GOP Rep: 'Ludicrous' to Think Syrian Rebels Launched Chemical Attack
House members on the Foreign Affairs Committee listened to several hours of testimony from Secretary of State John Kerry and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey make the Obama administration's case for U.S. military intervention in Syria.
Kerry testified this week that opposition forces in Syria were mainly "moderates" telling members of Congress, "There is a real moderate opposition that exists. General Idriss is running the military arm of that."
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) supports the Obama administration's proposal to strike Syria. Kinzinger told Breitbart News, "We made veiled threats of a nuclear retaliation to the Iraqis if they used [chemical weapons] against us. American troops and Americans have solidly benefited from us keeping the red line. That the use of chemical weapons has absolutely no place in a future world like this."
Kinzinger excoriated those who speculate the possibility the chemical attack may have been launched by jihadists within the Syrian opposition. "If the implication is that the rebels released the weapons I think that’s just ludicrous and I’m not even going to address it. We’ve been seeing it in a very big way that this was Assad and not the rebels," he explained. "If anybody wants to claim that it is, history will show them to be basically a denier of a very serious and bad thing that we had to take seriously."
Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX), however, walked out of the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing unconvinced that it was necessary for the United States to engage in a military strike against the Assad regime. "The reporting I've received in briefings is the majority of the factions of rebel forces that are extremists outweigh the moderates. I don’t support any military action that empowers our traditional enemy and that is Al Qaeda."
Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) is also confident that the information Sec. Kerry provided to members of Congress is a strong argument to attack the the Assad government. Vargas told reporters he believed Kerry told the truth at the hearing.
"I’ll take [Kerry's] word for it, so I support it. I’ve read all the information both classified and unclassified and I think they make a most compelling argument for [a strike]. Chemicals were used to kill these children and [Assad's government] did gas these children," Vargas said. "We have to respond. I do think it’s a line that’s been crossed, not just the president’s line but all decent humanity’s line."
The British government says the Assad regime has used chemical weapons within its own country 14 times since 2012. However, British Prime Minister David Cameron was unable to garner enough votes in Parliament to support a strike in Syria. There is currently pressure on Cameron to push Parliament for another vote on the issue.
Arutz Sheva reported in August of 2012 that the Syrian rebels released a statement that opposition forces had taken over a military base in Damascus and found missiles with non-conventional warheads:
“During the successful operation, the operatives of the Free Syrian Army found a large number of rockets ready for launching, with enormous destructive capability, and they were very surprised to find missiles that were converted to carry non-conventional warheads and which can be equipped with chemical or biological warheads,” said the statement which was translated by Arab affairs expert Dalit Halevi.
The Supreme Military Council of the rebels went on to claim that it had confirmed the report by examining photographic documentation of the scene.
The council claimed that that the Assad regime was getting ready to bomb cities in Syria using these missiles. However, a U.S. official told NBC News on Wednesday, "No one but the Syrians knows the inventory, and if the rebels overrun one of these depots, there are worries about the physical control of the weapons."
Reuters is also reporting that intelligence experts contradict the information Secretary Kerry is delivering to Congress about just how moderate the rebel forces in Syria really are:
As recently as late July, at a security conference in Aspen, Colorado, the deputy director of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, David Shedd, estimated that there were at least 1,200 different Syrian rebel groups and that Islamic extremists, notably the Nusra Front, were well-placed to expand their influence.
"Left unchecked, I'm very concerned that the most radical elements will take over larger segments" of the opposition groups, Shedd said. He added that the conflict could drag on anywhere "from many, many months to multiple years" and that a prolonged stalemate could leave open parts of Syria to potential control by radical fighters.
U.S. and allied intelligence sources said that such assessments have not changed.
At a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, President Barack Obama argued, "But what we know is, is that the opposition doesn’t have the capability to deliver weapons on this scale. These weapons are in Assad’s possession."
U.S. experts, though, told NBC News that even simple artillery shells can be loaded with chemical weapons and fired at targets within a relatively short range.
According to polls, the American public is overwhelmingly against taking any military action in Syria. Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH) has not made up his mind yet but told reporters that e-mails and phone calls to his office from constituents in his district have been telling his office to not support any intervention in Syria.
"I can tell you that my constituents are overwhelmingly opposed to it, at least if the e-mails and phone calls that I’ve received in my office are indicative of the sentiments of my constituents. I don’t think its orchestrated, in other words," he said.
When asked how much his constituents would factor in on his final decision as to whether he would support military intervention in Syria, Chabot said:
Well, they’re certainly part of it. It’s a representative form of government. We’re the House of Representatives, so that’s certainly a factor. You don’t just take a poll on these things. That’s a part of it. There’s listening to the administration’s evidence. I’m discussing this with my colleagues.
Chabot told Breitbart News he still cannot confidently say who launched the chemical attack against the Syrian people: "The evidence seems to point towards Assad. I’ve heard things to the contrary. That certainly seems to be the case, although I can’t definitively say that personally." Chabot added that Secretary Kerry appears to make the case that it was Assad "beyond a reasonable doubt."
Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) made it clear to reporters he would not support any kind of unilateral action in Syria. "It’s an international problem that warrants an international response," he said. Perry also indicated that the administration should not take any action until it is clear that it was the Assad regime who was responsible for gassing its own people.
Perry told Breitbart News: "We need to be very certain about that before we take action for just that reason. You don’t want to attack the enemy when it was some other enemy."
Members will attend further classified briefings on Syria next week, and the administration will have the opportunity again to make its case for a military strike against the Syrian government.