With eyes on Middle East stability, Obama seeks $500M to arm Syrian rebels

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for $500 million to train and arm vetted members of the Syrian opposition, as the U.S. grapples for a way to stem a civil war that has also fueled the al-Qaida-inspired insurgency in neighboring Iraq. The military training program would boost the Obama administration’s involvement in the conflict between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces (some of whom are loyal to al-Qaida).

The Iraqi volcano is connected to the Syrian one … Lebanon will not be safe or shielded from the fire of both.

Ali Hamadeh, a columnist for Lebanon’s An Nahar newspaper

The $500 million request is part of a broader $65.8 billion overseas operations request that the administration sent to Congress Thursday. The fiscal package, which would fund an array of Pentagon and State Department programs, also includes $1 billion to shore up nations bordering Syria that are dealing with an influx of refugees and the threat of extremists. Iraq in particular is buckling amid lightening gains by the Sunni extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which also has a stronghold inside Syria. The group has seized large swaths of Iraq and seeks to carve out a purist Islamic enclave across both sides of the Syria-Iraq border. The risk of U.S. weapons and ammunition falling into the wrong hands appears to have only heightened now that ISIL has strengthened. But Obama’s request to Congress appeared to indicate that tackling the crumbling security situation in Syria and Iraq trumped those concerns.