Various press reports have suggested that the White House recently waived restrictions on providing arms to the Syrian rebels, but a review of the Presidential Determination itself reveals something much more limited.
In fact, the determination waives portions of the Arms Export Control Act but only to authorize a specific transaction providing defense articles to “vetted” members of the opposition and to NGOs in Syria. The defense articles are described as those “necessary for the conduct of … operations inside or related to Syria, or to prevent the preparation, use, or proliferation of Syria’s chemical weapons.” Who the “vetted” members are is not specified nor are the particular articles involved detailed.
Significantly this is not a general waiver but is a waiver only with respect to one specific contemplated transaction. Defense companies do not now have a blanket license to ship their wares to the Syrian opposition.
My favorite comment on the affair comes from one “Joe Wolverton II J.D.” writing for something called “The New American.” Joe Wolverton II J.D. offers up these comments in an article with the catchy headline “President Breaks Arms Export Laws to Send Shipments to Syrian ‘Rebels’” Apparently one of the things Joe Wolverton II J.D. failed to learn as part of getting the right to append J.D. to his name is that it is a good idea to read a law before declaring that someone, particularly a President, has broken that law.
Section 40(g) of the Arms Export Control Act, 22 U.S.C. § 2780(g), the “broken” law in question, specifically gives the President to waive the provisions of the Act with respect to a specific transaction if he finds that the waiver is “essential to the national security interests of the United States” and he makes the requisite report on the waiver to Congress. The determination makes that finding and directs the Secretary of State to make the required report to Congress. So, in the matter of proper interpretation of the Arms Export Control Act, the score is White House 1 and Joe Wolverton II J.D. 0.