Another Middle East Adventure? Congress Pushes Military Intervention in Syria
A member of the Free Syrian Army with his face covered with the pre-Baath Syrian flag patrols with comrades in Idlib in northwestern Syria.
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As the Syrian uprising enters its third year, the United States and its allies are preparing to materially increase their support of the armed opposition in Syria.
Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional 60 million dollars in direct aid to the rebels, marking the first time Washington will directly supply rebel forces, but the administration appears as wary as ever to get more directly involved.
The provision of battlefield materiel has been met with some support from hawks who have pushed for greater military intervention, though many policymakers have urged the president to go even further. Exhortations for intervention have increased since rumours began of a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo. Though U.S. officials have largely dismissed the reports, many members of Congress expressed concern about the use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria.
On Monday, Rep. Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced legislation that would authorise funding for “limited lethal assistance” to Syrian opposition groups, assuming that the groups would be carefully vetted in the process.
Meanwhile, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin concluded a Senate hearing on Syria by stating that a no-fly zone would “be helpful in breaking the deadlock and bringing down the Assad regime”.
During the hearing, Senator John McCain reiterated his long-held position that the U.S. should intervene more directly in the uprising. Levin and McCain have signed on to a letter urging President Obama to establish no-fly zones and provide more military aid to rebels.
Both the House legislation and the Senate letter were applauded in a press release Thursday from the Foreign Policy Initiative, the think-tank successor to the neoconservative Project for a New American Century: “This week, key members of Congress stepped into the void of U.S. leadership on the Syria conflict, calling for action to end the Assad regime’s slaughter of the Syrian people and avoid an even greater regional catastrophe.”
But the boldest military endorsement thus far came from Senator Lindsey Graham, who responded to rumours of the chemical attack by stating, “You’ve got to get on the ground. There is no substitute…I don’t care what it takes…I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.”
The Obama administration and senior military officials have pushed back against this type of involvement. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said earlier this week, “I don’t think at this point I can see a military option that would create an understandable outcome. And until I do, it would be my advice to proceed cautiously.”
Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, warns that this should not be taken to imply that the appetite for any intervention is low.
“They’re clearly already involved in the armed opposition,” Bennis told IPS. “The CIA is on the ground helping sort out who should get money, and they’re training people in Jordan. The idea is, they don’t want to get involved any further.”
Prominent Republicans from both sides of the aisle have also expressed concern about further militarising the conflict. At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Chairman Ed Royce concurred with the sentiment that “the U.S. has no good options in Syria,” and Rep. Karen Bass warned that the Syrian opposition leaders are too weak to be credible in Syria.
“Who are those good rebels we want to arm?” asked Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. “The interventionists seem to take for granted that we know them well. The fact is, the interventionists themselves and the U.S. government don’t know squat about Syria and know even less squat about these rebels.”