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. ED FL

    Most Americans from the age of Forty have heard enough From Mccain and his knowledge of wartime procedures and results. Typical politician that loves to see his name in Print or voice on airways. Time for that old COOT to close his mouth and go back to Arizona where MAYBE some sound and look alikes might care to be around him.

    May 6, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  2. Brenda

    Nobody asked you old man.

    May 6, 2013 08:52 am at 8:52 am |
  3. Guest

    Lets not arm anymore muslim terrorist groups – just look at Egypt! But the current admin has to pander to it's supporters even if they do hate Americans!

    May 6, 2013 08:53 am at 8:53 am |
  4. abingos

    Maybe its time for senator McCain to immigrate to Isreal. Where are thw Arabs, with all the oil monies, and why are they not taking active steps to clean up their own neighborhood? Where are the europeans and asians? How is it nobody wants to spend their own money?

    May 6, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  5. Al-NY,NY

    so a report by the UN says that it may have been the rebels who used Sarin and McSenile and the rest of the war mongers STILL want to arm them? What about Al-Queda? The GOP loves to scream about "arming the opposition" but then bleat endlessly about who this opposition is (Musli Brotherhood) and what they feel about the US. Anyone that signs onto arming the rebels MUST put in writing that they know full well that portions of any weapons supplied will likely end up in Al Queda hands and will refrain from criticism later when this comes true..

    May 6, 2013 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  6. sapnglish

    The only thing Obama have been doing is selling US to Mexico...He always have been afraid to enforce the laws, and has been a chicken in foreign policy...

    May 6, 2013 09:04 am at 9:04 am |
  7. BCW

    John McCain is soooo war-hungry. Why he wants our young troops involve in another country civil war? Well, none of his children are young enough to be draft. The McCain clan is safe. Does he remember the lesson learn from Iraq and the thousands of young men and women died and ten more thousands of them injured and lost limbs? Thank GOD, John McCain IS NOT out president. Can someone examin his head for the sake of the sanity of this country?

    May 6, 2013 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  8. Littlebylittle

    These coutries hate us, why is that hard to believe from the mountain of evidence over the years. Leave that hell hole to the zelots of each faith. Maybe it is Allah's will, or God's "ordained" will, shrouded in mystery. The other countries in that area don't care, that should speak loud and clear to our desire to help whichever side kill each other off. What's the end game here Senator McCain?

    May 6, 2013 09:19 am at 9:19 am |
  9. Fed Up With Politicians

    Dear John McCain, go over there and fight yourself. I know your tiny brain has completely disconnected you from reality but the U.S. cannot keep engaging in conflicts. Time to retire you senile fool.

    May 6, 2013 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  10. Jeb

    How do you arm the Syrian rebels without arming the Al Qaeda elements within their ranks who are pretty much running the show?

    We need to stay out of it.

    May 6, 2013 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  11. John McCain is the poster boy for war

    Bomb Bomb Bomb...Bomb Bomb Iran.....

    May 6, 2013 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  12. Rob

    I'm glad our President has not acted yet. New reports say the rebels are using the chemical weapons. We are pointing the finger at the regime on this but I have not read press releases saying with concrete evidence that they have used the chemicals. It's all suspicion on who used it but the proof is there that chemical weapons have been used. Just by whom.

    Just like the situation in Libya, people get all huffy and mad because Obama did not act soon enough. When the world did act it was a united front and Americans only fired Tomahawks from our navy. It was other countries that actually flew fighter gets. The same lead up could be happening now and it needs to be kept secret.

    May 6, 2013 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  13. jbrockviddude

    It is shameful to the United States, an utter disgrace, that we should be acting as we are in the face of such disregard for human life on the part of the Syrians. We are not the "police" of the world. I understand that. We have problems of our own, as would any nation. But we have established ourselves, rightfully so, to the world, as being a nation of moral responsibility. We are a nation of free ideals and beliefs, but throughout the nation, there are certain unalienable rights we all agree cannot be taken away and should be provided to and protected by all people across the world. Freedom. Life. Liberty. Security. We are seeing these rights being taken away by evil terrorists and dictatorial leaders with little regard for the people who are suffering daily. When will the leader of our great nation step up to the position he was elected to? When will our President exercise the power and authority he is constitutionally given? Are the victims of the world going to have to wait until 2016?

    May 6, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  14. McCain is a war monger

    This is why we're glad McCain isn't Commander in Chief. We have no business getting involved in yet another war that doesn't effect us.

    May 6, 2013 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  15. Pablo695

    McCain – wrong again on everything!! It's time for America to let other countries start standing on their own 2 feet.
    As for arming the rebels, UN reports are starting to surface that the rebels may have used Sarin gas – yet McCain wants to arm???

    Time for Johnnie boy to go home.

    May 6, 2013 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  16. njemile weyni

    The rebels in Syria started the civil war. They should have weighted the consequences. Now, they expect the United States to come in and bail them out. I feel the time and money would be better spent on the programs here that are going through default because of the sequester. We have to stop being a savior to every county. Let do it like we do the Africa countries. No intervention, regardless of the circumstances.

    May 6, 2013 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
  17. McShannon

    Sen. John McCain trying to be important again when the rest of America is glad to have Israel begin fighting its own perceived battles. Let Israel be Israel if they want to war with Syria I'm happy for them and if they feel Iran is a necessary target I say go Israel. Should we put troops on the ground ever again in that part of the world no never!

    May 6, 2013 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  18. Ann Marie

    Please all you hawks, go find something else to busy yourselves with. Go on out to the target range or something

    May 6, 2013 09:53 am at 9:53 am |
  19. GI Joe

    McCain never saw a war that he didn't want to send our boys and girls into -– no wonder we are broke. Republicans love wars. They distract from who gets the money.

    May 6, 2013 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  20. jboh

    I commend McCain for doing the right thing in Viet Nam by staying in prison instead of taking early release because of his father's position. I have no doubt "W" would have left in a heartbeat. However, McCain's only claim to military fame is being shot down and held hostage. Not a very strong resume for military genius. By the way, Afgan muhadeen became the Taliban, and non-Afgan muhadeen, like Bin Laden, became Al Qaida. Let's be smart for a change and not arm future enemies.

    May 6, 2013 09:59 am at 9:59 am |
  21. jboh

    Inflicting quitter Palin on America is reason enough for McCain to leave the Senate.

    May 6, 2013 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  22. g

    arming people that hate you is not a good idea

    May 6, 2013 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  23. Al-NY,NY

    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.

    No Mr Conspiracy theorist....Obama having lunch was the diversion he wanted to avoid questins about Benghazi. Get over it and find something new to complain about. If you can't do that, there's always the birth certificate thing

    May 6, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  24. Anonymous

    Yes right.... everyone wants to arm the rebels with US money so that the arm manufacturers are happy....

    May 6, 2013 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  25. YUCK

    I personally DON'T trust the right wing extremist...period

    May 6, 2013 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
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