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Lawmakers suggest the U.S. should arm the rebels or establish a no-fly zone.
Published Apr. 29, 2013

New York Times

WASHINGTON - Republicans on Capitol Hill took President Barack Obama to task Sunday for what they characterized as dangerous inaction in Syria, while Democrats urged the White House to step up its humanitarian response to the 2-year-old civil war that has killed 70,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.

The lawmakers' comments came after revelations last week that Syrian President Bashar Assad is believed to have used chemical weapons against his own people.

On Sunday, several leading Republicans - including Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona, both of whom are members of the Armed Services Committee - used appearances on television talk shows to warn that failure to intervene in Syria would embolden nations like Iran and North Korea.

"If we keep this hands-off approach to Syria, this indecisive action toward Syria, kind of not knowing what we're going to do next, we're going to start a war with Iran because Iran's going to take our inaction in Syria as meaning we're not serious about their nuclear weapons program," Graham said on CBS's Face the Nation.

He added: "There's nothing you can do in Syria without risk, but the greatest risk is a failed state with chemical weapons falling in the hands of radical Islamists, and they're pouring into Syria."

Obama has previously said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a "red line" that would set off a U.S. response. On Friday, one day after his administration disclosed that it believes Assad's forces have used sarin nerve gas against Syrian citizens, the president called it "a game changer."

White House officials have said they want to establish who used the weapons and whether their use was deliberate or accidental before deciding whether a red line has been crossed.

So far, the United States has taken limited military steps in Syria but has sent supplies like night-vision goggles and body armor to the rebels fighting the Assad government.

Now Graham, McCain and others would like the United States to do more, possibly by arming the rebels or establishing a no-fly zone to neutralize Syria's air defense, though they disagreed on the particulars.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., who also serves on the Armed Services Committee, said on Face the Nation that he had spoken last week with King Abdullah II of Jordan about a no-fly zone, while Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said lawmakers had received classified information that suggests the Assad government has been using chemical weapons for the past two years.

"The problem is, you know, the president has laid down the line," Rogers said on the ABC's This Week. "And it can't be a dotted line. It can't be anything other than a red line. And more than just Syria, Iran is paying attention to this. North Korea is paying attention to this."

The Republicans agreed that the United States should not send in ground troops.

"The worst thing the United States could do right now is put boots on the ground in Syria," McCain said on NBC's Meet the Press. "That would turn the people against us."

Democrats, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, seemed less inclined to support stepping up military aid and focused more on providing humanitarian assistance to Syrians who have fled the fighting.

"I believe the United States could play a greater role in dealing with the humanitarian crisis," Ellison said on Meet the Press. "We have spillage and refugees in Jordan, in Lebanon and internally displaced people in Syria. The suffering is intense, and I don't think the world's greatest superpower, the United States, can stand by and not do anything."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said on This Week that she appreciated Obama's "deliberative approach" and that the erroneous reports of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq should be a reminder to act with caution.