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N.H. leaders face sobering Syria vote

During the 2010 and 2012 elections, foreign policy made only cursory appearances in Congressional debates. After all, these were the people we were electing to cut our spending and to put measures in place that would help revive a failing economy. Matters of international importance were deemed, well, not quite as important.

Now, the tide has shifted, and New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation finds itself at the heart of a growing international debate. The question: Should Congress approve strikes against Syria in retaliation for the widely held belief that Bashar al-Assad’s government has used chemical weapons against its own people? While many in the international community are up in arms about the use of these weapons, so far no one has taken a lead on a coordinated response. So it appears that America may fight this one on its own. President Obama has since called on Congress to give its approval for military action in Syria.

Now, New Hampshire’s delegation will add its voice to the nation’s biggest foreign policy debate since the months leading up to the Iraq war.

If military action is approved, how deep should the strikes cut? What precisely are our objectives? How would American military intervention pave the path to some kind of peace, or at least stability? How do we ensure that we’re not entering into yet another open-ended conflict? And how do we keep the Syria crisis from further eroding already tense relations with nations like China and Russia?

Those are the questions facing Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D) and Kelly Ayotte (R) and Reps. Ann Kuster (D) and Carol Shea-Porter (D) as they consider President Obama’s call.

The last few days have given at least an indication of which way they may be leaning, ahead of a vote that will most likely come next week. At first glance, it looks like support is not breaking along party lines.

Both Shaheen and Ayotte appear to be backing military action, though they have each made clear that the strategy and its end-game need to be better defined by American military leaders.

In reference to an upcoming briefing with top commanders, Ayotte said the forum “will provide an opportunity for me to ask important questions and scrutinize the administration’s plan — including what the impact of failing to act would have on our country and countries in the Middle East, including Syria, Israel and Iran.”

Shaheen, meanwhile, has backed a resolution that is “limited in time and scope and does not authorize American troops on the ground. Rather, it permits an appropriate response to Assad’s international weapons violations.”

Kuster and Shea-Porter, meanwhile, appear to be much more lukewarm to entering another foreign conflict.

“I continue to have grave concerns about the proposed use of military force in Syria,” wrote Kuster in a prepared statement. “While the international community must hold Assad accountable, I am concerned that U.S. military intervention could have unintended consequences in the region.”

The decision is expected to come soon, but either way it could come with lasting implications. Obama is counting on Congress to speak up, just as our representatives in Washington are counting on their constituents to make their voices heard.

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