Angus King, other Maine delegates, still weighing options on strike against Syria

Mario Moretto/Bangor Daily News

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, speaks with reporters Wednesday at the Portland Jetport. 

PORTLAND — U.S. Sen. Angus King on Wednesday said he has not yet made a decision on whether to support military intervention in Syria.

“I can tell you that in my years of public service, I think this is just about the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to deal with,” King said during a press conference at the Portland Jetport. King returned to Maine on Wednesday evening after a day in the Capitol, where he received confidential intelligence briefings from the Pentagon and listened in on other briefings with the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

President Barack Obama has asked Congress to weigh in on his plan for a limited missile strike against the Damascus-based government of President Bashar al-Assad for his suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians. Chemical weapons were made illegal by the Geneva Convention of 1929.

“I am trying to learn as much as I can to understand the ramifications of this question, which are enormous,” King said. “Is there more risk to the national interest in doing nothing or is there more risk to the national interest in acting? That’s the question I think we’re all wrestling with.”

Also on Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria by a vote of 10-7, with one senator merely voting “present.”

The resolution is narrower than Obama’s proposal and explicitly states that the U.S. will not send ground troops to Syria.

The panel’s action clears the way for a vote on the resolution in the full Democratic-controlled Senate, likely next week. The Republican-led House of Representatives must also pass a version of the measure before it can be sent to the president for his signature.

King reiterated his position that any action in Syria should be supported by the international community. The United Kingdom last week opted not to support intervention, and the United Nations has also stood impotent against Assad thanks to vetoes or threats of vetoes from Russia and China.

“If we’re being called upon to enforce what is characterized as an ‘international norm,’ then there should be international support,” King said. “That doesn’t mean it has to be a ‘who’s who’ of the United Nations, but there should be some strong indications of support internationally.”

King said he hopes a nonmilitary solution to deterring the use of chemical weapons is possible. But despite his reservations for the use of force, the senator said the argument for the limited attacks are sound.

“The argument is that if we turn a blind eye to this use, that we are in fact encouraging not only Assad but other regimes [including Iran or North Korea, he later said] to act irresponsibly with regard to these kinds of weapons. That’s a powerful argument,” King said.

A question that still remains, is what Obama would do if Congress does not sign off on military intervention. The president has argued that he did not need lawmakers’ approval for a strike, but that he sought their input due to the gravity of the decision. It is unclear whether Obama would let loose missiles if Congress disapproved.

King said it would be “a grave mistake” for the president to defy Congress, but he recognized that Obama “has his own agonizing decisions to make.”

“The lack of support in the Congress and in the country, I think, is a good reason to not go ahead,” King said. “Additionally, and you won’t hear me say this terribly often, I was in agreement with Sen. Rand Paul, [R-Kentucky] yesterday, who was at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and said that If the president comes to us and we say no, and he does it anyway, that makes the whole thing a kind of show. That would be unfortunate.”

Maine’s other Congressional delegates have also yet to decide how they will vote on the Syria question.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who sits on the powerful Intelligence Committee, said she has received several confidential briefings on the situation in Syria and will receive more next week. Still, she doesn’t know how she’ll vote.

“At this point, I have not reached a decision on how I will vote on this serious matter,” Collins said in a statement. “I continue to have many questions about the consequences of military action.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree, the state’s Democratic representative from the first Congressional District, is “inclined to vote no on the resolution, but she has committed to listening to the briefings from the President and the administration, and attend a secure briefing on Monday,” said her spokesman, Willy Ritch.

Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud of the second Congressional District has also yet to decide how he’ll vote, said spokesman Ed Gilman. Michaud is scheduled to be briefed next week.

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Comments

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

My favorite

My favorite comment so far "While Americans are universally against sending bombs to Syria they are nearly all in favor of sending Congress to Syria".

