I'm glad Israel did something. Why does the United States have to foot the bill? It is about time Europe takes the lead on this. We have enough stuff to worry about here at home!!

    May 6, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  8. Ancient Texan

    Obama should never have made his red line statement if he had no intention of honoring it. We should NOT put boots on the ground, but a no fly zone and small arms should now be the order of the day.

    May 6, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  9. WIMPY38

    McCain: A rebel without a cause!

    May 6, 2013 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  10. Asaph

    This can't be described as rushing to war. It's been going on too long with too much death and misery. But the complicated thing is choosing sides – there's NO group fighting that would honor or even acknowledge the interests of the west. The Assad regime has been brutal for decades but the opposition doesn't look like an improvement, though they are fighting bravely. So .. it's virtually certain that America would be arming its enemies or the enemies of its only true friend in the region – Israel. But maybe that's the ticket – let Israel be the game changer. There's no love lost and any resolution would be violent. But it might be quicker, which is actually humane whether we want to admit it or not.

    May 6, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  11. diddy

    Nobody listen to the None Maverick John McCain anymore...Never mind I didn't hear him.....

    May 6, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  12. w l jones

    Tell that to some one never been around of near combat.

    May 6, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  13. AZtomcat

    We hear in Arizona want John McCain to move to Ca.

    May 6, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  14. RocketJL

    McCain should be quiet. He wants to take away guns from Americans afraid of their tyrannical government, now he wants to give help to Syrian citizens who are fighting their tyrannical government. Is this all politics or what. Most of the Syrian rebels McCain wants to help are enemies of America and who will use our own weapons against us. Not many people are talking about it, but what do you think happened in Benghazi. Check who had the security contract for the 'annex'.

    May 6, 2013 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  15. Name

    I'm glad to see most of the comments here are against another middle east war. Jbrockviddude, if your so anxious to fight oppressive governments you could start by not buying anything made in COMMUNIST China, unless you are like so many that only want to fight battles that don't inconvenience you.

    May 6, 2013 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  16. BCW

    McCain wants US to spend our resources on another war. How much more money we have to spend NOT in the US that benefit our citizens? How many young American lives we have to sacrify in Syria? What is the exist strategy? The last war last 9 years in Iraq and thousands of young lives. Ask McCain these questions.

    May 6, 2013 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  17. BCW

    Who will pay for another war? Congress better think really Hard on the econmy before we patrol other country in their own civil war.

    May 6, 2013 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "Do we get to go to war yet? Do we? Do we do we do we do we do we? Can we can we please??!?!?!? I wanna go to war again!!!! Come ooooooonnnn....I want it I want it I want it I want it!!!!!!!"

    May 6, 2013 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "the red line that the president of the United States had written was apparently written in disappearing ink,"

    Setting aside how ridiculous his claim is in the first place, since it makes perfect sense to gather more intelligence and be sure prior to taking an extreme actions and Obama hasn't ignored any "red line" test he supposedly set up...the fact remains: America would rather that "red line" be drawn in "invisible ink" than in blood.

    You can take that to the bank.

    May 6, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  20. Scott

    In Syria, these same "Rebels" are called "Terrorists".

    How funny, it depends on which side of the coin you are on, from being called a "Patriot" vs a "Terrorist".

    May 6, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  21. ?

    let the mideast fight their reformation, islam is simply a few centuries behind the majority of christians,

    May 6, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  22. lolo

    This is why Israel wanted Romney the puppet for President. They knew that he would be all in. If they are bad enough to start a war they should be bad enough to end it. How about our politicians try takiing care of home and solving Americas' problems instead of sticking their noses in other countries problems. If the erepublicans want a war so bad send their party over there to fight.They are not doing nothing anyway, just holding up progress.

    May 6, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  23. Mitch

    Why are the media paying so much attention to what McCain has to say? Can't they see that McCain is deranged? Apparently his time spent in a prison in Vietnam has made a bitter vengeful person, ready to declare war in whatever country around the world. You might think that a man who has experienced the worst that war has to offer would look for every opportunity to avoid war. Apparently that logic does not hold, in the case of Mr. McCain. IMHO, If McCain had been elected president, more Americans and innocent people around the world would have died. Not to mention that a dingbat would have been a heartbeat away from being president of the United States.

    May 6, 2013 01:23 pm at 1:23 pm |
  24. ?

    @BCW

    that is what war is all about most of the time, Iraq was at bush's heart for oil and made cheney's pocket much bigger (although you could have told us we were going for their silverware), lybia was eu's oil supply, Syria is backed by Russia and Russia's economy is buffed up by the arms it sells, the whole cold war was about money, study wars (America's civil war even – industry in the north vs slave driven plantations in the south) and you will find that money is at the root of conflict

    May 6, 2013 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  25. andrew

    I don't get it...people applaud McCains militay service..for getting shot out of the sky and breaking under torture?? Hey, I knew guys who checked out before getting into a POW ( Hanoi Hilton) camp. Others who just..' Name rank and serial' for 4 years. Then this clown is some kind of hero?? the real ones are dead. Now he acts like a idiot and has as much character as a tootsie roll..Sorry ain't buying it or him. Semper Fi.

    May 6, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
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