Senate panel votes to arm (some) Syrian rebels

The thing that strikes me about this is the bipartisan nature of it:

WASHINGTON—A key Senate committee overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday that calls for the U.S. to provide small arms to moderate Syrian opposition groups fighting strongman Bashar al-Assad, underscoring growing sentiment among lawmakers for a change in the U.S. approach to the conflict.

The 15-3 vote by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee showed broad support from both Democrats and Republicans for arming the rebels, though some lawmakers from each party voiced concern over the difficulty of ensuring the weapons aren’t misused and won’t slip into the hands of radical Islamists aligned with al Qaeda….

Sometimes it appears that the president is the only person in Washington who does not want to arm Syrian rebels. If you’ll recall, his national security team was all for it last year, but he said no.

I don’t just dismiss the concerns of Rand Paul, et al., about weapons falling into the wrong hands and other unintended consequences. I realize that the mujahideen we backed in Afghanistan provided a training ground for Osama bin Laden.

But given the alternatives of a) Assad prevailing and b) affiliates of al Qaeda coming out on top, it seems we ought to be doing something to try to tilt things in another direction.

Given that the president keeps getting closer and closer to his own “red line” (see the BBC’s story last week, “US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence, says Obama“), maybe even he will be on board with that ere long.

I don’t think for a moment that any options are attractive in this situation. But in the real, messy world of shooting wars out there, options seldom are.

A digression…

The president and his “red line” remind me of a brief lesson my Algebra II teacher gave us on the concept of “limits.” I don’t know how it came up, since it was way beyond the level of that particular class, but I remember it because it was a much more vivid explanation than anything I later heard in calculus classes.

He stood facing the wall, and then stepped halfway to the wall. Then moved to half of the remaining distance to the wall. Then he did it again. Then he said, imagine that operation repeated infinitely. You would forever get closer to the wall, but never reach it. That’s a limit.

I found it kind of a mind-blowing concept. Forever moving toward something, and never reaching it…

6 thoughts on “Senate panel votes to arm (some) Syrian rebels

  1. Norm Ivey

    The consequences of action and inaction seem equally undesirable in this case. Weapons are one matter; committing troops to Syria is another. Politically, I think the president is right to exercise restraint. I think Americans have had enough of war for the time being.

    On your digression: the sum of an infinite number of halves is 1, so you will eventually reach the wall. It just takes a long time. It’s called a geometric or infinite series.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Infinite, like a Longines Symphonette, it doesn’t end.

        I can sound like Mab if I just quote snatches of They Might Be Giants…

  2. Phillip

    Pretty interesting article in The New Republic on how differently Russia views the Syria situation, and (depressingly) why that’s going to make it difficult to try to find that “third way” between the status quo and the rise of a radical Islamic state. Methinks the 15 Senators voting Yes know well that they are casting a feel-good symbolic vote that tells their constituents “we did something” but from the safe position of knowing their vote has no actual consequences. The President’s decisions, however, do have ramifications and so his caution and unwillingness to act hastily or unilaterally is wise, I think.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    Not sure that “small arms” are going to make much of a difference. The middle east is awash in small arms. If you really wanted to help the rebels, you’d give them something heavier. Actually, giving them tanks wouldn’t be a bad idea if you really wanted to help them. There’s not really a way that a tank can be used against the US in some sort of asymmetrical way. It would provide actual help to the rebels by giving them armored units and there would be minimal blowback on the US. Bang for your buck.

    My guess is that it’s overwhelmingly bipartisan because it’s a meaningless, empty gesture. Congress excels at those.

  4. bud

    Sometimes it appears that the president is the only person in Washington who does not want to arm Syrian rebels.

    Sometimes the only guy in the room to object to something turns out to be the only one who is right. Let’s not forget the vote to go into Iraq was bipartisan. That obviously did not make that right. This may turn out ok but it’s a gigantic gamble.

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