May 5th, 2013
04:51 PM ET
9 years 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.

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"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."

Watch State of the Union with Candy Crowley Sundays at 9am ET. For the latest from State of the Union click here.

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

    We have no friends in Syria on either side of this civil war. Sticking our nose in it means supporting an Al Queda controlled rebellion or a brutal dictator. KEEP OUT

    May 5, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  2. jeremy

    we haven't finished off ones that we armed 30 years ago in Afganistan

    May 5, 2013 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  3. Phyllis Gwendoline Williams

    I do not know if there is any truth in this, but someone told me recently that the people who are hurrying you into war generally have some personal interest in the sale of war materials.

    May 5, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  4. Total2199

    "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."

    This old fart and hypocrite McCain must have retired to his ranch a long time ago.

    May 5, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  5. g

    what happened the last time they armed al-quaeda

    May 5, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  6. Neutral Observer

    Arming the "rebels" in Syria? You know the fix is in. I believe the rebels may have a bit off every group in them, the controlling faction will be the muslims. Take your pick, a secular tyrant like the one in charge now or a fanatical theocracy like what is running Lybia and Egypt now

    May 5, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  7. Lame stream media

    Obama was sending weapons to Syria when Benghazi happened, that is why Benghazi happened. I think Obama gave Israel the go ahead to strike Syria because he need a diversion now that the Benghazi scandal is breaking.

    May 5, 2013 05:37 pm at 5:37 pm |
  8. snowdogg

    "Sen. John McCain, said the U.S. should have intervened militarily a long time ago."

    Ah yes, the old fools send younger men to their deaths so easily.

    May 5, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  9. frank thomas

    someone someplace is not telling us what is going on, Israel attacks Syria and plays into the rebels hands who are mostly al queada and just waiting to take over another secular country like Syria and turn them over to muslim extremists, so Israel will have another muslim enemy in the area?? what is wrong here?? does Mcaine wants to support extremeist muslims?? we should be supporting assad, now how can we with Israel, the 51st state involved? Peel me a grape Beulah

    May 5, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  10. Larry L

    McCain and the other war-mongers need to call for a resolution and a vote in the Congress. Let them attach their names to a bill to reinstate the military draft – this time with no deferments for college, gender, age or marital status. Let's all have a dog in the fight and let our gutless Congress take a hard stand on the issue. Is America willing to die for Syria? Are Congressmen willing to man-up to our military obligations? If they weren't so useless I'd recommend the Congress go in with the main effort – but warriors have no need for obstructionists and gutless leaders in a real war.

    May 5, 2013 06:04 pm at 6:04 pm |
  11. GIUK

    Listen to the Republicans. Then do the opposite of what they want. You can't go wrong.

    May 5, 2013 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  12. 4theGood

    We have been down this road before. There must be an Islamic book printed out there called:
    How to dupe Americans for Dummies!

    We don't need to involve ourself in this Middle Eastern war, and we certainly don't want to be seen arming the rebels of which Syria claims is al Queda. However, with Israel enterring the mix, we have now seen how we can be useful.
    Imagine twice as many Muslims dead (rebels and government stooges) and we aren't directly involved.
    How sweet can it get?
    Bring it Iran. This is going to be a BAD year for Iran.
    Bomb, bomb, bomb.... Bomb, bomb Iran.

    May 5, 2013 06:11 pm at 6:11 pm |
  13. Chuk

    Tell that warmonger McCain that if he wants a war, he's quite welcome to get on the front lines. McCain with his war wound hasn't seen a conflict he doesn't want to get involved in.

    May 5, 2013 06:13 pm at 6:13 pm |
  14. Matt

    When there is talk about arming the rebels. There are two tracks the US, UK and France talk about sending weapons. The other is to lift ban so the Arabs can send heavier weapons like MANPADS. Which will remove air superiority and create a no fly zone and allow the to take the capital.

    May 5, 2013 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  15. EvilWorm

    Do not help either side. Let them kill each other with rocks!

    May 5, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  16. matt

    Dear CNN, can you please make public the names of the American politicians in favor of supporting the very people that you showed cheering when the towers fell.
    the day when wives lost husbands, children lost mothers, sisters lost brothers, the day that united ever American in tears..
    Every one of these senators should be tried for providing material aid to a terrorist organization and treason.

    May 5, 2013 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  17. AlFetahh

    The US must be punished severally if they attempt to intervene in Syria. Russia and China help the Syrians defend themselves against these demons. May God's curse the US government.

    May 5, 2013 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  18. jpmichigan

    like we did in Libya, then they will use those same weapons to kill Americans, like they did. Next it will be Egypt.

    May 5, 2013 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  19. birdhouse9

    It's not our job to police the entire world. We've funded Israel well enough. They should be able to handle this one without any further help from us.

    May 5, 2013 06:57 pm at 6:57 pm |
  20. desilva

    risk is there. you cannot stop all the radicals. So make intelligent assessment and do the right thing.
    my opinion- as a US citizen and I agree with MCcain.

    May 5, 2013 07:07 pm at 7:07 pm |
  21. Thomas

    It's time for Bashar al-Assad to go . He had a choice , it's time.

    Who in Syria can we trust ? There is a young rebel women , I have forgotten her name but not her face and her wisdom in regards to her cause . Her father sells medical supplies. She asked congress for air support and medical aid .

    Give her and her country that , no fly zone and medical supplies . NO WEAPONS !

    Better yet , send everybody at this weeks NRA convention in Houston to Aleppo Syria . They might find a deeper understanding on the effects of assault rifles and the human body .

    May 5, 2013 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  22. wwf

    Typical McCain and Gop. Always looking for a war and a place to put the blame unless it is theirs, then nobody is to blame. Faulty this, or that. Iraq ring a bell????????? Let rush into another war in a country that wants Americans to die for their cause, but will tell us to (*() off once it is over and go back to killing each other. Iraq ring a bell. Lets rush in again before we have all of the facts. Vietnam ring a bell? Too dam many bells. Let them kill each other.

    May 5, 2013 07:48 pm at 7:48 pm |
  23. Karl Marx

    McCain is not a strategist. He's a gonzo who got shot down by a 6th string air force. And just to prove it, he chose Sarah Palin. She 'rocks,' and she also lost him the election. McCain just wants the U.S. to attack lsrael's neighbors.

    May 5, 2013 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  24. BigSir

    McCain: keep barking, the people didn't want a president prone to wars that do not support US interests.

    May 5, 2013 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  25. a slozomby

    Assad is backed by iran and hezbollah and hamas, the FSA is backed by al-queda and the muslim brotherhood.

    if we're going to arm them we should arm both sides so they can kill each other quicker.

    May 5, 2013 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
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