Left to right: Susan Collins, Sara Gideon, Bre Kidman, Ross LaJeunesse, Lisa Savage and Betsy Sweet (LaJeunesse photo: Ross for Maine)
Left to right: Susan Collins, Sara Gideon, Bre Kidman, Ross LaJeunesse, Lisa Savage and Betsy Sweet (LaJeunesse photo: Ross for Maine)
Although most of the discussion about whether Republican United States Sen. Susan Collins should be reelected has focused on domestic issues, such as her vote for President Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and the corporations and to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, some of the most important issues before a senator involve foreign affairs.

For example, currently, whether the country should go to war with Iran.

This question has abruptly gained great prominence after Trump ordered the killing — some critics describe it as the crime of assassination, a type of murder — of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran’s top leaders. This violent act brought a new and large Middle East war into the realm of possibility.

How do the candidates running for Collins’s seat react to the killing and the threat of war? In the answers to our questionnaire below, these reactions may be seen.

About those answers, I would make four observations:

1. Moderate Sara Gideon, the frontrunner who started out of the gate with millions of dollars from the national Democratic donor elite, already sounds like many nationally prominent Democrats on this issue. They tend to see Republican Trump’s act as rash, dangerous, and questionably legal, but they don’t fully condemn it.

“With the exception of Bernie Sanders, the most prominent Democrats running for president — Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar — along with the congressional leadership, agreed with Trump that Soleimani deserved to be killed,” comments Jeff Faux, founder of Washington’s Economic Policy Institute (and a former Maine resident), in a Consortium News essay. “Their complaints are about process.”

By contrast, the three progressives in our Senate race, Democrats Betsy Sweet and Bre Kidman and Green Independent Lisa Savage, condemn the killing outright.

2. Collins joins Republican politicians generally in expressing support for the killing, although a few — including Collins — join Democrats in voicing reservations about process; that is, going to war without congressional approval, which the Constitution theoretically requires, although such approval has not always been sought by American presidents, both Republican and Democratic.

3. When the reader looks at the Senate candidates’ answers, I would urge that any vagueness or omission be seen as something significant about the campaigns they’re running and, therefore, about whether they should be elected as well as about their electability.

Two candidates didn’t specifically respond to the questions but only sent The Free Press a brief statement: LaJeunesse, possibly because of insufficient campaign resources and unfamiliarity with the issue; and Gideon, even though she has lots of campaign resources. I had bugged both for days to answer the questions, even buttonholing Gideon as she left the House speaker’s podium and walked to her office in the State House.

4. In these replies, the reader might also want to look at a revealing aspect of the language used: Who respects authority and who doesn’t? In the academic study of political psychology, it’s well established that conservatives have an innate respect for authority and liberals and progressives have less respect. You might want to compare the candidates’ respect for authority with your own — especially, at a time when the unusual Donald Trump is ostensibly the country’s chief political authority.

In the answers given, the spectrum goes from the strongly anti-authority Savage, who has been arrested several times at anti-militarism protests at Bath Iron Works, to Collins, who makes a point in her reply of noting her briefing by Vice President Pence and her membership on the Senate’s Intelligence Committee. To some extent, she is authority — embedded in it — and she wants the reader to appreciate that. Collins goes to Bath Iron Works warship launchings while, likely, Savage is getting arrested outside the gates.

I hope you will read all the replies and allow them to help you make up your mind about whom to support. War with Iran would be a very, very big deal. For one thing, as Jeff Faux observes, “Democrats’ concurrence that Iran is our deadly enemy will give a wartime Trump president everything he needs to take us the rest of the way to fascism.”

Susan Collins (Republican) — U.S. Senator

1. Do you think it was a good thing for President Trump to kill Iran Gen. Soleimani? Please explain why or why not.

Iran remains the world’s foremost supporter of terrorism, pouring billions of dollars into terrorist groups and into funding the murderous Assad regime in Syria. As the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, a terrorist organization, Soleimani was a ruthless enemy of America responsible for the deaths of more than 600 U.S. service members from 2005-2011 and the maiming of hundreds more.

He also ordered the attack on the American embassy in Iraq that occurred on December 31. Just as I supported President Obama’s strike that killed Osama bin Laden, I believe the strike that killed Soleimani was justified, but that sustained hostilities committing American troops would require congressional approval.

2. Do you believe the president had the legal authority under U.S. and international law to order the killing of Soleimani, an act that also killed nine others, including Iraqi militia personnel who are officially part of Iraq’s military? Please give reasons for your position.

As commander in chief, the president has the authority to protect Americans from attacks, but committing American troops to a war requires congressional approval. According to a briefing I received from Vice President Mike Pence, Soleimani directly ordered the recent attack on the U.S. embassy in Iraq that occurred on December 31 and was preparing additional attacks against Americans in the Middle East.

