The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote Wednesday on giving the Obama administration the authority to arm and train Syrian rebels to fight Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
The authorization was introduced on Monday as an amendment to a stopgap funding bill and is expected to pass. It will then be sent to the U.S. Senate for approval.
The idea is to pass the amendment as quickly as possible and without a debate on the $500 million the White House said it needs to pay for it.
I’m all for fighting ISIS, but I’m hoping and praying this amendment fails.
As Representative Rick Nolan, an anti-war Democrat from Minnesota said, “No matter who we give our arms to, they inevitably end up being used against us.” Nolan plans on voting against the amendment.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker Boehner apparently believe the risky gambit is worth a try.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, said he expected it would pass with bipartisan support. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the chamber’s top Republican, said he supported the plan and was pleased it expires on Dec. 11, the same day as the spending bill.
“I’d like to take another look at it in a couple of months and see how it’s working out,” McConnell told reporters.
House Speaker John Boehner faces the objections of fellow Republicans who do not want to give the Democratic president what he wants and those who think Obama has not gone far enough, He said he saw no reason for Congress not to back arming the rebels, although he had reservations over the broader strategy.
“If our goal here is to destroy ISIL, we’ve got to do more than train a few folks in Syria and train a few folks in Iraq and drop some bombs,” Boehner told reporters, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group.
What if the “folks” we train in Syria have been fighting alongside ISIS? What if indeed some of them have signed a pact with ISIS not to fight each other? What if the rebels we train use the weapons to attack the Assad Regime instead of ISIS? What if many the rebels can not be trusted because in their culture it is permissible to lie to infidels?
Via Patrick Poole at PJ Media, an FSA brigade commander said that his forces were working with two U.S. designated terrorist organizations, the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, near the Syrian/Lebanon border.
The Daily Star in Lebanon reported on Monday:
“We are collaborating with the Islamic State and the Nusra Front by attacking the Syrian Army’s gatherings in … Qalamoun,” said Bassel Idriss, the commander of an FSA-aligned rebel brigade.
“We have reached a point where we have to collaborate with anyone against unfairness and injustice,” confirmed Abu Khaled, another FSA commander who lives in Arsal.
It gets worse.
According to The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group that monitors Syria’s civil war, moderate Syrian rebels and ISIS struck a cease-fire deal on Friday.
The groups agreed to a non-aggression pact in which they promised not to attack each other.
Rachel Roubein of The National Journal wonders how we’re going to know which Syrians to arm?
There isn’t a formal definition of a Syrian moderate, said Leila Hilal of the New America Foundation. But implicit in the word, she says, are a few criteria: a Syrian who is a nationalist and is fighting for a secular, democratic, and inclusive state.
That definition leaves a lot of room, Hilal said, and there are ample rebel fighters on the ground. Previously, the Syrian National Coalition could have used its Supreme Military Council to help determine who is a moderate, she said. But that group has essentially been disbanded, and now determining who exactly fits the “moderate” bill is done on an ad hoc basis.
“One of the problems is that whether or not someone is fighting under an Islamic banner or a Syrian revolutionary flag, they’re often working together on different fronts,” said Hilal, a senior fellow with New America’s International Security Program. “If they’re fighting to take over the military base or airport … different groups ideologically predisposed will be fighting together.”
A political framework is key, she said, rather than handpicking rebels to do the fighting.
“In my mind, in order to mount an effective counterterrorism strategy, you really need a robust nationalist force that isn’t just a select group of so-called moderates.”
Some lawmakers, such as GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, said the president is picking the wrong people to fight this war.
“What would giving more money and more weapons to these guys do?” Bachmann said Thursday. “It would build up ISIS. It wouldn’t defeat ISIS, it would build them up because the so-called vetted moderates, our supposed good guys, wouldn’t be fighting the enemy. I think what would happen is we would end up funding the enemy.”
There is of course a “high degree of confidence” in the vetting process that takes place before the US decides who to train.
“The Department of Defense works closely with the intelligence community, using all of its databases in the vetting process,” but the possibility that the weapons will fall into the wrong hands seems to me more like a probability in the fog of this brutal war.
On Fox News with Greta Van Susteren, Tuesday evening, John Bolton expressed his opposition to arming the Syrians among others, and said there is no way to win against ISIS without US boots on the ground. He said it is a huge mistake to place the safety of America in the hands of the Iraqi army, the Free Syrian Army, the Sunnis, and the Kurds. (Personally, I could support the Iraqi Army and the Kurds – just not the Syrian rebels.)
“The fact is putting American safety in the hands of others who have failed before, like the Iraqi army for god sakes, is going to endanger us and cost us more in terms of American lives down the road,” he said.