Column: Don't get involved in Syria's sectarian war

Published June 28, 2013

'The enemy of my enemy is my friend." We've heard this idiom so many times it might be easy to assume it's always true.

It is not.

This is the situation in which we find ourselves with Syria, where for two years rebels have clashed with government forces run by dictator Bashar Assad. His regime is unquestionably evil, and he has committed atrocities against his own people. He has the support of Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah.

Anyone would be better than Assad, right?

That seems to be the thinking of those on both sides of the aisle who support increasing American involvement in the civil war in Syria. Many members of my own party criticized President Barack Obama for not acting sooner in Syria, and cheered him when he announced he would begin providing support for the Syrian rebels.

However, the belief that "anyone would be better" is not only dangerous, but also simply wrong.

In fact, we know that al-Qaida has successfully infiltrated the Syrian rebels, and that a long-standing Syrian terrorist organization, al-Nusrah, fights alongside them. Supporting them would be to support the same evil terrorist organizations we have been fighting for more than a decade, who attacked us on 9/11, and whom we've battled in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have taken the lives of thousands of Americans, civilians and troops alike.

Senior administration officials have told me that they cannot give any assurance that arms we provide to the rebels will not end up in the hands of al-Qaida. So what is our endgame?

Why should America involve itself in a sectarian civil war in Syria? Which side are we on — Sunni or Shiite? Why send arms to rebels knowing they will wind up in the hands of al-Qaida? Why spend American treasure or risk American lives to escalate a war in which neither side can be counted as an ally? How is this in our national interest?

If the president sincerely believes we must help one group of bad guys defeat another group of bad guys in a Syrian civil war, he needs to come to Congress and make that case. As a member of the House Intelligence Committee, I'm eager to listen. I want him to explain to Congress and the American people: What is our mission? What is our strategy to achieve those objectives? And what is our exit strategy?

If he can answer these questions and convince us as a Congress, then I'd be a good soldier and take the case to my constituents. After all, this is what the Founding Fathers wanted. Waging war in this country was never meant to fall wholly on the shoulders of one person.

If he can't, or simply won't, make that case, then Congress needs to take a stand and assert our authority as the only branch of government with the authority to declare war.

I have introduced legislation with Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, to do just that. Our legislation would prevent the president from supplying arms or any other form of support to the rebels, al-Qaida or any other warring faction in Syria, unless he receives explicit congressional authorization to do so.

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This bill, the "Congressional Accountability and Oversight in Syria Act," would further prohibit the administration from taking any military action without congressional authorization, consistent with the War Powers Act.

The ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria is tragic, but pumping more arms into the fight may only drag out and worsen the carnage. Even if the rebels succeed, we may only create a power vacuum for a new regime controlled by our al-Qaida enemies.

There is, in all likelihood, no happy ending in this civil war waged between Shiite and Sunni, Hezbollah and al-Qaida. If there's a good case to spend U.S. blood and treasure in this no-win situation, the president needs to make it.

Until then, Congress needs to make clear — no arms for rebels backed by al-Qaida, and no American military action in Syria, without our authorization. Because sometimes, the enemy of my enemy is also my enemy.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, represents Florida's 17th district, which includes part of Hillsborough County, and serves on the House Intelligence and Appropriations committees. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.