- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Senate Tuesday approved a defense policy bill that calls for a fast transition in Afghanistan, orders a study of U.S. military options in Syria such as imposing a no-fly zone, and restricts President Obama’s authority to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

The bill passed 98-0, putting the Senate on a collision course with Mr. Obama, who has threatened to veto the bill, in part because he objected to the ban on transferring detainees from the facility at Guantanamo Bay.

Senators will still have to square their legislation with the House.

Just before final passage Tuesday, senators tacked on the amendment calling for a study of options in Syria should the United States choose to get more involved with rebels’ struggle against the regime of Bashar Assad.

Backers said the amendment, which won approval by an overwhelming 92-6 vote, was meant to be a “reasonable assessment” of what the United States can do to degrade the regime’s air power.

“This amendment is simply a way of saying we in the Senate are concerned, care, about the slaughter going on in Syria,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent.

Among the options the Pentagon would study would be a no-fly zone over Syria, deploying air defense systems such as Patriot missile batteries to neighboring countries, or engaging in airstrikes to take out Syrian aircraft.

The study does not authorize U.S. force.

But Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said it smacks of the beginning of that kind of involvement.

“I think it’s a bad idea to discuss contingency plans for war,” he said.

He said the last no-fly zone the United States led, in Libya, produced a questionable result, with a government that is not clearly pro-American. And he pointed to the results of elections in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate won the presidency, as another sign of worry.

In earlier debates, the Senate approved stricter sanctions on Iran in retaliation for that country’s nuclear program. And senators approved an amendment that purports to limit the military’s ability to apprehend and indefinitely detain American citizens caught in the United States — though some key senators said they still believe detention would be lawful under the resolution of force in the war on terror.

The Senate bill also restricts Mr. Obama’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantanamo Bay, whether to the United States or to foreign countries.

While the provision has been in previous years’ laws, Mr. Obama this year signaled he may be willing to veto the legislation over that restriction.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, senators also voted to ask for the administration to look at bolstering Marines’ presence at diplomatic posts across the globe.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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