Syria’s neighbors need billions of dollars in emergency funds within months to deal with the fallout from its of that country’s civil war and the growing threat posed by Islamic State group's spread militants, a leading key senator warned Thursday.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did not specify an exact spending figure, but said the money is desperately needed to help deal with the security and refugee situations in places like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. The comments came just a few days after he returned from a recent congressional delegation visit to the Middle East.
"I was stunned," he said, "at how things have deteriorated over there," he said."
Graham said he wants an emergency appropriation specifically for Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, money to provide those countries em with better weaponry and equipment that will help to secure their borders against ISIS fighters. Additional funds would also go to Israel to boost its their security operations.
"Are we throwing good money after bad? I don't think so, but I'm running out of ideas," he said. "If we don't get a handle on this civil war in Syria, I just don't know how much longer Lebanon and Jordan can take it."
The senator, whose presidential bid ended earlier this year, has been exceedingly critical of the Obama administration's handling of the conflict in Syria. At a hearing on Capitol Hill late last year, he lit into the Pentagon's top two officials over what he called a "half-assed" strategy there.
Graham sees these emergency funds as the first step in creating a larger "Marshall pPlan" for the Middle East, he said, referring to the celebrated American general George C. Marshall, who is credited with engineering a comprehensive recovery effort for Europe after World War II. Similarly, Graham said, with wWestern countries will need to helping to rebuild security and infrastructure in the Middle East region after more than a decade of turmoil and war.
But such a spending plan is likely to meet strong resistance among Graham’s fellow conservatives on Capitol Hill, who are already embroiled in internal fights over federal spending for next year and decades to come. In addition, defense hawks in Congress, who like Graham have repeatedly lamented what they see as a lack of a coherent strategy for dealing with the turmoil in Syria, have from the White House, and refused to deal with a host of budget authority issues related to the ongoing fight there until the president offers a more satisfactory plan.
Graham deflected questions about how his emergency appropriation would impact the current two-year budget deal and ongoing spending caps facing federal programs.
But he did say that those fiscal worries shouldn't overshadow the global security problems threatening U.S. security.
"If you don't think this is an emergency, go there yourself," Graham said. "If you don't think the situation on the Sinai [Peninsula in Egypt] needs to be dealt with quickly, then you didn't see what I saw. If you don't think there's an emergency brewing … you're wrong."
A member of Syria's pro-government forces sits near a destroyed building on April 4 in al-Qaryatain, a town in Homs province.
Photo Credit: Joseph Eid/AFP via Getty Images
The U.S. has a modest military presence in the Sinai to help uphold a peace deal between Egypt and Israel. There are fewer than American 1,000 troops there, and officials have begun to worry about their vulnerability to attack from ISIS loyalists. Earlier this week, CNN reported that the Pentagon is considering relocating them to a safer part of the region.
Graham sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and said he'll work with chamber leaders on a formal proposal in weeks to come.
Fiscal 2017 budget discussions have stalled in both chambers in recent weeks, even with the spending framework spelled out in the two-year budget deal passed last fall.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.