President Donald Trump shocked Washington — and likely most of the rest of the world as well — by announcing that he was withdrawing U.S. troops from northern Syria. In doing so, he is effectively abandoning our Kurdish allies there who have been a key partner in the fight against ISIS, since neighboring Turkey views the Kurds as terrorists and is likely to expand their campaign against them in the absence of American forces.

Trump’s reckless, unwise decision to withdraw our forces was a surprise to allied nations as well as his friends on Capitol Hill. It led to rare agreement amongst Maine’s congressional delegation, as Reps. Jared Golden, Chellie Pingree and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King all decried the move — albeit with differing levels of outrage.

The condemnation of a controversial policy decision by the entire delegation is unusual enough, but so is the widespread criticism from Trump’s normally loyal supporters on Capitol Hill, like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. This agreement was heartening to see, as it showed that Republicans in Congress are, indeed, willing to buck the president, and that sometimes foreign affairs isn’t entirely partisan, even today.

Republican 2nd District congressional candidate Eric Brakey, who is hoping to take on Golden in the general election, took a different approach and sided with Trump on the issue. He seems to have bought Trump’s argument that not only shouldn’t American troops be serving as the “policemen of the world,” but that ISIS is well and truly defeated in the region, meaning the mission is over. While Brakey and Trump both have a point that U.S. soldiers can’t fix all world’s problems, they’re wrong to say that ISIS is defeated and it’s time to withdraw from northern Syria.

While ISIS no longer controls the territory it once did a few short years ago, when it could effectively operate as an independent nation-state, it still remains a major threat in both Syria and Iraq. There are thousands of ISIS fighters currently being detained there — many of them foreign recruits who won’t be allowed back home. Without a U.S. presence supporting the Kurds, they could readily rejoin the fight.

It should be no surprise that Brakey is in favor of a move to end any U.S. military presence abroad. He’s long been skeptical of foreign military interventions by the United States, just as Trump has been as both a presidential candidate and in office.


It’s worth noting, though, that Trump hasn’t moved to bring home troops from either Iraq (where they’ve also been fighting ISIS) or Afghanistan — both of which have a larger American presence than Syria. If Trump were serious about ending the never-ending wars, he could start drawing down deployments there as well.

Brakey’s not the only Republican hoping to take on Golden, though. Former Gov. Paul LePage’s one-time spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, recently announced a bid, as did former state Rep. Dale Crafts. Ordinarily, a foreign policy issue wouldn’t play a major role in a race like this, but the Syria decision gives Brakey a chance to not only burnish his liberty bona fides but his Trump ones as well. He can show Trump’s supporters that he’s opposing the Washington establishment (or, in Trump’s words, “the swamp”) and defending their man at the same time.

Brakey faces skepticism amongst some grassroots Trump supporters, however. Although he came around after the primaries and has mostly defended Trump since, he wasn’t an early supporter when the 2016 race began. He’s also shown a willingness to criticize Trump at times, particularly when Trump gives in to his big-government instincts, such as when he announced bans on bump stocks or vaping products. That leaves room for another, even more pro-Trump candidate in the primary.

That could be Bennett, since her former boss, LePage, was an ardent supporter of Trump’s who had considered challenging Sen. King. Since Bennett hasn’t served in elected office before, she doesn’t have a voting record that can be criticized. Crafts, meanwhile, has a voting record that establishes him as a solid conservative; he supported Ted Cruz in 2016.

While Maine Republicans try to pressure Golden on impeachment, his potential opponents will be trying to get the votes of Trump’s supporters, so it’s worth noting how they react to controversial announcements from the White House. That will show not only their campaign strategy, but just how vital it is in a GOP primary to demonstrate loyalty to Donald Trump.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel


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