The Washington Post

Republicans criticize Obama on Syria

Republicans in Congress offered fresh criticism Sunday of the Obama administration's navigation of the violent conflict in Syria.

On ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) charged that the administration has "failed" to identify elements of the resistance against the Syrian government that the United States could work with, which has left limited options on the table.

"Now the strongest groups fighting against [Syrian President Bashar al-Assad], unfortunately, are al Qaeda-linked elements. That doesn't mean that they all are, but it certainly -- this group has become the most organized, the best armed, the best equipped.  Our options are now really narrower than they were a few months ago." Rubio said.

Late last week, the United States announced it would provide direct military support to  rebels fighting the Syrian government by arming them. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on NBC's "Meet The Press" that the Obama administration's actions were simply too little too late and advocated a no-fly zone over the country.

"Our policies are not working. And AK-47s will not neutralize the advantage that Assad has over the rebels. We need to do more," Graham said.

Appearing on the same program, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) expressed optimism about the Obama administration's ability to seek out elements of the opposition the United States could work with.

"While I know there are bad guys involved in the opposition rebels, we've done a pretty good job of ferreting out who are the good guys or who are the more moderate guys within that opposition.  And I'm certain that's who the president's talking about providing arms to," Chambliss said.

If the military advocates implementing a no-fly zone, Chambliss said, the United States ought to move swiftly ahead. "If the military says that we need to implement a no-fly zone, we ought to do it right away," he said.

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough didn't announce any new steps beyond what the Obama administration has already said about its involvement in Syria.

"Well, again, I don't think we've gotten into the kind of individual puts and takes. What we have said is that the scope and feel of our assistance, which has been robust heretofore, to the Syrian opposition council as well as to the Syrian military council (UNINTEL) actually the fighters on the ground, that assistance will expand.  The scope and scale of that assistance will expand," McDonough said on CBS's "Face The Nation."

He added: "We have to be very discerning about what's in our interest and what outcome is best for us, and the prices that we're willing to pay to get to that place."

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said he believes the Obama administration's decision to arm the rebels was just a first step toward doing more.

"I think the president is headed in that direction, this is the first step," said Menendez on CNN's "State of the Union."

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) warned that a no-fly zone may lead to a "slippery slope," but didn't shut the door to that or any other ideas.

"I'm open to all options," Udall said on "Meet The Press." "But I think that we oughta be listening to the president, we oughta be listening to military leadership. You know, though, a no-fly zone and other involvement may lead to this slippery slope that others talked about. But this is a very dangerous, very fragile situation."

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the Obama administration needs to more fully explain what its plan is moving forward.

"They've got a lot of explaining to do to come up and say, 'Here's our comprehensive plan on how we move forward,' on what is a catastrophic situation that's getting worse every single day in Syria," Rogers said on "Face The Nation."



Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.

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