Observation: Cotton supports arming an opposition movement even Peter King, Republican chairman of the Homeland Security committee, is very skeptical of. He also seems to think it’s possible to arm only the parts of the opposition that are pro-Western, which is a fantasy, and irrelevant in any case if the Islamist-dominated opposition were to take power. John McCain made similar remarks on Fox News Sunday.
Talk has continued from hawkish quarters this weekend that the president’s “red line” for intervening in Syria is “vanishing,” and that the administration “refuses to act even when that line has been crossed” even though it’s not even remotely clear that this is so.
The president’s stated “red line” had always been the use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. As reported by Reuters this weekend, the strongest evidence now points to chemical weapons being used by the rebel side, not Assad’s government:
The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.
“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.
“This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she added, speaking in Italian.
That news was reported yesterday afternoon, and today the Free Syrian Army denied the charge, though it’s undeniably awkward that GOP legislators were calling for arming an opposition movement on the same day the UN revealed evidence that the same movement had used sarin gas.
It’s worth pointing out that by drawing a red line for intervention at the use of chemical weapons, the president gave the rebels a reason to hope that they might be used. Until the UN’s statement yesterday, much of the reporting surrounding the use of sarin took it on faith that it was being used by the Syrian government, for about two weeks. In fact, Israeli military leadership said it had happened “in a number of incidents,” though the civilian government did not confirm. In the absence of confirmation either way, it seemed more plausible that Assad had called on his stockpile of chemical weapons, rather than the rebels having acquired and used them. The UN has stressed that the new information is not conclusive, but the confusion itself would seem to be an argument against getting involved.
Unfortunately, the UN’s news came after the three aforementioned Republican hawks’ appearances on the Sunday shows. They have yet to respond, though King’s change of tone, from someone who was at one time keen on another foreign terrorist group, is certainly encouraging.