The administration’s Syria policy hit a roadblock last month:
House and Senate Intelligence panel members have voted to block President Obama from arming Syrian rebels, committee insiders told The Hill. They did so by placing severe restrictions on funding.
Lawmakers made their decision last month for fear that the administration plan would let weapons fall into the hands of terrorist groups, such as the many linked to al Qaeda.
The decision to arm parts of the Syrian opposition with light weapons seemed designed to satisfy no one, and in the weeks since it was announced it has been met with little more than confusion and scorn. The intelligence committees’ votes are a reflection of how little sense current Syria policy makes. It’s not as if there is overwhelming opposition to arming the Syrian opposition in Congress, as the 15-3 Foreign Relations Committee vote on Menendez-Corker made clear earlier this year. If there is no confidence in the administration’s plan on these committees, that suggests that the committee members don’t believe that it is possible to keep these weapons away from jihadists once they are sent into Syria. The good news is that this delays greater U.S. involvement in the conflict a little longer. The danger is that the delay of this limited measure will provoke a new round of agitation for more direct intervention.
Even supporters of arming the Syrian opposition are frustrated by the way the administration is going about this:
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, accused the administration of trying to covertly get the Syria military aid approved behind the closed doors of the Intelligence Committee.
“They should come and talk about this openly,” Corker told reporters Tuesday. “It puts the Intelligence Committee in a very awkward place. All of a sudden, they own it.”
Of course, talking about it openly is the last thing that the administration wants to do. Once the decision to send weapons was announced, the administration must have hoped that it would be seen as “doing something” so that it wouldn’t have to address the issue again for a while. The administration also must have assumed that the intelligence committees would rubber-stamp the measure instead of voting to block it. They were wrong on both counts.