WHEELING, W.Va. – Sen. Joe Manchin said Wednesday he will not support President Barack Obama’s plan to arm and train Syrian rebels fighting against Islamic State terrorists, even if it means voting down legislation to keep the government funded through December.
House members approved the Syria plan Wednesday as an amendment to a short-term continuing resolution that would avert a partial government shutdown similar to the one that occurred last October. Manchin, D-W.Va., previously said he would support the appropriations bill, before aid to Syrian rebels became part of the equation.
During a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, Manchin reiterated his supports for airstrikes and humanitarian aid in Syria, but said it would be a disservice to Americans to force lawmakers to choose between entangling the nation in that nation’s civil war and possibly shutting down the government. However, he said he would vote against the bill even if his was the deciding vote.
“If that is a decision I am forced to make, it is one that I am prepared to make,” Manchin said. “I believe that the people of West Virginia sent me here to make tough decisions.”
Manchin said America’s recent history in the Middle East cautions against getting too deeply involved. He rattled off a tally of the cost of American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan: 6,600 lives lost, 57,000 wounded and nearly $1.6 trillion spent.
“We have been at war in that part of the world for the last 15 years. If money and military might could have made a difference, it would have by now. … Why do we think that training the rebels would turn out any differently?” Manchin said.
He added it would be foolish to believe the Syrian rebels will choose America’s interests over their own.
“I’m not confident that we know who our allies are. … The opposition fighters that we’ll be training care more about overthrowing (Syrian President Bashar) Assad’s regime than defeating” the Islamic State, he said. “Assad is evil, but he’s not a threat to America.”
Manchin said his stance shouldn’t be interpreted as taking the Islamic State threat lightly – but he doesn’t want to see the U.S. become involved in “Middle Eastern nation-building” once again.
“They deserve to die. I’ve seen the videos, and like every American I was disgusted and outraged,” Manchin said of Islamic State terrorists and graphic videos showing the beheading of civilians and American journalists. “The limit of that fight should be doing what we need to do to protect Americans and prevent genocide.”