US lawmakers voted on Wednesday to authorize training and arming of Syrian rebels to fight other extremists, a crucial step in US President Barack Obama’s bid to thwart terrorism surging across Iraq and Syria.
Despite misgivings by war-weary Democrats that the move could open the door to full-blown American military intervention in the Middle East, and concern by conservatives that the plan falls short of what is needed to defeat so-called “Daesh” [ISIL], the House of Representatives voted 273 to 156 to approve Obama’s train-and-equip plan.
The overall bill now shifts to the Senate, where leaders are confident it will pass on Thursday and head to the president for his signature.
Obama called on the Senate to greenlight the measure as part of his “comprehensive and sustained “counter-terrorism” strategy.”
He has pressed Congress to provide him political cover to initiate military action in Syria, although the White House and many lawmakers believe he has the constitutional authority to launch air strikes in Syria, as he has done in Iraq in the claim to protect US national security interests.
Still, opponents warned of a quagmire ahead. US House Republican Tom McClintock warned that arming and training the so-called “Free Syrian Army” “runs a great risk of backfiring,” noting that Daesh is “armed to the teeth with American equipment” and that alliances in the Middle East can change with lightning speed.
“Our consistent experience in this region should be screaming this warning at us: we’re making a big mistake,” he said.
Some Democrats moreover warned that the move marked a slippery slope that would lead to US boots on the ground.
With the amendment attached to a temporary spending bill that expires December 11, lawmakers are gearing up for a broader debate — after congressional midterm elections November 4 — on whether to approve a new authorization for the use of military force to give Obama powers to prosecute a wider war against the extremists in Iraq and Syria.