Mr. CRUZ. Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong concern about President Obama's decision to arm the rebels in Syria. That decision was signaled last week by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. According to Mr. Rhodes the United States will start supplying arms to selected rebel groups.
I fully understand the seriousness of the situation in Syria. Bashar al-Asad is a brutal dictator. Syria has been on the State Department's state sponsor of terrorism list since 1979. For 2 years this brutal civil war has raged, leaving at least 93,000 dead--100 reportedly through chemical weapons attack. The humanitarian situation in Syria is a calamity. Millions of people have been displaced.
Iran and Russia stand to gain a major strategic victory if Asad remains in power, and we have to be concerned about the danger this war poses to our allies Israel and Jordan.
All Americans would like to see secular, democracy-minded forces in Syria come to power, but President Obama's failed policy over the last 2 years has left us with no good options at this time. In the beginning of the uprising, there was a moment when the peaceful protesters could have used the vocal energetic support of the United States. Instead, the Obama administration stood by for months apparently in the hopes they could make Asad see reason. Before long, military hostilities broke out, but President Obama chose not to act, hoping instead to lead from behind.
In the course of the war, Asad has benefited from weapons from Iran, Russia, and fighters from Hezbollah. Our repeated entreaties to the Russians to help us resolve this crisis have fallen on deaf ears--most recently this week when President Obama tried to reach a diplomatic solution with President Putin, to have him once again refuse to be the good-faith partner the administration seems to think he could be.
Meanwhile, the most effective, organized Syrian rebels are affiliated with al-Qaida. There are two main al-Qaida entities active in Syria: Jabhat al-Nusra and the resurgent al-Qaida in Iraq. While recent plans to merge them have foundered, they are both powerful and well armed.
In recent weeks a training video has been posted on an al-Qaida Web site showing young rebel recruits in Syria singing not only about overthrowing Asad, but how ``the World Trade Center was turned into rubble.'' To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of Israel on June 6, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video calling for Syrians to unite, bring down the Asad government, and to create a radical Islamic state.
On June 9, Zawahiri posted a letter on Al-Jazeera announcing that Jabhat al-Nusra would be acting on his direct orders. As many as seven of the nine rebel groups that have been identified may have ties to al-Qaida. Yet these murky connections make them all the more difficult to properly vet.
As is normally the case when al-Qaida moves in, more and more stories are spreading about the desecration of churches, kidnappings, rapes, and beheadings. These forces are engaged in a deadly struggle with the Asad regime, and President Obama has chosen this moment to signal that it is now suddenly in our vital national security interests to intervene in Syria. It seems far more likely a recipe for disaster.
We are told the United States will provide only small arms and ammunition and only to the more secular democracy-minded rebels, and that they will not fall into the hands of those who attacked us on September 11--not to mention more recently in Fort Hood, Benghazi, and Boston--although there are no details as to how the President plans to differentiate between good and bad actors.
Even if we could clearly identify the good rebels, so to speak, we would be backing the weakest of the factions in Syria, and the support the Obama administration has proposed will not be sufficient to bring down Asad and put them in power. Once committed to this path, we risk either being forced to incrementally increase our support or face the humiliation of losing to either al-Qaida groups or Asad or both, which would delight both Iran and Russia. We could also see the factions of the opposition use our weapons to turn on each other and see Asad triumph in the chaos.
It is far from clear we could get the weapons to the so-called good rebels, even if we could figure out who they were. President Obama has just announced another $300 million in humanitarian aid for Syria, but only about half of the aid already pledged has been delivered. The other hasn't been delivered because of logistical issues and the challenges of keeping these resources out of the hands of bad actors. How on Earth can we expect to deliver guns if we cannot even get MREs into the country? Regardless, let me suggest a simple rule: Don't give weapons to people who hate us. Don't give weapons to people who want to kill us. U.S. foreign policy should be directed at one central purpose: protecting the vital national security interests of the United States. Arming potential al-Qaida rebels is not furthering those interests, but there is something that is: preventing Syria's large stockpile of chemical weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists.
We know Asad has used these weapons, and there is good reason to suspect the al-Qaida affiliated rebels would use them as well if they could get their hands on them. This poses an intolerable threat not only to our friends in the region but also to the United States. Right now we need to develop a clear, practical plan to go in, locate the weapons, secure or destroy them, [Page: S4741] and then get out. We might work in concert with our allies, but this needs to be an operation driven by the mission, not by a coalition.
