By James Harrison
Fearing unintended repercussions down the road, Rep. Scott DesJarlais introduced a bill Tuesday to prohibit the U.S. from providing arms and military assistance to rebels in the ongoing Syrian conflict.
DesJarlais, a member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said he was "deeply concerned" with a recent decision by President Barack Obama to enact a limited no-fly zone and provide weapons and training to Syrian rebel groups gathered across the border in Jordan. The White House announced its intentions earlier this month to intervene in the 27-month long conflict, which has included use of chemical weapons and resulted in the deaths of more than 90,000 Syrians.
The congressman said the motive for his legislation, which mirrors a Senate bill, was driven by uncertainties about the ideology or future plans of groups the U.S. would be offering lethal aid to.
"While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's actions are nothing short of reprehensible, we simply do not know enough about the goals or objectives of rebel factions to justify intervention by the United States," DesJarlais said in a news release. "We could very well be jeopardizing our national security interests by sending weapons to a group with reported ties to the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaida."
The bill would ban the Department of Defense, CIA and other intelligence agencies from funding military, paramilitary or covert operations in Syria. The ban would not apply to any humanitarian assistance being provided in the country through government and nongovernment organizations.
Along with the White House, DesJarlais's bill goes directly against the position of Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, who repeatedly called for the U.S. arming of "vetted" rebel groups involved in the conflict. Along with multiple letters written to Obama, the senator and former Chattanooga mayor wrote a New York Times op-ed calling for lethal assistance in the conflict and authored his own bill outlining the process for arming rebels, which passed in a 15-3 vote of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Since the White House's announcement regarding its intentions in Syria, Corker has urged officials to use caution to ensure safeguards are in place for arming the country's moderate forces.