As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I also received an in-depth briefing the day before the general Senate briefing, and I have reviewed highly reliable reporting indicating Soleimani was planning further attacks against American citizens. Those killed alongside Soleimani included members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as Iraqi Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a designated terrorist who was an advisor to Soleimani and a key leader of the Iran-backed militias.

3. How would you answer the question asked by former Navy secretary and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Jan. 9, headlined “When did it become acceptable to kill a top leader of a country we aren’t even at war with?”

Soleimani was one of the foremost terrorists in the region and was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. He was planning to kill additional Americans.

4. Do you support or oppose the Senate act recently introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and others called the “No War Against Iran Act”? Please explain your position.

I am one of four Republicans who have cosponsored Senator Tim Kaine’s resolution that reasserts Congress’s constitutional role and recognizes that the Framers did not vest in the president the authority to declare war unilaterally.

Last year, I voted for a similar amendment introduced by Senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) to the National Defense Authorization Act. My support reflected my strong belief that, over the past decade, Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibilities on authorizing the sustained use of military force. It is important to reassert the legislative branch’s war-powers authority regardless of who occupies the White House. I felt this way during President Obama’s administration as well as President Trump’s.

Senator Udall’s amendment would have continued to allow the president to respond to emergencies created by aggression from any hostile nation, including Iran, and to repel an imminent attack by Iran or its proxy forces or any other hostile power. It did nothing to change the president’s inherent authority as commander in chief to defend our nation and U.S. forces abroad. It required the president to seek congressional approval before committing American troops to a more sustained action — as envisioned by our Constitution.

5. Do you support the House bill that seeks to limit President Trump’s ability to further order military action against Iran unless Congress declares war or an attack on the U.S. is imminent? Your reasoning, please.

I have cosponsored a similar resolution offered by Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) in the Senate that reasserts Congress’s constitutional role and recognizes that the Framers did not vest in the president the authority to declare war unilaterally.

Over the past decade, Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibilities on authorizing the sustained use of military force. Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution vests Congress with the sole power to declare war. It is important to reassert the legislative branch’s war-powers authority regardless of who occupies the White House. This has been my position during every administration, Democratic or Republican.

That’s why I have supported a number of prior war-powers resolutions, and most recently, an amendment to the Defense bill that would have ensured the president sought congressional approval before committing American troops to sustained action against Iran.

6. What U.S. interests in the Mideast do you believe require U.S. military action or a U.S. military presence?

American forces are present in the Middle East for a variety of important reasons, including supporting and defending our partners against Iranian aggression, combating and defeating ISIS, and ensuring free navigation of international shipping lanes.

Sara Gideon (Democrat) — Speaker of the Maine House

Despite repeated requests—including in a conversation with Gideon at the State House—her campaign didn’t answer our questions except by providing this general statement on the issue:

General Soleimani was responsible for the death of hundreds of Americans and orchestrated violence and instability throughout the Middle East. That being said, the president escalated conflict and put the lives of Americans and our allies at risk. Unfortunately, as has happened often during his administration, it seems like these decisions are being made unilaterally and without thought to the grave impact they will have on both our country and on our allies.

The administration still must provide a clearer explanation about the imminent threat facing American soldiers and civilians and why this strike was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, the administration must show how they will prevent tensions from escalating further, and Congress must provide oversight.

Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing our country toward conflict with Iran for years, and it’s crucial that Congress reassert its authority as the sole branch of government with the constitutional power to declare war. I support both Senator Kaine’s bill and Representative Slotkin’s resolution to reassert congressional authority and ensure Donald Trump cannot take us to war with Iran without congressional approval.

I also support checking the president’s power by rescinding the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force and returning that power to Congress where it belongs, so they could then debate and consider proposals to authorize the use of targeted, time-limited use of military force in specific places.

Bre Kidman (Democrat) — Lawyer

1. Do you think it was a good thing for President Trump to kill Iran Gen. Soleimani? Please explain why or why not.

No. Assassinating a military leader of a country with which we are not at war via drone strike was an act of war without legal authority.

2. Do you believe the president had the legal authority under U.S. and international law to order the killing of Soleimani, an act that also killed nine others, including Iraqi militia personnel who are officially part of Iraq’s military? Please give reasons for your position.

No. The Iraq Authorization to Use Military Force covers only threats posed by Iraq — which cannot be stretched to cover a military leader of another country. While some may argue that Soleimani falls under the authority to fight terrorism, another nation’s government-recognized military cannot legally be defined as a terrorist organization.

International human rights law allows for killing as self-defense only when the attack is imminent and lethal force is the only way to prevent the attack. Merely being suspected of planning attacks — without specifics or imminence — does not meet the standard laid out by the global community.

