- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The House voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to back President Obama’s request for permission to train and money to arm the more reliable forces among Syrian rebels, giving the first congressional approval to the White House’s still-developing war plans.

But underlying the 273-156 vote were deep divisions, and it seemed that the limited assistance to Syrian rebels is about the only part of the conflict on which there is any agreement.

Many Democrats worried about going further and inserting American troops into a more offensive combat role beyond the current barrage of air strikes, which are being launched from the relative safety of the skies. Meanwhile, some more hawkish members said assisting the rebels was only a first step, and Mr. Obama still owes Congress and the country a comprehensive strategy.

“It is necessary, but in and of itself it is not enough. But it is necessary,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican who helped lead the push for approval of the training authority.

The authority contained in the bill is limited. It enables the Pentagon to vet and then train and equip moderate Syrian forces, whom the U.S. hopes will fight against the Islamic State insurgency that’s taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. The bill, however, specifically says it does not grant Mr. Obama broader authority to conduct a military campaign.

That hasn’t stopped the president, who claims authority under the powers given to President George W. Bush in 2001 to go after al Qaeda and in 2002 to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama met with troops at U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East, and assured them he won’t put them into direct offensive combat.

“As your commander in chief, I will not commit you and the rest of our armed forces to fighting another ground war in Iraq,” Mr. Obama said.

The 1,600 troops that will be deployed to Iraq will help with ground support. U.S. forces from outside of Iraq are also engaged in air strikes.

Wednesday’s House vote saw Republicans strongly in favor, while Democrats were more deeply split.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where a final vote will likely come Thursday or Friday. Congress will then adjourn for two months, leaving Mr. Obama a free hand to fight the war without having to worry about immediate pressure from Capitol Hill.

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