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. Pandamonius

    This is merely smoke and mirrors. The GOP hope that by us agreeing to arm the rebels and take more direct action, they can use that as an excuse to negate the sequestration effects on the DoD's monsterously bloated budget. They'll remove the cuts from the DoD and apply them elsewhere, say to Medicare and SS.....

    May 6, 2013 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  2. MTATL67

    Good ole shoot'em first McCain

    May 6, 2013 11:05 am at 11:05 am |
  3. fsjunkie

    What...McCain didn't break out in a song and dance rendition of "Bomb, bomb, bomb...bomb, bomb Iran" again? That guy really needs to disappear from any influence on government. He's a bitter, grumpy, self-centered old man who was willing to put that brain dead Sarah Palin second in command of this country. He's got zero credibility on anything.

    May 6, 2013 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  4. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Please google "Wounded Warrior Project." and learn about the story of our wounded Veterans who have returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan with missing limbs and all sorts of disabilities and post traumatic stress disorders. Click on the website and see for yourself how these wonderful men and women lives have change and how the have to re-adapt to these new challenges in life as they try to raise their kids and live their lives.

    Furthermore, if you're interested, you can look at a program aired on the Discovery Channel called "Inside Combat Rescue." Its quite chilling but it follows an elite group of Air Force PJs, based in Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, risking their lives while going on rescue missions to save soldiers and civilians during the war while bracing against rocket attacks. The show is chilling because the scenes are graphic and it even shows instances where our soldiers are being operated on while en route to the hospital base, soldiers with shrapnel, body parts and limbs blown apart and even scenes of soldiers expiring. Then there's the more enlightening part of the servicemen and women talking to their love ones and their kids via the internet. Folkes, war is not a nice thing so lets pray for our troops abroad and around the world and hope we do NOT engage in another war anytime soon.

    May 6, 2013 11:10 am at 11:10 am |
  5. Lynda/Minnesota

    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.

    One can only hope GOPers have had enough of John McCain mugging for the camera in yet another attempt of trying to drag us into yet another war.

    We ARE talking about GOPerville, though.

    May 6, 2013 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  6. Phil

    The US Government is arming Al Qaeda. They have given them heat seeking missiles for crying out loud. AL QAEDA!!!! HEAT SEEKERS!!!!! Why can't the public see this for what it is! These weapons will be used against the west, and all hell will break loose.

    May 6, 2013 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  7. Phil

    The US Government is arming Al Qaeda. They have given them heat seeking missiles for crying out loud. AL QAEDA!!!! HEAT SEEKERS!!!!! Why can't the public see this for what it is! These weapons will be used against the west, and all hades will break loose.

    May 6, 2013 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  8. Will

    If the media were REALLY liberal, or even moderate, the headline would read: "John McCain supports arming al Queda". Since it doesn't, I can only conclude that CNN is a right-wing mouthpiece.

    May 6, 2013 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  9. The REAL Truth...

    Five years ago, I had some respect for McCain and his POW history. That diminished dramatically when he picked that dingbat as a running mate. Since then he has become a tired old man, who wants to maintain relevance in political circles by joining with Graham and Imhofe to focus on such non-germaine issues as Libya's invasion, Benghazi, and now our involvement in Syria. Hypocrisy is string with this one, and it's about time he went home.

    May 6, 2013 11:18 am at 11:18 am |
  10. Carrie Higby

    Once again; here we are again with the war mongers and corporate military providers trying to pressure the US into another war....Haven't these people made enough money in the last 2 wars that the government still has yet to pay for?? PLAIN AND SIMPLE: WE JUST CANNOT AFFORD A WAR RIGHT NOW!! THAT IS IT!! Why doesn't the Arab league get together and intervene?? We have to go around the world and spend money we don't even have, while our federal and state budgets are being cut and cut due to lack of money and we are letting ourselves get pushed into another war?? Atrocities and genocide will always exist we do not have the capacity or capability to intervene in this one!! Someone Else needs to take the lead on this!!!!! KEEP US OUT OF IT!!!!

    May 6, 2013 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  11. McShannon

    John McCain is so arrogant his neck has become stuck in arrogant mode from his pompous positions on Mideast politics. No one cares what this man thinks. He and whats her name from Alaska are important to a small minority that can't read or think on their own but know how to shoot a gun. America has mostly become educated except for those that give you credence, so sorry John McCain most of us don't believe your opinion is any longer revelant.

    May 6, 2013 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  12. Sharon

    Gee - And the pundits STILL ponder why McCain lost to Obama in 2008?
    McCain/Palin even get MY vote in 2008 or 2012 – me, a lifelong, 65 year-old, white, female Republican who had NEVER voted for a Democrat until Obama in 2008. I thank my lucky stars every day I voted for Obama. Obama is thoughtful, contemplative and purposeful. McCain is erratic, reactive, and vengeful.
    If McCain would have won in 2008, we already would have bombed Iran, N Korea, Syria, parts of Africa and probably be in a conflict in the Asias. And putting Sarah Palin on his ticket was the final straw, cinching my departure from the Republican party.
    Very proud of Obama, admire his personal characteristics, and his contemplative well-thought-out approach to world conflicts. Thank you President Obama.