Furthermore, it seems Soleimani was designated as a retaliatory target months ago, as NBC News reported. Planning targets for retaliation, carrying out the targeted retaliation, and then tweeting about targeted retaliation, as President Trump did, frankly, obliterates the “self-defense” legal justification.

3. How would you answer the question asked by former Navy secretary and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Jan. 9, headlined

“When did it become acceptable to kill a top leader of a country we aren’t even at war with?”

It has never been acceptable. However, popular opposition to such acts seems to have relaxed, as definitions of “war” and “military force” have become murkier. There are several points in time that we could call the beginning, but I would argue that the expansion of executive power under George W. Bush after 9/11 marked a change in the way people in the United States thought about war.

“Just war” theory was a hot talking point back then, but we’ve seen a cultural push to stretch the definitions of “just war” past the point where it retains any meaning in the years that followed.

4. Do you support or oppose the Senate act recently introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and others called the “No War Against Iran Act”? Please explain your position.

I support the act. The branches of government are supposed to function as a system of checks and balances against one another. The assassination of Soleimani signals a need for a check on executive authority to ensure our nation is acting in accordance with both existing U.S. law and international standards of warfare, and I believe using Congress’s “power of the purse” is the most effective path.

5. Do you support the House bill that seeks to limit President Trump’s ability to further order military action against Iran unless Congress declares war or an attack on the U.S. is imminent? Your reasoning, please.

I support the bill for the same reasons I support its counterpart in the Senate. I also think the choice to use a concurrent-resolution format was appropriate, given that President Trump has clearly demonstrated contempt for the idea that executive power has limits.

6. What U.S. interests in the Mideast do you believe require U.S. military action or a U.S. military presence?

We need to re-evaluate our military presence in the Mideast. Despite enormous sums of money being poured into military budgets, the truth is that we have finite resources to manage foreign policy. While disengagement must be carefully orchestrated so as not to further destabilize tensions in the region, it’s long past time the last hangers-on let go of the idea that a “war on terror” is a winnable thing. Bombs kill people, not ideas.

It’s important, too, to distinguish our intelligence relationships in the Middle East from outright warfare. We need to maintain some intelligence efforts — perhaps shifting some focus from military to civilian diplomacy-based efforts — to monitor the potential for violent anti-American activity, keep our finger on the pulse of the oil reserves’ impact on global economic stability, and to try and soften any power-vacuum effect that might come from an immediate withdrawal.

However, we also need to avoid becoming further entrenched in proxy wars and to be mindful of the scale of our efforts and what the cost-benefit ratio is for American families. Ultimately, the oil economy is going to collapse. We will see a better return on investment if we start redirecting some of the resources we’re using to control oil resources toward preparing our country to be an innovative leader in the green-energy economy to come.

Ross LaJeunesse (Democrat) — Ex-Google Executive

Despite repeated requests, his campaign didn’t answer our questions except by providing this general statement on the issue:

President Trump’s decision to launch a unilateral airstrike in Iraq — without Congressional authorization — represents a reckless escalation toward another war in the Middle East, and yet another broken promise from a president who pledged to end “endless wars.” Mainers will shed no tears for General Soleimani or for the murderous Iranian regime in Tehran.

Still, our state knows far too well the cost of endless war. Since 2003, we have lost too many brave men and women in the Middle East. My father, a proud veteran, still bears the scars of the Vietnam War. We must never allow decisions of war to be made unilaterally or recklessly.

Senator Collins has been a bystander on these issues for far too long, enabling the Trump administration’s erratic and dangerous foreign policy. In the Senate, I’ll stand up for the rule of law. We must not allow the men and women of our armed forces to be dragged into another endless war.

Lisa Savage (Green Independent) — Schoolteacher, Activist

1. Do you think it was a good thing for President Trump to kill Iran Gen. Soleimani? Please explain why or why not.

No. It was not a good thing. Extrajudicial killing of Iranian senior officials is illegal under international law and constitutes an act of war against both Iran and the country where the bombing occurred. Soleimani was reportedly on a diplomatic mission in Iraq.

The domino effect set in instantly, with the Iraqi parliament voting to expel all U.S. troops and Iranian airstrikes on a U.S. base in Iraq. Iran is allied with Russia and cooperates economically with China, so any conflict between Iran and the U.S. could escalate into a war between nuclear-armed nations.

Iran had already been targeted by the current administration with unilateral suspension of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear nonproliferation agreement, in the absence of any evidence that Iran violated the agreement. And Iran had already been targeted with sanctions, creating a humanitarian crisis caused by lack of access to medical supplies and life-saving drugs.

2. Do you believe the president had the legal authority under U.S. and international law to order the killing of Soleimani, an act that also killed nine others, including Iraqi militia personnel who are officially part of Iraq’s military? Please give reasons for your position.

