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President Obama Has Three Questions to Answer on Arms to Syria

Recent history and the current intelligence on the ground supports the conclusion that the risks are just too great. After over a decade of war overseas, now is not the time to arm an unorganized, unfamiliar, and unpredictable group of rebels.
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In light of recent findings regarding Syria's use of chemical weapons, the President has decided to send arms to the rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad, but the full scope of this new intervention is unclear. There is a growing fervor for military intervention. As one of just three senators on the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to vote against arming unorganized rebels, and as an Iraq War Veteran, we urge a different course.

A number of experts are warning that the options to intervene in Syria are misguided, and could prove damaging to America's strategic interests. Despite these concerns, many who advocated for previously disastrous Middle East interventions are pushing loudly to arm groups we know little about, and declare war through air strikes on another Middle Eastern country.

This rush to judgment is dangerous. We should learn from history, not repeat it.

Like everyone, we are deeply disturbed by the current situation in Syria. The atrocities committed by President Assad, his army, and varying rebel militias and groups deserve the attention of the international community. And those who are fighting for their freedom deserve international support. There is no doubt that Syrian President Assad is a vicious dictator who cannot remain in power. We all can agree on that point.

But, we still don't know very much about who these rebels are. What little we do know is extremely disturbing. The opposition is fractured. It is made up of elements that are sympathetic to the enemies of the United States and our allies -- including Israel and Turkey. There are reliable reports that some of the rebels even include Iraqi Sunni insurgents -- the same groups who targeted United States troops, and still target the Iraqi Army and government of Nouri al-Maliki.

We know that American law currently considers many of the rebel elements to be terror groups. For instance, Eric Harroun, an American, is facing charges in federal court of fighting alongside a terrorist group. Magistrate Judge Ivan Davis said Harroun had "actively and knowingly participated in fighting with a group the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization," referring to the Nursa Front, an al Qaeda-affiliated group.

And we know the behavior of the rebels can be unpredictable, and opposed to American values. Indeed, opposed to the most basic human values. Take, for example, a video recently released by rebel fighters, in which one carves the heart and liver out of the dead body of a government soldier, and eats the heart. Those around him do not even flinch as they cheer on his cannibalism.

Most concerning, considering those arguing in favor of providing heavy arms to the rebels, we know that the opposition is very unorganized. They lack a chain of command. They are subject to deadly infighting. Simply put, once we have introduced arms, neither we nor their fighters will be able to guarantee control over them. Such weapons could end up in the hands of groups and people who do not represent our interests, possibly including terrorists who target the United States, our allies, and the Iraqi Army and government. An Iraq that we spent billions of dollars and thousands of American lives to establish.

Given this reality, President Obama must ask himself three questions: Is he absolutely convinced that arms can be reasonably accounted for and kept out of the hands of terrorist and extremist groups? Can he assure us that those arms will not become a threat to our regional allies and friends, including the government of Iraq? And if the answer to the two previous questions is no, then can he truly articulate why transferring our weapons to unorganized rebels, whose members may be affiliated with terrorist and extremist groups, is a sensible option for the American people?

Once the President considers the above, the answer on what to do becomes abundantly clear: Slow down.

While some in Congress clamor for weapons and war, we must take a step back, consider America's interests in the region, and determine how best to achieve them. We firmly believe that stopping radicalism and protecting our allies is of utmost importance. No doubt those who advocate flooding the region with arms and going to war have those same interests at heart.

However, we come to the ultimate question. And one that has not been adequately answered. Will this hasty march to war achieve these goals? Or will it ultimately harm the interests of the United States and exacerbate the terrorist threat? We believe recent history and the current intelligence on the ground supports the conclusion that the risks are just too great. After over a decade of war overseas, now is not the time to arm an unorganized, unfamiliar, and unpredictable group of rebels.

The winds of war are blowing yet again, and we should be ever vigilant before we venture into the storm.

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