published Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Sen. Bob Corker scolds President Barack Obama on Syria, wants arms sent to rebels sooner


by Chris Carroll
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Bob Corker on Tuesday described as "unacceptable" the White House's approach to arming Syrian rebels, saying a reported delay in American weapon shipments "wastes time at the expense of our national interests."

Corker's attack exposes the clearest Syria quibble yet between the Tennessee Republican and President Barack Obama, both of whom support some degree of American intervention in a Middle Eastern conflict that has killed 100,000.

Two weeks after media reports said American weapons would begin arriving in Syria, a Monday Reuters news article that relied on unnamed national security sources said Obama has decided to delay arms shipments after House and Senate intelligence panels raised questions over preparedness.

"None of the military aid that the United States announced weeks ago has arrived in Syria, according to an official from an Arab country and Syrian opposition sources," the Reuters story said.

  • photo
    President Barack Obama wipes sweat from his head during a speech on climate change at Georgetown University in Washington.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Corker criticized that revelation in a blistering statement issued Tuesday morning.

"After months of division about what to do in Syria, the administration's secret plan to arm the opposition has only led to further delay, as chaos and destruction in the region worsen," the former Chattanooga mayor said. "It is unacceptable to hide such a fundamental foreign policy matter from the vast majority of Congress and the American people."

The ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has said the U.S. should vet, arm and empower "moderate" Syrian rebels so the Middle Eastern nation isn't eventually governed by al-Qaida or other extremists after the assumed fall of President Bashir al-Assad. On May 21 the foreign relations panel voted 15-3 on a proposal that mirrored Corker's thinking.

But locally, he's been a lone Tennessee Republican voice calling for an American push in the Syrian conflict. War-weary GOP Reps. Scott DesJarlais and Phil Roe strongly oppose such involvement while Sen. Lamar Alexander has stayed relatively quiet on the issue.

A White House spokeswoman who deals with Southern media did not respond to a request for comment on Corker's statement.

"As noted at the time we announced the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council, we will continue to consult closely with Congress on these matters," a White House National Security Council spokeswoman told Reuters on Monday.

Corker has said he does not want American "boots on the ground" in Syria.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-280-2025.

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