In the 48 hours since the administration cut off bilateral talks with the Russians over the war in Syria, the tide has turned toward American military intervention in Syria. This was perhaps predictable given Secretary of State John Kerry’s remarks in Brussels on Tuesday in which he expressed his “great sense of outrage” that “the Syrian regime and Russia seem to have rejected diplomacy in furtherance of trying to pursue a military victory over the broken bodies, the bombed-out hospitals, the traumatized children of a long-suffering land.”
The administration’s diplomatic efforts were undermined almost from the very start, when US airstrikes killed over 60 Syrian government troops only days after the announcement of the September 9 cease-fire agreement. As Nation contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen recently observed, the Pentagon’s “opposition was so intense that one of its spokesmen told the press it might disobey a presidential order to share intelligence with Moscow, as called for by the agreement, in flagrant violation of the US constitution.” On Tuesday Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook issued a warning to Russia over its deployment of anti-aircraft missiles to Syria.
Congressional War Hawks Take Flight
Meanwhile, Arizona Senator John McCain seemed positively cheered by the news that our so-called Gulf state “allies” are seeking to provide the Islamist rebels in Syria with man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS). McCain told The Hill last Wednesday, “It’s about time…because the [Obama administration] is not going to do it.”
And while Congress is on recess until after the election, pressure on the administration to allow the dispersement of MANPADS to rebel fighters continues apace. Alarmingly, as one congressional source familiar with the fight over MANPADS told me, “the House has repeatedly voted unanimously to block MANPADS from being sent to Syria. But when the defense-spending bill goes to conference, someone anonymously removes the provision, overturning the will of the House without explanation.”
Indeed, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the House has, since 2013, repeatedly passed legislation that prohibits the “procurement or transfer” MANPADS to Syria.
According to the CRS, the FY2015 defense appropriations act stated that none of the funds earmarked for the Syria Train and Equip program “shall be used for the procurement or transfer of man-portable air-defense systems.”
The following year’s defense-appropriations bill, for FY2016, also prohibited funds from the Syria Train and Equip program from being “used for the procurement or transfer of man-portable air-defense systems.” And yet, as enacted, “the final version of the FY2016 defense appropriations act does not include such a prohibition.”
While the House has repeatedly tried to block federal money from being spent on the “procurement or transfer” of MANPADS in the FY2017 budget, in the end those prohibitions were stripped out. As the CRS points out, “the Senate-passed versions of the FY2017 defense authorization and the FY2017 defense appropriation do not contain” provisions that would prohibit the US from providing jihadi rebels in Syria with MANPADS.