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. Johnp40

    Obama's probably got a golf game scheduled with Tiger. (He'll get back to you after he "weighs all options.")

    May 6, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  2. Dav M

    Whistle-Blower: US Military Response Could Have Stopped Libya Attack–Obama fails America and our citizens

    May 6, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  3. Eking

    Once again the hanks are at it again. Send more young American into harm-way to make a political point. If you think Israel conducted this strike without consulting US. You probably voted for McCain. Let the stake holder take the lead on this. Israel being the most affluent of those stake holders good job keep up the great work.

    McCain remember the job of a pilot it to bring the plan home. Not get it shot down. Don't compound your failures. Shut up....

    May 6, 2013 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  4. Oh Puleeze!

    John McCain doesn't have anything real to add...He never did. Just retire already, and take your boyfriend Lindsey Graham with you. You two really aren't fooling anybody..

    May 6, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  5. shan abey

    The only common thread in the above comments is that no one (both repubs and dems) wants to start another war. That is a good sign for me.

    May 6, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. g

    in 1983, 300 hundred plus marines died in lebaanon .reagan order the military to stand down and cut and run

    May 6, 2013 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  7. edog355

    McCain – for someone who was tortured for years by the North Vietnamese, it's surprising that he's the most blood-thirsty animal in DC.

    May 6, 2013 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. MTATL67

    Syria, Benghazi are just political toys to McCain, Graham and the GOP. Why do Republican call for action in Syria but did not support it in Libya. Why are not Republicans upset at the lie of Iraqi WOMD but whine that Benghazi is a lie. Here is the real confirmation that this is just political game play by McCain Graham and other Republicans. Where were their cries for intervention when the slaughtering was going on in Rwanda and Darfur or were those folks just a tad too dark
    for their support.

    May 6, 2013 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  9. Jay

    Didn't we arm the "rebels" in Afghanistan also? That was 1980's but we all know how that turned out. So let us do the same thing again and again and expect different results.

    May 6, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  10. McShannon

    John McCain, no one cares what you think. What you observe and contend to be eminent threats are just that but shooting from the hip like the cowboy from Texas did isn’t presidential it’s stupid. Israel acted and may cause mayhem in the Mideast, let them handle it.

    May 6, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  11. Lawless4U

    Sen. McCain I have a question for you. Since it was the "rebels" who used the sarin gas, who should we bomb? In your opinion.

    May 6, 2013 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  12. John

    This is the problem with not prosecuting for Iraq. These clowns did not learn a thing. McCain proves once again that he is completely unfit for office. We get it you do not have to keep proving it. This is the 6th country he has called for sending in our troops to since the Iraq debacle. The guy is suffering and needs to be removed from office and given proper phychiatric care. We owe it to our vets.

    May 6, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  13. jacksays

    why is taking the time to assess a bad thing? rumors abound that it wasn't the gov't but the rebels themselves who used the chemical weapon Sarin gas. if this is the case, they're trying to frame the Syrian gov't just to get us into the mess. Obama is more than correct to stay the course, get to the TRUTH, and act accordingly.

    We've seen what 'cowboy diplomacy' gets us: Iran and an unprovoked war that cost us 4k of our kids lives.

    May 6, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  14. iab

    McCann, Graham appear to be very weak men, can't stand on their own 2 feet. I call it s co-dependent relationship. They lik many other old GOP, DEMS need to retire, go home so this country can move forward. WE need representatives in WAshington who sincerely want to help all Americans in spite of skin color, religion, sexual preference, etc.

    If they can't offer solutions to our problems GO HOME, RETIRE. We need some young blood, new ideals, positive thinker. This is the only way we Americans can survive in todays world. Three fourths of the ppl on this planet are ppl of color so who is the minority? This is why these old blood thirsty hawks are running scared they realize they can no longer control the world, guns, fear, destruction, exploitation of resources. GO HOME ALL OF YOU HATERS OVER 45 yrs of age.

