09.18.14

Bay Area Dems Dissent from House Vote to Aid Syrian Rebels

Washington -- Almost 12 years after approving the invasion of Iraq, the House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to grant President Obama authority to combat the latest offshoot of that war, the militant group known as the Islamic State.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco led Democrats in supporting the request, overcoming minority opposition from both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans who questioned the strategy of arming Syrian groups of dubious loyalties to fight Islamic State forces. The House approved the measure, 273-156.

The measure, an amendment to a temporary spending bill, was opposed by several Democrats in the Bay Area delegation who were not yet in office when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began more than a decade ago. Only Reps. Ami Bera of Sacramento and Jerry McNerney of Stockton voted with Pelosi in authorizing Obama to aid Syrian rebels.

'A new war'
Democratic Rep. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove (Sacramento County), who led opposition during debate Tuesday, called the military expansion "a new war" and "a continuation of a problem that has existed in this area for 1,400 years." He said Obama, and by extension Pelosi, were "dead wrong" in asserting that the administration doesn't need a new war authorization from Congress.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough, said the strategy of backing Syrian rebels "does not add up" and predicted "a new war that will only escalate."

Senate passage is widely expected, with strong support from California Democrats Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Obama had resisted intervening until the Islamic State group beheaded two American journalists and captured several Iraqi cities. Obama reiterated in a speech Wednesday to troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida that U.S. troops "do not and will not have a combat mission," despite testimony by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey to Congress on Tuesday that the military might recommend ground troops in the future.

Pelosi led opposition to the Iraq War on the grounds that then-dictator Saddam Hussein posed no immediate threat to the United States. Obama said again Wednesday that the Islamic State group was not a short-term threat, but hanging over the debate was the knowledge that al Qaeda operated freely for years in Afghanistan before launching the 9/11 attacks.

Pelosi described the aid to Syrian rebels as a limited measure and emphasized that the amendment did not authorize the deployment of U.S. combat troops. That, she said, would require a separate vote by Congress, and added that she would vote "no" if Obama sought permission.

Pelosi said assisting "moderate, vetted Syrians outside of Syria" to fight the Islamic State group was but a small part of a broader diplomatic and political strategy by the administration. "It is not pleasant, it's not easy, but it really is necessary," Pelosi said.

While quoting philosopher Hannah Arendt that an "endless flywheel of violence" only sows the seeds of more violence, Pelosi said, "I hope what we are doing takes us in a different direction."

Doubts about legal stance
Legal scholars have cast doubt on the argument that Obama's military expansion in Iraq is covered by two decade-old votes in Congress, to use military force in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2002. The 2001 authorization permitted war making against al Qaeda, which in February disavowed any affiliation with the Islamic State group. The 2002 authorization was focused on Iraq.

Rep. Barbara Lee, the Oakland Democrat who was the only member of Congress to vote against the invasion of Afghanistan, insisted that it was Congress' constitutional obligation to authorize a new war, rather than attaching war-making powers to a spending resolution to keep the government open.

Lee said the U.S. spent more than $20 billion to train and equip the Iraq army, which folded at the first assault by the Islamic State group. "Yet here we are again today," she said, ready to "train and equip members of the Syrian Free Army."

Lee's argument was echoed by conservative Republicans such as Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, who showed photos of Islamic State militants riding in U.S. tanks provided to Iraq.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine (San Diego County), an Iraq War veteran and military hawk, said he had "no confidence we are arming the right people."

But new GOP Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield voiced the sentiment of most Republicans when he characterized the Islamic State group as a "grave and growing threat" to the United States and its allies.

McCarthy said Obama had devoted most of his presidency to ending the "war on terror" waged by his predecessor George W. Bush, but must now change his foreign policy to "winning the war on terror."

How they voted
How members of the Bay Area congressional delegation voted on an amendment authorizing U.S. aid to Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State.

Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove (Sacramento County): Yes

Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto: No

Sam Farr, D-Monterey: No

John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove (Sacramento County): No

Mike Honda, D-San Jose: No

Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael: No

Barbara Lee, D-Oakland: No

Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose: No

Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton: Yes

Doris Matsui: D-Sacramento: No

George Miller, D-Martinez: No

Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco: Yes

Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough: No

Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin: No

Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena: No

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