The White House Has the Approval It Needs to Arm Syrian Rebels
On the same day that the Pentagon provided Congress with a list of military options concerning Syria, Reuters reported that the White House is pretty much ready to move forward with a plan to arm the Syrian rebels. That's even after the Pentagon outlined the dangers of U.S. involvement getting too deep.
On the same day that the Pentagon provided Congress with a list of military options concerning Syria, reports emerged that the White House is pretty much ready to move forward with covert CIA-run plan to arm the Syrian rebels.
Reuters, along with the New York Times, both cite Rep. Mike Rogers's on-the-record indication that the Intelligence committee he chairs is ready to give a stamp of approval to the President's plan, despite doubts about its probability for success. The committee meetings on the plan themselves are held in secret (as is the covert arms operation itself, which is going through the CIA), but according to Reuters there's been a tentative agreement on the table since mid-July that opened the way for Obama's plan for Syria to move forward:
Part of the logjam was broken on July 12 when members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who had questioned the wisdom of arming the insurgents decided behind closed doors to tentatively agree that the administration could go ahead with its plans, but sought updates as the covert effort proceeded.
The approval, as the Washington Post explains, will allow the CIA to shift some money already allotted to the agency into the covert arms program. And while no one's saying specifically how much the covert program will cost, the Post says that officials believe it's cheaper for the CIA to take it on than it would be for the military to carry out the same operation (it also, you know, allows the administration to side step international restrictions on overthrowing a government, and minimizes the congressional approval needed to move forward). There's still no timeline for the start of delivery, however. Meanwhile, as the Times notes, the president has been emphasizing in recent weeks just how hard his plan will be to pull off, indicating that the administration believes that Obama's successor will likely inherit their policy on Syria.
As for the military's possible involvement, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the cost of various military operations available for Syria on Monday. Sending troops to help train the rebels outside of Syria, he estimates, would cost $500 million a year. The Post explains further:
Dempsey said that more robust options, including establishing no-fly or buffer zones inside Syria, or containing Syria’s government-held chemical weapons, would cost at least a billion dollars a month and require ships, aircraft and up to several thousand troops.
Congress's main concern on the CIA plan for Syria arguably hasn't been the length or strength of the plan: it's been whether the arms promised to Syrian rebels could fall into the hands of extremists. That's something the President himself has addressed before, claiming that the administration has enough intelligence on the Syrian rebels to determine who to arm. Senator John McCain, one of the top Syria hawks, also thinks he knows how to tell the "good" and "bad" guys apart here, after one covert visit to the country in May.