    May 6, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  15. Ben

    How generous of the people of Arizona to donate a Senator to Israel.

    May 6, 2013 04:41 pm at 4:41 pm |
  16. Eddy in Eagle

    My question to Mccain is why? is it because the humanitarian aspect of the mission, ok great arguement. However, we have children starving in our own country due to a decade long recession that is still chugging along. We don't have the resources to write another check that will bounce on our childrens future. I understand it's heartbreaking that innocent people are dying in Syria everyday, but seeing children down the street who don't have warm clothes in winter is worse off. And for someone who knows war better than most, why is he so eager to send our young troops into harms way.

    May 6, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  17. Manuel J.

    NO CONVICTION AND FULL OF BULL--!!!! That's what Obama stands for!

    U.S. Army combat vet

    May 6, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  18. Larry in Houston

    well – here's the way it used to work – back in 1967 when Johnson was the POTUS – he sent IN tanks / and every type of weaponry there was ( at that time) to Isreal – so they could annex and capture some land, so they could re-draw the border(s) Johnson did NOT want to put "boots on the ground" since they already were in viet nam – and he didn't want to spread ourselves too thin, with another war. So that's why he sent fighter planes & tanks over there. ( I can't say that for the "dumbest" one) because it didn't matter to "dubya" how many "boots on the ground" and how many countries the "boots" were in.

    My advice for Obama : do like Johnson done – give those "rebels" all the fire power they need – Just don't put any boots on the ground – don't worry about a "no fly zone" yet – All the "rebels" are just Syrians that has lived under the "Assad" rule ever since they were born . They Just want their country have the same freedoms as some of us other countries. Once Obama sends them weapons – it will be "game over" for "the assad regime" It will be also a win – win situation for all involved. And, we would not have to lose anybody in the conflict.

    May 6, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  19. Maerzie

    Obviously, we can see where McCain's investments are! It's so hilarious that he's the first to criticize, but he himself has never accomplished ANYTHING in his life. He only got where he is because he told his "Boo-Hoo" story about being a POW, often enough on national TV that people felt sorry for him. The part he left OUT of his fairy tale though was that his cocky arrogance, disobeying orders, and flying into a "NO-FLY" zone are the REASON he got captured. He brought it all on himself, with his stubborn, "know-it -all" attitude. It's the same reason and defect that keeps him only as a critic, and never the person MAKING the critical decisions! He's DANGEROUS! But, then, none of HIS kids would be getting maimed or killed either!

    May 6, 2013 05:02 pm at 5:02 pm |
  20. Pandamonius

    Again, how many times did the GOP scream at Obama for "getting us involved" when he authorized limited air support to assist the UN or NATO back in 2011? Now they scream because he's not acting?

    Let's face it, if he says "Up", they will publicly blast him for being anti-down, and if he says "Down" they will scream that he's wrecking the constitution.

    May 6, 2013 05:43 pm at 5:43 pm |
  21. Carlos

    Why is he ignoring the UN report that the rebels are the ones using the Sarin gas not the Syrian government? (Reuters may 5th) With politicians like him we will be forever fighting trillion dollar wars. But he has an accomplice, the Press. They are publishing only one side of the story and pushing us to war. Shame on you, country first. You can't serve two masters.

    May 6, 2013 05:54 pm at 5:54 pm |
  22. RWB1956

    @DAV M: Except they were all too far away! Tell the whole story, will ya'.

    May 6, 2013 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  23. Benn

    If only President Johnson had been as prudent as Mr. Obama during the Gulf of Tonkin Crisis, then maybe McCain wouldn't have spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton nor turned into such a raving warmonger…...

    May 6, 2013 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  24. Jackson

    Thank God that McCain lost the election in 08, or our country would probably be involved in 5 or 6 foreign wars right now.

    May 6, 2013 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  25. ALLENS

    sorry you lost the election. now stop being a bitter old goat and get on with the peoples business. we are tired of people like you

    May 6, 2013 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
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