Washington reacts to Obama's support of Syrian rebels

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June 15, 2013, 7:31 am
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(NECN/NBC News: Steve Handelsman) - The decision by President Obama to get deeper into the Syrian Civil War and arm some Syrian rebels is being seen warily by the U.S. public, if early polls are still accurate.

There is a mixed reaction in Washington. But in Syria, anti-government fighters are celebrating.

All that the Syrian rebels are getting from the U.S. now are MREs and the like. But soon, it'll be weapons.

Syrian rebels say they're sad that 93,000 Syrians died before the U.S. agreed to send the rebels arms. But they'll be happy to have them.

“This is something that the Syrian revolution, the Free Syrian Army members, have been waiting for many, many months, something that we welcome,” said Syrian National Council Spokesman Khalid Saleh.

The Syrian government forces of Bashir Assad are already getting aid of their own: missiles from Russia, grounds troops from Hezbollah, allied with Iran.

Former president Bill Clinton was pushing for U.S. involvement.

“With Hezbollah coming out of Lebanon, it's an external as well as an internal fight,” said Clinton. “And I think we should support the rebel groups more vigorously.”

The U.S. asserts the Syrian government did use the poison gas, sarin.

“This isn't just red line for the United States, in our view,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes. “It should be a red line for the international community, generally.”

But the Russians reject the U.S. accusation because of Iraq, and the false U.S. claim that Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

Being sure Syrian poison gas can't be used ought to be a top U.S. goal, say some senate Republicans.

“The next bomb that goes off in a place like Boston could have more than nails and glass in it, cause the people that want these weapons in Syria, the people who are trying to develop nuclear capability in Iran, if you don't think they're coming after us, you're naive,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Some in the Senate want the U.S. to stay out of Syria.

“Once we get in, how to we get out?” asked Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine.

Others, like Sen. John McCain, want the U.S. to do more, like bombing Syrian government airfields.

But the much more modest move by President Obama to arm some Syrian rebels was backed by just 11 percent of Americans in last week’s NBC News/Wall St Journal poll.

Tags: barack Obama, Obama, Washington, President Obama, national security, John McCain, Bill Clinton, Lindsey Graham, DC, Syria, Hezbollah, NBC News, Steve Handelsman, Angus King, assad, Vashir Assad, Ben Rhodes
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