No, I do not believe he had this legal authority. The War Powers Act lays out the responsibilities of Congress to oversee acts of war, and of the executive branch to consult with Congress. Claiming that a tweet within 48 hours constitutes compliance with the War Powers Act is ridiculous. Congress has not authorized the use of military force against Iran, and until it does so such use is unauthorized and unconstitutional.

3. How would you answer the question asked by former Navy secretary and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Jan. 9, headlined “When did it become acceptable to kill a top leader of a country we aren’t even at war with?”

It has not become acceptable. Many of the things the U.S. government does are unacceptable, such as occupying Afghanistan for almost two decades, destroying civil society and infrastructure in Iraq, and violating its agreements with Iraq’s government.

I would add: gloating over the killing of Osama bin Laden, Muammar Gaddafi, and Saddam Hussein. This is a bipartisan problem: seeing violence as the answer to every conflict, and demonizing leaders to be executed to whip up public sentiment for war.

4. Do you support or oppose the Senate act recently introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and others called the “No War Against Iran Act”? Please explain your position.

I do support the No War Against Iran Act. Senators Sanders and Warren are reflecting the will of the people, who are exhausted by endless U.S. wars and fearful of another hot war that could spread globally. These senators are exercising their constitutional duty to oversee any declaration of war against Iran.

5. Do you support the House bill that seeks to limit President Trump’s ability to further order military action against Iran unless Congress declares war or an attack on the U.S. is imminent? Your reasoning, please.

The president already has made the claim that an attack on the U.S. was imminent to justify the assassination of Solemaini, despite a lack of evidence to support the claim.

All U.S. wars of the last 20 years have been based upon lies about the targeted nation and/or its leaders, including nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, false claims of chemical attacks by the leaders of Syria, and a false connection between Afghanistan and the attacks on U.S. soil on 9/11/01. So this nonbinding resolution is without teeth and does not go nearly far enough.

6. What U.S. interests in the Mideast do you believe require U.S. military action or a U.S. military presence?

None. Our “interests” as so described are in fact the interests of for-profit corporations who either extract fossil fuels or guard the transport routes for fossil fuels.

The biggest security threat the U.S. faces, along with everyone else alive on the planet, is climate catastrophe. Australia and the Amazon are burning out of control, yet the Pentagon continues as the biggest greenhouse-gas emitter of any organization on the planet. It produces more than 140 nations. In order to halt climate change, we must turn away from war and toward diplomacy, and stop occupying other nations, which recruits terrorists to attack U.S. forces in an endless cycle of violence.

Betsy Sweet (Democrat) — Public-Interest Lobbyist

1. Do you think it was a good thing for President Trump to kill Iran Gen. Soleimani? Please explain why or why not.

No. First, there is no indication that the U.S. was facing an imminent threat to justify a preemptive attack. Second, there is no proof that the assassination of Gen. Qasem Soleimani would stop an imminent attack or bring stability to the region. It has clearly done the opposite.

2. Do you believe the president had the legal authority under U.S. and international law to order the killing of Soleimani, an act that also killed nine others, including Iraqi militia personnel who are officially part of Iraq’s military? Please give reasons for your position.

No. The assassination of foreign leaders is an act of war, and only Congress has the power to declare war.

3. How would you answer the question asked by former Navy secretary and U.S. Sen. Jim Webb in an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Jan. 9, headlined “When did it become acceptable to kill a top leader of a country we aren’t even at war with?”

If we limit ourselves to the 21st century, it became acceptable when Congress passed an incredibly broad authorization for use of military force after the tragedy on 9/11. It’s critical for Congress to reclaim its war powers. And that’s true whether we have a Republican or Democrat in the White House.

4. Do you support or oppose the Senate act recently introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and others called the “No War Against Iran Act”? Please explain your position.

Yes, I support it. An unconstitutional war should not receive any funding from the Pentagon. If I were in the Senate, I would sign on immediately. Unfortunately, Senator Collins continues to toe the party line.

5. Do you support the House bill that seeks to limit President Trump’s ability to further order military action against Iran unless Congress declares war or an attack on the U.S. is imminent? Your reasoning, please?

I stand with the House. What is happening here is a gross abuse of constitutional authority and a repeat of history. The White House lied to us in 2003, and the White House is lying to us now. The American people will not stand for more lies that cause millions of people to be murdered and displaced. And we will not send more of our young people to fight an endless war.

6. What U.S. interests in the Mideast do you believe require US military action or a U.S. military presence?

It’s time for the wars in the Middle East to end. It’s time to send our young men and women home. When I’m elected to the U.S. Senate, I will do everything in my power to bring a responsible end to these wars and re-establish the basic checks and balances that our founders envisioned.