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. g.r.r.

    This is the same mccain that wanted to invade Iraq and wanted to invaded georgia to fight against Russia. Sadly, Mr. McCain has lost it

    May 6, 2013 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  2. Hillcrester

    Let the conflicting GOP opinions resolve themselves into a single position– otherwise he will be attacked politically no matter what he does. Why should he play under those rules?

    May 6, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. Evelyn Connaway

    I agree with Obama. Until we know for sure who is using the chemical weapons. We hear all kind of propaganda. The Rebel Syrians, say the Syrian military is and the Syrian military is! Don't do anything until the truth is known. We do not need to start another dumb war like Bush and cohorts did in Iraq. We can give the Rebels aid – but not the lives of our young men. We have lost to many already and can't even take care of our wounded ones who have been broken beyond repair, with new ones coming in every day from Afghanistan and other places. McCain should retire and go home to Arizona. I hate warmongers in the republican party.

    May 6, 2013 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  4. Cephus

    Are all these politicians suffering from maddowcow disease?

    May 6, 2013 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  5. Gaz071

    Time for Mr. McCain to fine another line of work.

    May 6, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  6. Person of Interest

    I almost voted for McCain. Then I realized Sarah Palin would be one of heartbeat away from the presidency. Looks like I made the right choice anyway. We jumped into Iraq without waiting for the facts because Iraq had crossed the line. Only afterwords did we discover that Iraq didn't cross the line. Ever since McCain lost he has become more and more right wing fringe.

    A few questions to pose IF Syria used Chemical weapons on its own people:
    1) Why do we need to intervene?
    2) What benefits does this provide us?
    3) What amount of involvement should we have?

    Say what you will, but we (US) allow terrorists (drug cartels) in Mexico to slaughter people just over our borders and we do nothing about it. Perhaps if we'd take some unilateral action in our own hemisphere our borders would be more secure and narcotics crime would be down. If Israel wants to watch it's own backyard they should, we don't watch our front yard or our backyard anymore cause we are more concerned about the drama with the people down the street.

    May 6, 2013 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  7. Justice

    The Republican's are the ones that love to start wars we can't win and don't give a damn about American lives just like Bush and his illegal war in Iraq based on lies. McCain is over the hill now and senile. This man is as out of it as his buddy Sarah "brain dead" Palin.

    May 6, 2013 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  8. nospam

    We have got to stop supplying arms to terrorist. Just because they're using them against our enemies, doesn't mean they won't be used against us later. Some democrats just don't understand that you can reload clips, so the guns aren't disposable. They can and probably will be used against us later.

    May 6, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  9. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Person of Interest
    I enjoyed reading your post, and I concur with you. We are indeed too busy watching the "people down the street", and your three questions vis-a-vis our possible involvement in this latest are quite valid.

    May 6, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  10. Tony Briganti

    It concerns me that Republicans haven't learned anything after George Bush embarked and committed our nation to war in Iraq. So many Americans feel that this war was long and expensive and largely responsible for the financial collapse that occurred in its aftermath. I understand that Mr. McCain represents a narrow perspective of conservative Republican politicians. But why does he feel that he is entitled to criticize the elected President of the United States in such a bold and insensitive way? It is not clear who is fighting on the ground in Syria, and it is not at all clear that the government of Syria used chemical weapons and not the rebels. Does Mr. McCain feel that whenever Israel takes on a cause that the US must step in as well?

    May 6, 2013 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  11. AngryJew

    So the US is now supporting Al-Quaeda in Syria? I thought we were at war with Al-Ciaduh? What has changed?

    May 6, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  12. GDP

    OK.... Enough with getting involved in other regions civil wars...... There are no clear cut good guys/ bad guys here.....I question the motives of those calling for US involvement.....we have seen this movie before....there is no end game ...or exit strategy...or record of success of any kind in "Nation building".........Freedom/Democracy/Independence, can only be achieved organically from within those regions .... These Senators are still having a cow over Benghazi....but now enthusiastically propose further involvement into this conflict !!.... Beware the Military/Industrial complex !!... trying to keep us in a perpetual state of war !!.....We are better than this, and should aspire to higher ideals !!

    May 6, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  13. GI Joe

    McCain is a war monger. Always has been.

    May 6, 2013 02:26 pm at 2:26 pm |
  14. GI Joe

    I've figured it out. We give money to Israel and they turn around and give it to McCain to be their mouthpiece in this country, in our politics.

    May 6, 2013 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  15. Jules

    Portourtroops – There is a difference between the words "expansive" and "expensive." The comment you criticized used the word "expansive" which means to expand, to grow, to spread. You responded as if the word was expensive. Anyway – one question – how much do you think our taxes should be raised to pay for a war with Syria? If we get in another war without paying for it as we go, we all deserve to be in the depression we are going to get oursleves into.

    May 6, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  16. Big Ben

    McCain (and plenty others in Congress) are more concerned about Israel's welfare than those of Americans here at home. Something is terribly wrong in our nation.

    May 6, 2013 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  17. Independent


    "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.

    Typical Liberal, does not matter if Obama murdered in cold blood, you would still think he is perfect and he would still be your Messiah!!! I don't think we should fight other peoples battles but ONCE AGAIN Obama says one thing and does another!! You liberals will follow blindly no matter what Obama does, YOU are the problem with America going downhill!

    May 6, 2013 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  18. Dave

    It's none of our business if the Syrians use poison gas on each other. The only mistake Obama made was making that silly "red line" remark in the first place. But there's no reason for American soldiers to die because the President made a careless remark. Enforcing WMD restrictions is the job of the UN – not the United States. If the UN won't do it, too bad. We need to STAY OUT OF IT.

    May 6, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  19. Mike

    Hey McCain-
    Resolve your own disastrous job performance before you try to solve the world's woes.

    May 6, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  20. hairguyry

    What difference does it make giving guns to rebels (potential Al- Queda) as opposed to drug warlords in Mexico i.e. Fast and Furious. Just asking…

    May 6, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  21. Wally

    The weapon makers pay a lot of money to McCain and others to get us envolved in wars we have no business getting in to.

    May 6, 2013 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  22. Steve

    Once again, members of the GOP (this time McCain), believe the US should intervene in every conflict, without an idea of cost, draw down strategy or any other issues. On top of this, all we hear from the GOP is that we have to cut our deficits and lower debt, yet all they want to do is continue to spend billions of dollars on unnecessary war. It's time that the GOP take one side of an argument and stick with it.

    May 6, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  23. Dave

    The entire country of Syria and everyone that lives there is not worth one American life or one American dollar.

    May 6, 2013 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  24. El Lobo

    A.Is McCain posturing for the camera's. B. Mounting some type of revenge attack. C. Try to redeem himself in front of the tea-party. Or has he just gone bonker's. D. Or all of the above.

    May 6, 2013 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  25. El Lobo

    McCain spends most of his off days in New Hampshire where his wife's vast wealth has bought them palatial digs where he holds court over up and coming tea-bagging pols like, cruz,rubio and other wannabees. Arizona is where he collects his mail and royalties from grateful corporate donors and foolish American gop rank and file.

    May 6, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
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