The United States should be firmly in the lead to make sure the job is done right, but our British allies, for example, are actively bolstering the units that could be used for chemical weapons removal. President Obama needs to assure us that the dangerous, arbitrary cuts to our defense budget caused by sequester have not eroded our ability to execute this vital mission.
News reports suggest that what planning has gone on involves outsourcing parts of this work to the rebel groups. This makes no sense. Moreover, it is deeply disturbing that President Obama has chosen not to communicate his decision directly to Congress or the American people and, I would note, communicating not through a junior staffer or a spokesperson. He, himself, needs to communicate to the American people.
According to a Pew poll taken over the weekend, 70 percent of Americans oppose arming the Syrian rebels--quite sensibly. In a case where his policy is so at odds with the will of the people, it is beholden on the President to make his case and persuade us this proposed intervention is necessary. But just yesterday in his long speech on national security at the Brandenburg Gate, President Obama did not even mention his planned intervention in Syria. He told us he is a ``citizen of the world,'' but he is also President of the United States, and he owes the American people an explanation.
President Obama needs to explain why arming the Syrian rebels is now worth our intervention when it wasn't 2 years ago. He needs to explain how he has established which rebels are the appropriate recipients of this support. He needs to explain how this limited support will make a material difference in Syria, and he needs to assure us that his team is proactively planning to protect our national security by keeping Syria's chemical weapons out of the hands of either Hezbollah or al-Qaida. But we don't know any of these specifics. We are apparently just supposed to trust the President to manage Syria policy more effectively than he has over the last 2 years and more effectively than he has managed events in Iran, Libya, and Egypt.
During the Green Revolution in 2009, the Obama administration stood by and allowed the Supreme Leader of Iran to brutally suppress his people as they protested in the streets. Four years later, we have witnessed the installation of the Supreme Leader's most recent selection for President of Iran. Some of the mainstream media refer to him as a ``moderate,'' but he is a man who has referred to Israel as ``the great Zionist Satan,'' and who vows to continue Iran's nuclear program. That is some moderate.
During the uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo, President Obama cheered on the demonstrators but refused to take a leading role in helping Egypt make the difficult transition to democracy, thereby opening the door to a Muslim Brotherhood regime that is now taking systematic steps to hollow out that country's fragile constitution while turning a blind eye to the persecution of Christians and the discrimination against women. Just like the rebels in Syria, President Obama is also working to arm the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
During the revolution in Libya, President Obama decided removing Muammar Kaddafi was a vital national security issue, and he participated in NATO's mission to overturn him. But his strategy of leading from behind meant Kaddhafi's weapons stockpiles went unsecured and had been transferred to militants from Lebanon to Mali. The new government in Libya, however well intentioned, proved incapable of managing the security threat from terrorist militias in the country, and tragically 9 months ago four U.S. personnel were brutally murdered in a terrorist attack. We have yet to track down and punish any of the terrorists who killed our personnel in that attack in Benghazi. With this track record of incoherent and indecisive action resulting in setback after setback to the United States, we are supposed to just trust President Obama to do a better job managing the situation in Syria? It seems to me if we are determined to confront Iran's nuclear program, we would do so better in Iran. Even if Hezbollah is defeated in Syria, there is little prospect that this would halt Iran's nuclear program.
I am also concerned about our ability to successfully negotiate what seems to have become a Sunni-Shiite civil war in Syria. It seems to me we have no business in the middle of such a civil war. From what we know of the President's policy, it seems we are backing into an intractable crisis where there are no good actors but plenty of bad outcomes for America.
Let me close with two simple observations: No. 1, don't arm al-Qaida. Don't arm those who hate us, and don't arm those who want to kill us. That is basic common sense.
No. 2, when it comes to matters of vital national security, the President of the United States needs to come to the American people. We, the people, hold sovereignty in this country, and it is not acceptable for the President to simply send out staffers to pass on his decision. He needs to come before Congress and the American people and explain those decisions.
All of us have deep concerns about arming the rebels in Syria, and I hope the administration will reconsider its policy.
I yield the floor.