Rep. Peter King finds little support for strike on Syria

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the Homeland

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, is interviewed by Fox News about his hearings on "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response." (March 9, 2011) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

WOLFEBORO, N.H. -- Rep. Peter King learned firsthand Saturday how hard it will be to sell President Barack Obama's plan to launch a military strike on Syria to members of his own party, even those in the most Republican county here.

King, the 11-term Seaford Republican, won hearty applause in his visit to Carroll County a month ago as he made his pitch for a strong national defense and attacked the libertarian foreign policy proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

But Saturday, the applause for him was merely polite after he declared his support for the Syria strike in a keynote speech during his second trip to this early primary state to test the waters for a run for president in 2016.

"I am going to vote yes, and probably 90 percent of you won't agree with me on that, but I'm doing it only because I believe the end policy is essential," King told about 70 people at the Carroll County Republican Lobster Bake and Picnic.

Steve Schmidt, a New Hampshire state representative sitting at a picnic table, said he found King to be amiable, but on Syria, "I have to disagree."

He said it was the wrong time and the wrong war.

"What's the point of lobbing a few missiles?" he said.

Standing nearby, Eugene Long, a physician, expressed grave doubts about launching a U.S. military operation in Syria.

Long said even his son -- a U.S. Military Academy graduate and an airborne special forces operative -- had reservations because the United States has no international backup and it's not clear who the Syrian opposition includes.

And he also expressed doubt about Obama.

"I think that most people in the United States are very wary of the chain of command that exists," Long said.

As congressional lawmakers nationwide report they are hearing little enthusiasm among their constituents for a military operation in Syria, Obama faces a tough path to win support in Washington.

Congress this week will take up Obama's request for an authorization to use military force in Syria to punish the regime for what he says is its use of sarin gas to kill 1,400 of its own citizens on Aug. 21 near Damascus.

Even though House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and veteran members including King have said they will vote for the authorization, most counts show Republican House members -- and many Democrats as well -- are against or leaning against it.

King acknowledged that as he toured New Hampshire Saturday, telling Republicans who asked that he doubts the House will approve the resolution to back up Obama.

The popular and political mood has changed on foreign policy, particularly among Republicans, who backed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan but now are balking on Syria.

It has changed so much that two local Republican officials scheduled to speak at the picnic were no-shows.

Longtime Republican Ann McGarity even called King "very gutsy" for even bringing up his support during his 10-minute speech.

In his speeches Saturday, King blamed Obama for mishandling Syria.

"My concern is that we have a president as commander in chief who does not know how to use American power effectively," King said, sending such an "inconsistent message" that "the American people are unable to rally behind him."

King rallied one Republican at least to take a second look.

State Rep. Bill Nelson said because "he's in the position to know," King persuaded him to shift from being opposed to neutral, to sort out the thorny issues of "who are the good guys and who are the bad guys" in the Syrian opposition.

But he was an exception.

Later, at the Seacoast Republican Women's Chili Fest in Stratham, King again owned up to his support for the strike on Syria, while blasting Obama for his "failed policies."

Afterward, John Sununu, former chief of staff to president George H.W. Bush, said the vote in Congress won't matter because Obama bungled the policy on Syria.

Asked about King's position on the Syria strike, Sununu said, "There is no good position on Syria policy."

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