    May 6, 2013 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  13. JohnB35

    Nobody likes the Syrian Government at all, but McCain seems to live in a world of never-ending military ventures, as if there is no cost being run up from all this...and I don't mean just economic cost.

    May 6, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  14. Joi Gibson

    This man has no shame. Whenever something happens in the Middle East McCain declares the United States must intervene. My mother always told me you cannot help someone else if you cannot help yourself. If we have money for this, then never again mention the debt/deficit and why we cannot fix our own infrastructure, among other things. The military is not some abstract entity; the military is real men and women. They are already bruised and battered and the United States is doing a piss poor job of looking after the soldiers upon their return from the battlefield. No more. I feel bad for the innocents of Syria, but this is not for us to make better. John McCain, shut your pie hole and stop advocating for war. We have had enough!!!!

    May 6, 2013 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  15. lottie

    McCaine wants to go to war with everyone. This ol fart needs to shut up for once. War is his solution to every problems that comes along ,that and making sure people have easy access to guns.

    May 6, 2013 11:31 am at 11:31 am |
  16. Blah blah the wheel's off your trailer

    Just last weel. five more of our died in Afghanistan because John McCain and the GOP deliberately and recklessly abandoned and prolonged that war to invade Iraq. Now Iraq is tied up in a civil war for perhaps 100 years as McCain once predicted and yet he wants us to start another war?

    Two stimulus bills to stabilize and regrow the economy and put Americans back to work was wasteful spending according to the GOP and comprehensive ACA to improve the lives of Americans was considered socialism. But $5.5 trillion in two foreign wars were justified and now McCain wants us to add to the deficit and that's OK?

    May 6, 2013 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  17. mrdrfez

    Senator John McCain (R- Al Qaeda)

    May 6, 2013 11:35 am at 11:35 am |
  18. al

    McCain really needs to give it a rest. War is not the solution to every problem. He sure seems willing to commit monies and troops and munitions yet in his next breath he complains about our spending. He can't have it both ways.

    May 6, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  19. Michael

    This is not our fight. We have zero reason to get involved at all with internal politics, regardless. If McCain wants to start a shooting war in the area (again) then he should make sure that he and all of his kin are in the front lines. We also should NOT be arming the rebels; why give arms to people that not only hate the US as a country, but would be more than willing to turn said weapons on the US at the earliest opportunity? Let the Arabs in the area come to the aid of the Syrian rebels. Let Congress worry about getting the US back running like a well oiled machine before even thinking about plyaing police ...

    May 6, 2013 11:36 am at 11:36 am |
  20. sammieb51

    So tired of Israel driving our foreign policy. Even Russia has said they are "deeply disturbed by Israeli bombings". NettinYAHOO is a moronic hothead. WMDs have not been found in Syria and there is no definitive indication of who used them. The UN is behind teh investigation .. why don't we wait until we have some serious ansers before we go off shooting our guns in the mideast which is a tinder box, largely thanks to our involvement in Iraq (or that is what Cheney said in 1994 as to why we should not invade any ME country).

    May 6, 2013 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  21. Cheetahe

    There is no end to the warmongering of this idiot. Because he was a POW he thinks that he is the Man who is the US expert on war and peace. Sorry for your suffering, but please keep your warped war breathing self away from the public eye.
    Don't you feel any compassion for all the youth that got wasted in Iraq and Afghanistan? I do, and I do not want the repeat of the same mistakes at the expense of the next generation of our young troopers. Let us take care of our problems here at home. Politicians like you in Washington are incapable of resolving our problems and keep on agitating for war, what a sorry state of mind for our Republican leadership.

    May 6, 2013 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  22. Balzac Teabagger

    The problem with McCain's (lack of) logic is that Israel did not take this action as part of an involvement in the Syrian civil war. They allegedly did this in order to keep weapons from being transported to Hezbollah from Syria. There is no guarantee that a potential post-Assad regime in Syria will be friendly to Israel, so they have no vested interest in getting involved in the civil war on one side or another.

    May 6, 2013 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. B.

    McCain has the mentality of a hammer and all problems look like nails to him.. This man does not understand any solutions but War. His unending solution is always War before he understands the facts.

    May 6, 2013 11:50 am at 11:50 am |
  24. John/kc

    Can you imagine the condition this country would be in if John McCain and Sarah Palin had been elected President and Vice-President? We would be at war with Syria, Iran, and North Korea. We would still be in Iraq and expanding forces in Afghanistan. There would not be any money, NONE for social security, Medicare, health care of US citizens and the multi national corporations would have twice the influence on tax policy and politics that they now have. Would the republican tea party be calling for cuts in spending? I am sure it would only be spending on Americans at home.

    May 6, 2013 11:51 am at 11:51 am |
  25. f ray

    when the war mongers and their own family but on their combat boots and board the plane to the war, then they can talk. Until then they should SHUT UP.

    May 6, 2013 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
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