Levin sees US shift on Syria amid Iraq crisis

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the administration is taking a more "forward-leaning" position in Syria, where it has been wary of arming opposition rebels. 

"I think the administration's recent words indicate a more forward-leaning position in Syria," Levin told The Hill on Friday.

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The committee last month passed a defense policy bill that would allow the Department of Defense — versus the CIA — to train and equip rebel forces in Syria, a change that would allow the U.S. to ramp up the scale of assistance.

In recent weeks, the administration has indicated openness to the plan, a Levin aide said. The Senate bill is awaiting a vote on the floor, which will be determined by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). 

Levin's remarks come as the administration is taking action in Iraq against a Sunni militant group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, that has captured key cities in both countries and is threatening Baghdad.

The group has also been targeting moderate opposition rebels in Syria. 

Administration critics say that by not sending in more support to the moderate Syrian opposition rebels sooner, the administration allowed anti-Western groups like ISIS to gain the upper hand in Syria, with the violence spilling into Iraq. 

Levin said he supported the president's decision to send in as many as 300 military advisers to help Baghdad fight ISIS, but made it clear he didn’t back Obama’s decision to send advisers to Iraq solely in hopes of encouraging action in Syria.

Levin said the challenges in both countries were “linked," but that his support for the president's decisions in Iraq was not a backdoor way to do more in Syria. 

"I don't want to use this as a way to persuade the administration to do something that frankly, I think that we are doing anyway in Syria," he said. 

He said that the most important issue in Iraq was reforming the government to include the country’s disaffected Sunni minority population.

"I think we got to focus — and I know the administration is focused on — what are the proper next steps in Iraq," he said. 

"There are impacts on Syria, there are relationships to Syria,” said Levin. “But I think there's also the key issue here in Iraq — the issue of the political leadership of Iraq, and that's where the focus has got to be on."

This story was updated at 4:06 p.m.

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