Senators introduce legislation to block arms, funding for Syrian rebels

President Barack Obama’s plan to send taxpayer funding and arms to Syrian rebels engaged in a civil war against Bashar Assad’s regime is getting some bipartisan legislation pushback.

Last week, the White House announced that it would the send money and arms to the rebels the rebels based on allegation that Assad had used chemical weapons against them. But there have been concerns expressed by both conservatives and progressives because one of the rebel groups, the al-Nusra Front, has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States government due to its ties to al-Qaeda.

CNN reported last week that the al-Nusra Front is the “now the best-equipped arm of the terror group in existence today” and cited concern from analysts that the United States is “underestimating the Sunni-backed al Qaeda movement in the country.”

Some members of Congress believe that furthering the United States involvement in the Syrian civil war is long overdue. But a bipartisan group of Senators — Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tom Udall (D-NM) — are seeking to prevent Syrian rebels from received access to any arms or taxpayer funding from the United States.

In a joint statement released yesterday, the Senators explained that their legislation doesn’t prohibit humanitarian aid, but it would block the White House from giving any military aid, direct or indirect, and military/paramilitary operations from being conducted inside the country.

“I am deeply disturbed by the current situation in Syria and atrocities committed by President Assad’s regime and other militant groups inside Syria.  The ongoing humanitarian tragedy deserves the attention of the international community,” said Udall in the joint statement. “But there are too many questions about how the President’s decision to arm the Syrian rebels will be handled, and unfortunately many of those answers are being kept secret.”

“We don’t know where the money is coming from, who the arms are going to, and whether the arms are going to individuals who have the capabilities to maintain a chain of custody of those weapons. This would not be acceptable in any standard sale of weapons to another government and should definitely not be acceptable for sales to rebel groups we know little about,” he continued. “We need to place a check on the President’s unilateral decision to arm the rebels, while still preserving humanitarian aid and assistance to the Syrian people, and that is why I’m introducing this bill.  Bottom line: We should not get involved in another civil war in the Middle East without a clear national security interest.”

Lee echoed those sentiments. He also placed emphasis on the need for President Obama to seek congressional approval, per the Constitution, but also in the interest of transparency to the American public. He also expressed concern about the “long-term objectives” of the administration, describing them as “vague,” and noted that the United States “cannot be involved in more nation building in the Middle East.”

Murphy explained that the United States focus should be on providing more humanitarian aid to the victims of the civil war and explained Congress should be “extremely wary of allowing the United States to be drawn into a complicated proxy war that could mire our country for years at a potentially incalculable cost to U.S. taxpayers and America’s reputation at home and abroad.”

Paul, who has been the most vocal critic of the White House decision to further its involvement in Syria, cited the lack of knowledge about who the administration will arming and the lack of oversight as his primary concern.

“The President’s unilateral decision to arm Syrian rebels is incredibly disturbing, considering what little we know about whom we are arming. Engaging in yet another conflict in the Middle East with no vote or Congressional oversight compounds the severity of this situation,” said Paul. “The American people deserve real deliberation by their elected officials before we send arms to a region rife with extremists who seek to threaten the U.S. and her allies.”

Americans overwhelmingly agree with these four Senators, according to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center. The poll found that 70% of adults oppose arming Syrian rebels, up from 65% in December 2012. Strong opposition was found across party lines. Additionally, 60% of respondents said that the rebels would be no better than the Assad regime.

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