Marco Rubio: Obama Could Arm al Qaeda in Syria
Policy + Politics

Marco Rubio: Obama Could Arm al Qaeda in Syria

REUTERS/Thair Al-Damashqi/Shaam News Network/Handout

Republicans on Sunday blasted President Obama for failing to intervene sooner in the Syrian civil war, saying the lack of action has allowed groups with ties to al Qaeda to get in the fight.

Appearing on ABC News’ "This Week," Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the president’s inaction has led to the “worst possible scenario.”  

"It behooved us to kind of identify whether there were elements there within Syria fighting against [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad that we could work with, reasonable people that wouldn’t carry out human rights violations and could be part of building a new Syria. We failed to do that. This president failed to do that," Rubio said. "The fact that it’s taken this White House and this president so long to get a clear and concise policy on Syria has left us with the worst possible scenario right now."

Today, some of the factions fighting against Assad have ties with al Qaeda, the senator said, putting the country at risk if the rebels managed to defeat Assad.

“So now your options are quite limited. Now the strongest groups fighting against Assad, unfortunately, are al Qaeda-linked elements,” Rubio said. “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.”

Meanwhile, on NBC’s "Meet the Press," Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that Obama has failed to articulate a policy to address the Syrian war.

“It seems to me ‘not being Bush’ is our foreign policy,” Graham said. “The goal should be to basically make sure Assad leaves," Graham said. "Last year, Assad was isolated, he had very few friends he was hanging by a thread. This year he’s entrenched with Hezbollah, Iran, and Russia, stronger behind him than ever."

Last week, the White House said it would arm Syrian rebels with small arms after it had confirmed reports that Assad has used chemical weapons against his own people. Obama had previously called the use of chemical weapons a “red line” in the conflict, but the administration failed to act when earlier reports of their use surfaced.

The “red line” comes at a key time in the conflict, which has already claimed over 90,000 lives. Assad’s forces just retook a key Syrian city, putting the rebels at a disadvantage. It also comes as Iran has pledged to send 4,000 troops to back Assad, joining members of Hezbollah who are already there.

The U.S. decision to back the rebels comes at a diplomatically difficult time for the president and his allies. He and British Prime Minister David Cameron are expected to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over his support for Assad, including sending him missiles

According to Graham, simply supplying the rebels with weapons is not enough to give the rebels a chance against Assad.

"I think our goal should be, in the short term, to balance the military power--and providing small arms won’t do it. So we need to create a no-fly zone to neutralize Assad’s airpower," he said. “Syria has become a powder keg for the region,” Graham said. “Our policies are not working, and AK-47s will not neutralize the advantage Assad has over the rebels."

Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, said during the roundtable discussion, “I believe, no one believes that these small arms are going to change the balance of this war. I don't think Hezbollah, I don't think the Iranians are sitting there going, ‘oh look, the Americans are sending eight trucks of small weapons to the rebels, we better give up.’ So, what I'm saying is, either be in or be out, but don't play around in this.”