House passes bill to arm 'moderate' Syrian rebels

Despite considerable opposition from both parties, a bill to grant President Obama the authority to arm what the administration describes as "moderate" Syrian rebels passed with relative ease.


The House on Wednesday approved President Obama's request to arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS.

With significant opposition to the proposal in both parties, the vote was 273 -156. More than one third of the House -- 71 Republicans and 85 Democrats -- voted no.

Many Republicans argue the strategy isn't tough enough to defeat ISIS; many Democrats worry the plan could drag the United States into another long military engagement.

The proposal would authorize the Pentagon to provide assistance to "appropriately vetted" members of the Syrian opposition and require the administration to give Congress a detailed plan for helping the rebels before that assistance could begin.

The Senate will vote Thursday on the proposal.

House Republican leaders scheduled an extended debate that stretched over two days. Most measures are only discussed for one hour with only a handful of people participating. But since so many House members were elected after Congress weighed in on Iraq, close to 100 Democrats and Republicans came to the House floor to explain what amounted to their first vote on an international conflict.

It was a debate that highlighted unusual alliances.

Conservative Republicans who want more aggressive military action joined progressive anti-war Democrats worried about another U.S. intervention and opposed the measure.

But backing the plan were hawkish GOP members and Democrats who argued the proposal to send Syrian groups into the fight against ISIS would send a message to international partners to join the effort.

The vote came as an amendment to a spending bill to keep the government funded through mid-December. It was a vote to grant the new authority to President Barack Obama, but didn't include any new money.

While some Syrian rebels have been fighting ISIS - largely because ISIS attacked them - the focus of rebel efforts remains battling the forces of President Assad. The administration has yet to explain why the rebels should switch gears and go after ISIS - who, after all, are also fighting Assad. It's just one element of this "strategy" that has not been thought through.

Members if Congress who are veterans of foreign wars, were split on the issue:

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who fought in Iraq, said the goals of the President's plans to arm Syrians were "unrealistic" and pointing to Iraq and Libya, said sharply, "clearly our leaders have not learned their lessons."

California GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter, who fought as a Marine in both Iraq and Afghanistan, said that while he did support arming Syrian rebels last year, the sectarian violence has worsened and now he has "no confidence we are arming the right people."

But another veteran, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, who flew missions over Iraq, warned that not giving this authority would send a worrisome signal to U.S. allies in the region that are battling the terror group.

Rep. Hunter hits the nail on the head; who are these guys? After 3 years of civil war, the CIA is apparently no closer to answering that question. We've identified the obvious al-Qaeda sympathizers and affiliates (perhaps not all of them?), but these groups are fracturing and splitting off from each other faster than we can get a handle on them.Who's to say which are bloodthirsty islamists and which aren't?

I'm usually sympathetic to the call to back the president in a crisis. But that doesn't mean you give him a blank check. I agree with those who cast a no vote; we just don't know enough to proceed with adequate prudence and caution.