Warren uses Syria measure to draw contrast with Clinton

Greg Nash

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenClinton at risk of being upstaged Kaine will stand with Clinton on TPP opposition The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.) on Thursday voted against legislation authorizing President Obama to arm and train Syrian rebels, taking a stand that could distinguish her from Hillary Clinton in 2016.

She voted against legislation to fund the government until Dec. 11, which included a provision giving Obama Title 10 authority to equip Syrian militants in hopes they will fight violent Sunni extremists. 

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Warren has a thin foreign policy résumé but by voting against the authority Obama requested, she will earn points with members of the Democratic base who are skeptical about another military campaign in the Middle East. 

“I do not want America to be dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, and it is time for those nations in the region that are most immediately affected by the rise of ISIS to step up and play a leading role in this fight,” she said in a statement.

Many liberals who distrust Clinton’s cozy relationship with Wall Street, and bitterly remember her 2002 vote to invade Iraq, want Warren to challenge Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.

Two other senators mentioned as possible challengers to Clinton in 2016, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), also voted against the stopgap spending bill and the attached Syria measure.

Gillibrand is considered a likely candidate if Clinton unexpectedly pulls out of the 2016 Democratic primary, but she has made it clear she will not challenge her predecessor as the junior senator from New York. She has strongly urged Clinton to run.

Sanders is actively exploring a 2016 presidential bid, but he has not decided whether to run as an independent — his current status within the Democratic caucus — or to officially switch to the Democratic Party.

The vote on arming Syrian rebels could become a defining issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, much like the 2002 vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq loomed over the 2004 and 2008 campaigns. 

Clinton revealed in her memoir, Hard Choices that she wanted to arm Syrian rebels early during their fight against President Bashar Assad but failed to convince Obama.

In an interview last month, Clinton told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic that the failure to arm the rebels led to the rise of ISIS.

Seven other Senate Democrats, a mix of centrists and liberals, voted Thursday against arming Syrian rebels.

Warren gave little indication how she would vote before the question was considered Thursday afternoon.

After the vote, she expressed concern that U.S. weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamic militants.

“Even if we could guarantee that our support goes to the right people, I remain unconvinced that training and equipping these forces will be effective in pushing back ISIS,” she said.

Last year, she issued a statement opposing calls to arm Syrian rebels who are seen as more moderate than extreme groups such as ISIS.

“We need clear goals and a plan to achieve them or else the United States could get bogged down in another war in the Middle East,” she said, according to The Boston Globe. 

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who voted with Warren, said greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war would do little to degrade and destroy ISIS.

“The moderate Syrian rebels have shown a disturbing willingness to join forces with Islamic extremists like the Al Nusra Front, a wing of Al Qaeda, and it will be nearly impossible to stop the rebels we train from joining forces with groups that pose a real threat to the United States,” he said in a statement explaining his vote.

Murphy said the moderate rebels would be likely to turn against ISIS because they share the goal of deposing Assad.  

Other Democrats have warned Obama’s request to back Syrian rebels could lead down a slippery slope to a broader military engagement.

“In regards to Syria, I have serious doubt about authorizing military operation. I think we need to have further clarification from the administration as to the ... objectives that they are accomplishing in Syria, and we have to be very careful about the authorization of the use of our military in a country where we are not invited,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who ultimately voted for the legislation.

Other Democrats who expressed concern about arming Syrian rebels said they were reassured that the authority would run out by mid-December, when Congress is scheduled to debate a broader use-of-force resolution against ISIS. 

— This post was updated at 9:00 p.m.