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Ayotte Wants More Info Before Backing Syria Strike

Leonard Zabilansky, a research civil engineer, high fives CRREL Director Bert Davis in front of Sen. Kelly Ayotte after Davis gave Ayotte the same souvenir ice cube Zabilansky had given her a few moments earlier during a tour at CRREL in Hanover, N.H., on September 5, 2013. In the background is Orville "Bud" Fitch II, Ayotte's State Director.  (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Leonard Zabilansky, a research civil engineer, high fives CRREL Director Bert Davis in front of Sen. Kelly Ayotte after Davis gave Ayotte the same souvenir ice cube Zabilansky had given her a few moments earlier during a tour at CRREL in Hanover, N.H., on September 5, 2013. In the background is Orville "Bud" Fitch II, Ayotte's State Director. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Lebanon — U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., stopped short of supporting military action in Syria on Thursday, saying she wants more clarity about the military objectives.

“I think there needs to be a clearer explanation of how the plan will meet the objective of degrading (Syrian President Bashar Assad’s) use of chemical weapons,” Ayotte said. “One concern I have is I don’t want us to take a symbolic military strike that doesn’t accomplish anything or makes the situation worse.”

Ayotte’s comments to a reporter during a tour of Lebanon businesses and the U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover came a day after a key Senate panel narrowly voted to back President Obama’s request for the authorization of military force in response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. The Senate resolution set forth new language that prohibits U.S. troops on the ground, outlines a 90-day window of action and calls for decisive changes to the balance of military power between Assad and the rebel forces.

The Granite State’s other senator, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, voted in the 10-7 Senate Foreign Relations Committee majority approving military action on Wednesday. She warned that a failure to take action would pose a “significant and direct threat to American national security interests.”

“I am mindful that there are many people in New Hampshire and throughout the country who are war weary and concerned about the consequences of the use of military force,” Shaheen said. “I share their concerns, but based on my strong belief that we must deter the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction, I am convinced we must take this limited military action against the Assad regime’s military capabilities.”

Ayotte said she appreciated the new language added to the resolution and the bipartisan manner in which it was crafted, “but I still have some questions about the actual military plan and whether it will be effective in stopping the use of chemical weapons and also trying to meet the objectives that are in the resolution.

“So I’m still evaluating the whole thing,” Ayotte said. “This is a very serious and sober situation.”

In Concord on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., said she is leaning against voting to authorize the use of military force in Syria. U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has also said she is opposing American involvement in the Syrian war.

Over in Vermont, the AP reported that about 45 demonstrators protested outside the Burlington offices of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Vermont’s U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders.

Leahy, who opposed the resolution initially crafted by the White House, said he is still wary of the United States striking Assad’s Syrian forces, even given the new Senate-crafted resolution, but didn’t completely shut the door on the prospect of authorizing military force.

“I remain skeptical of the United States going alone, and about what comes after,” Leahy said. “But this will be an important Senate debate, on deadly serious issues, about a resolution that may well see further changes.”

Sanders issued a statement on Wednesday saying he intends to keep an “open mind” on the prospect of military strikes on Syria, but listed three “serious reservations.” He stressed that an “overwhelming majority” of Vermonters have contacted his office to oppose involvement in the Syrian civil war.

As for his reservations, Sanders cited a lack of international support for military action and said he is worried that American involvement in the conflict could distract Congress from domestic issues at home. Additionally, Sanders said he is worried that engaging in military strikes abroad could lead to another full-scale Middle Eastern war.

“As someone who voted against the war in Iraq, I worry that while the president talks about ‘surgical strikes’ and a limited engagement by our military, there is no doubt that many members of Congress support ‘regime change’ in Syria and much deeper involvement,” Sanders said. “If that policy prevails, there is no question that it cost tens of billions of dollars and the possible future involvement of American troops.”

Welch, a Democrat from Norwich, said he has helped lead the opposition to U.S. intervention in Syria and is “mindful that Vermonters are clearly opposed to American involvement in yet another Middle East war.”

But Welch also said his constituents want to keep chemical weapons from being used.

“The Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons is a clear violation of international law. The question is whether and how President Assad should be punished for the use of these horrific weapons on his own people,” Welch said. “The dilemma for all of us wrestling with this question is the likely unintended consequences of any punitive action. Will a military response make the situation worse rather than better?”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213