Syria has been at civil war for the past two years, raging between Sunni rebels and hardline President Bashar al-Assad's Shiite-controlled government. More than 70,000 Syrians have been killed since March 2011, with millions more displaced. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, offered legislation earlier this month to allow the U.S. to provide arms to the Syrian opposition. Menendez's legislation includes $250 million for transitioning the government.
The U.S. is already supplying the Syrian rebels with food and medicine. In April, the U.S. started providing the rebels with defensive equipment like body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment. The U.S. and several Western and Arab countries are part of a pro-opposition “Friends of Syria bloc,” which is trying to broker peace in the country. Secretary of State John Kerry warned the Syrian government that if it does not negotiate in good faith during U.S. and Russian-brokered peace talks next month, the U.S. will increase its support to the rebels. Kerry has repeatedly said that Assad must go, "It is very, very clear as a starting point that mutual consent will never be given by any member of the broad opposition of Syria for Assad to continue to run that government,” he declared.
But some members of Congress are speaking up against the legislation, which essentially picks sides between two radical Islamist factions. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) argued on CNN, "Unfortunately, to a large extent, al Qaeda elements have a lot of control within the rebel movements. My concern is that, by arming the rebels, we could be strengthening al Qaeda." Iranian-backed militias and al Qaeda affiliates are likely infiltrating the rebel opposition, and the weapons could end up in their hands. After the U.S. intervened on behalf of insurgents in Libya in order to topple Muammar Gaddafi, al Qaeda gained a stronghold in the country, and there are now signs of al Qaeda everything, such as an al Qaeda flag flying above the central courthouse in Benghazi.