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

Syria

As in most wars the war in Syria is about everything but Syria. The president is playing 3D chess here and we are not privy to most of the facts. I think the plays to watch are the CIA, Israel, Russia, Iran , Hezzbolla, Al Quaeda, The World Bank and Saudi Arabia. If we knew what all these guys were thinking then the whole thing might make sense. What doesn't make sense is Obama painting himself into a corner with the Red line. Assad had already killed 100,000 of his own people before he poisoned 400 children with chemicals. And yet now is when we have to stop the carnage. Something about that doesn't ring true. I suspect there is a specific target we need to bomb for unknown reasons otherwise what good can 90 days of bombing that does not attempt to overthrow Assad possibly do? It must be very important because the risk of all out war in the Middle East is very real and that would be never ending war.

 's picture

Here are my concerns:

1. I don't believe Obama and/or Kerry. Both have lied to the American people. Kerry started in the early 70's when he said he threw his ribbons over the White House fence, for instance. They were not his ribbons, it turned out. Obama lied to us about the cause of the Benghazi attack. He sent Susan Rice out to 5 talk shows to tell the American people it was caused by a YouTube video. It was a terrorist attack. So, what credibility do both have now? Very little. One thing for sure: Politics has gotten both of them very rich.

2. Why should we get involved in a Sunni vs. Shi'ite civil war?

3. At lease 1/3, likely more, of the "rebels" are Al Qaeda personnel from Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya and other assorted God-forsaken cess pools where women are degraded continually. We are going to help them? Excuse me? Remember 9/11? Same characters seeking the continued oppression of women in particular.

4. We are broke.

5. Should American blood be spilled in a war financed by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That's the deal, folks.

6. Many well-armed ships are going to steaming around and around each other in the bath tub called the Eastern Med. Anyone see a problem here? What could possibly go wrong.

7. What happens to Syria when AQ takes over the country. What happens to all the WMD that Saddam sent over to Syria, you know, the WMD 'that didn't exist' according to Code Pink. (Where is Code Pink on this one?) Clue --- check out Egypt. And the Muslim Brotherhood are little leaguers when compared the AQ 'hard boys.'

8. What happens if Assad decides to drop a few on Haifa and Tel Aviv? Will the Jews retaliate by going after Iran? Pandora's box is opening.

9. What will Putin do?

10. 500,000 people were killed, butchered, in Rwanda.

11. How do we know that the "rebels" didn't release the gas. Supposedly, it was a night time attack. Why was everyone fully dressed? Who wanted to provoke The Champ to have to defend his red line that he now denies saying. (See comment on lying)

12. I know, it's all Bush's fault.

ERNEST LABBE's picture

In the fall of 1963

In the fall of 1963 while I was about at the end of basic training JFK sent Marine advisors to Vietnam. We all know how that worked out. The happening in Vietnam were none of our concern. After 11 years and 50,000 deaths of our young men we pulled out. The North won, the result was the same as it would have been had we stayed out of the conflict.

The same for Somalia and Kosovo both involvements thanks to Bill Clinton. The same for how many other places including Bush"s Iraq.

When will we ever learn?

DANNY FITZSIMMONS's picture

NO MORE!

This is not our fight, we have already shed buckets of blood and anguish over supposedly weapons of mass destruction that were never found and are still losing our men and woman everyday. the rebels are partially to blame for this attack for without their uprising righteous or not this would not happen. I thought we got rid of one nut job, but now we find nothing new just another idiot at the helm, I thought Obama would change this insane loss of American lives and to get us back on track, but now that is in doubt. We must hold the ones accountable who vote to do this strike and make sure they do not hold any public office as they have shown they do not care about public safety. Do they really think they will just bomb the heck out of Syria and they will do what's right, enough has been in the news about this strike that the Syrian government knows their targets and WILL place innocent civilians in the path of the blast so as to create anger against the US. Then ladies and Gentlemen be prepared to risk your life going to the mall or movies or super bowl or other places where mass gatherings occur and then be prepared to lose more of your constitutional rights to so called better protect you NOT! Rise up be heard call your legislators and give them an earful. and let them know you will never vote for them again.

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