Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize the arming of some rebels in Syria. The bill passed by the committee would allow the Obama administration to arm elements of Assad's opposition that have been vetted by the government. The relevant text of the bill reads as follows (Under Title V, page 34 of the bill):
The passing of the bill is only the latest evidence that when it comes to foreign intervention the differences between the two major parties are hard to find.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) yesterday said, "The time to act and turn the tide against Assad is now," and his Democratic colleague Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) said, "…we've all been frustrated that our country hasn't done enough to be responsive." Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stood alongside her Republican colleague Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to demand that action be taken in response to the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Sen. Marco Rubio has perhaps one of the most bizarre and interesting opinions on the conflict in Syria. While the presence of Al Qaeda-linked fighters being involved in Assad's opposition has been one of the strongest arguments against intervention, Sen. Rubio believes that it is because of the rise of Al Nusra and other groups with links to Al Qaeda that the U.S. should arm rebels in Syria.
From The Daily Beast:
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also said Tuesday that he supported arming the Syrian rebels somewhat reluctantly but that the rise of the al-Nusra Front, an al Qaeda-affiliated group fighting against the Assad regime, made it necessary for American to arm the other Syrian rebels.
"The U.S. cannot solve every conflict on the planet," Rubio said. "But I believe it's in the national interest of the United States to ensure that the strongest, best-organized, and best-funded elements in a post-Assad Syria and even before his fall are interests that are aligned with us and are friendlier to us than the alternative."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) pushed back against Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) who tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment to the bill that stated any intervention in Syria could not be authorized by the authorization of use of force that followed 9/11 by making a similar argument.
Again from The Daily Beast:
Corker pushed back against Paul by emphasizing that the idea of arming the Syrian rebels was to counter al Qaeda's influence, both now and after the war ends.
"It's the second war now that is of greater concern than even Assad, and that is who is going to control the country the day after Assad," Corker said. "Sitting on our hands and not getting involved, it's almost assured that al Qaeda or at least extremists with similar views are going to control the country. That's what we are trying to prevent."
The presence of Al Qaeda-linked fighters is now being used as an argument for and against intervention. That it would be impossible to guarantee that any weapons we send to "vetted" rebels wouldn't end up in the hands of the worrying elements of Assad's opposition remains an issue that legislators have yet to explicitly address with anything approaching reassuring clarity.