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Obama Syria move: Horsford votes yes; Heck, Titus no

WASHINGTON — Rep. Steven Horsford voted Wednesday to give President Barack Obama the authority to arm and train rebels in Syria to fight violent Islamic forces, but three other members of Nevada’s delegation to the House said the plan looked like a bad bet and voted against it.

The House voted 273-156 to back Obama’s strategy in the Middle East.

Horsford, a Democrat, said it was clear to him that to fight the group that calls itself the Islamic State, “this authority is a necessary component” of a strategy that also would include recruiting other nations and stepping up airstrikes in Iraq and extending them to Syria.

“Part of the strategy is to provide appropriately vetted groups with training and support,” Horsford said in a statement.

But the Obama administration failed to make the sale with fellow Democrat Rep. Dina Titus, and with Republican Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei. They said too many questions still swirl around the Syrian rebels to whom the United States would be giving advanced weapons and training on how to use them.

“This is a plan that is destined to fail for the sake of saying we did something, and that I cannot support,” Heck said in a speech. He said he had little faith in the U.S. ability to control and monitor the Syrians who would be counted on to do the fighting.

“It’s a ragtag collection of 100 disparate groups,” Heck said of the Syrian opposition, adding it “has no cogent leadership, no organization, no command and control.”

Titus said she struggled with the vote and was the target of lobbying, including a meeting that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., held Tuesday with a small group of undecideds.

Pelosi “was very compelling in her argument that the president has put together this coalition and Congress shouldn’t thumb its nose at that,” Titus said. “That’s a big step.”

But Titus said the Obama plan seemed too nebulous.

“We’re talking about arming people we can’t even identify,” she said. “You are talking about shoring up a group you don’t even know who they are.”

And while administration officials were advertising a coalition, “you don’t have a solid commitment from the rest of the Middle Eastern countries. There is not really any substantive buy in.

“I just didn’t see this working,” Titus said.

Titus said continued airstrikes against the jihadists might work just as well, a point seconded by Amodei. If the Islamic State is financing its drive through the Middle East with from $1 million to $3 million raised daily from commandeered oil facilities, those could be taken out from the air, he said.

“This is a proposal that strikes me as a ton of atmosphere and no substance,” Amodei said of the administration strategy. “This is a symbol of our continuing inability to address any issue over there with some sort of concrete leadership.”

Amodei said he shared doubts about the Syrian rebels.

“When you start equipping them, we have no assurances that these are the sort of people where, with the stuff we are equipping them with, it isn’t going to be pointed at your friends, or at your people,” Amodei said. “This is just bad policy.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.

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