Lincoln Chafee: The Heir Apparent to Ron Paul on Foreign Policy?
During the last two election cycles, U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) attracted support from liberals, libertarians, and independents who were drawn to his non-interventionist anti-war message. Paul advocated a truncation of the military budget and called for U.S. troops overseas to come home. He argued that the U.S. presence abroad effectuated enmity toward the U.S. Paul’s argument was showcased in a 2007 GOP Presidential debate when Paul, referring to the 9/11 hijackings, averred: “They attack us because we’ve been over there.” Paul was referring to the stated reasons asserted by Osama bin Laden to justify the attacks on the U.S.
In a 1996 Fatwa, bin Laden condemned the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia (he viewed non-Muslim troops in the land of the two Muslim Holy cities, Mecca and Medina, as sacrilege). He also denounced U.S. supported economic sanctions leveled against Iraq, which is widely believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. In addition, bin Laden blamed the U.S. and Israel for the plight of the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank.
Ron Paul’s son, U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), has proven he is not the heir apparent to the Ron Paul non-interventionist foreign policy platform. In his bid for the Republican Presidential nomination, Paul has come out for a $190 billion increase in the U.S military budget. Unlike his father, Rand Paul is opposed to the recently brokered Iranian Nuclear Agreement. Rand Paul has inflamed some of his father’s supporters when he told Fox News: “There is a valuable use for drones and as much as I’m seen as an opponent of drones, in military and warfare, they do have some value.” In addition, After Russia invaded the Crimea, Rand Paul called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be punished, and averred: “It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia’s latest aggression.”
Rand Paul is closer to the realist school of foreign policy, with ideological antecedents like Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald R. Ford, rather than the non-interventionist school of his father. As Rand Paul alienates those who supported his father, based largely on his foreign policy beliefs, a vacuum has developed for a candidate with a foreign policy belief system close to Ron Paul’s, one who does not merely oppose a particular military action, but one who opposes the entire interventionist premise behind U.S. foreign policy.
Enter former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination. Chafee advertises himself as harboring an “aversion to foreign entanglements.” On foreign policy, Chafee is the closest major candidate in the Presidential race to Ron Paul. Chafee, like Ron Paul, is not afraid of being branded a bin Laden sympathizer because he points out the aforementioned three grievances bin Laden used as a recruiting magnet to his cause.
Yet Chafee has not made a direct pitch to those who supported Ron Paul based upon his foreign policy view. Chafee has not asked them to “continue the crusade.” Chafee barely registers in the polls. Like Paul, Chafee has an insipid cerebral demeanor. For Paul, it was the uniqueness of his message on the national stage that defined him, not his charisma.
Those voters who were attracted to Ron Paul based predominately on economic issues will see little in common with Chafee, as Paul is much more conservative in that arena.
However, many of Ron Paul’s supporters were attracted to his foreign policy ideas. This is where Chafee has a message which, if promoted properly, could strike a resonate chord with libertarians, independents, and blue republicans (Democrats who supported Ron Paul). Chafee is preaching a parallel message.
In 2002, Chafee, while serving in the U.S. Senate as a liberal Republican, was the only member of his party in the Senate to vote against the authorization of the use of force in Iraq. Ron Paul was one of just six Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote against the Resolution. In addition, unlike Rand Paul, Chafee calls for an end to the use of predator drone strikes. He refers to them as “extra-judicial assassinations.” For example, with respect to Yemen, Chaffee is the only candidate who bewails the use by the U.S. of drones in that nation and the inadvertent civilian deaths they cause.
Moreover, Chafee is a member of the Advisory Council of J Street, which advocates for a two-state solution between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which includes the total withdrawal of Israel from the disputed territories.
Chafee, like Paul, advocates a détente between the U.S. and Iran. On the Iranian nuclear deal, Chafee’s message eerily echoes that of Ron Paul, who unlike his son Rand Paul, supports the deal. Chafee says: “Of course we should be talking with them. That’s what we did right during the Cold War — talking with China, talking with Russia, ping pong teams going back and forth to China and dealing with Gorbachev — that’s the right way to make peace.” In 2011, Ron Paul asserted that the U.S. should negotiate with Iran by “maybe offering friendship to them. I mean, didn’t we talk to the Soviets? Didn’t we talk to the Chinese? They had thousands of these weapons.”
Chafee’s candidacy has garnered little media attention thus far. Many voters who share Chafee and Ron Paul’s aversion to foreign entanglements have gravitated to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), one of Chafee’s rivals for the Democratic Presidential nomination. Unlike Chafee, Sanders deemphasizes foreign policy issues, focusing mostly on the domestic sphere. Many of his supporters mendaciously believe that since Sanders is the most liberal candidate on domestic policy, he must concomitantly be a non-interventionist in foreign policy.
While Sanders is no hawk, and similar to Chafee favors a reduction of the militarily budget, his foreign policy views are more traditional than conventional belief might dictate. While Sanders, like Chafee and Ron Paul, opposed the Iraq War, Sanders voted for the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 which stated: “It should be the policy of the Untied States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein.” Chafee was not a member of the U.S. Senate at the time.
A year later, Sanders favored the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which caused aide Jeremy Brecher to resign in protest. In addition, Sanders took heat from his liberal Vermont constituents for his support of the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014, though he tempered his support, maintaining Israel had “overreacted” by bombing schools used as civilian shelters, which allegedly housed weapons.
For Chafee to be taken seriously and muster earned media attention, he must define his campaign with a similar message as the Democratic Presidential nominee George McGovern did in 1972: “Come Home America.” He needs to explain the deleterious effects that U.S. interventions have had on the nation.
Chafee needs to emphasize the issue of “blowback.” He has a perfect opening when it comes to Iran. Rather than simply explain that he supports the nuclear deal, Chafee should emphasize how U.S. policy led to the adversarial relationship between the two nations, beginning in 1953, when the U.S. sponsored a coup d’état against Mohammad Mosaddeqh, the Democratically elected Prime Minister, after he nationalized the oil fields. This was an example Paul used continuously to make his case against foreign interventions.
There is an opening the size of the Grand Canyon for a candidate to take advantage of. To move out from the bottom of the pack, Chafee must issue a clarion call to those Ron Paul supporters who were attracted to him for his foreign policy platform. He must convince them that he, not Rand Paul, is the rightful heir apparent to Ron Paul’s message. There is a niche to be filled. Ron Paul proved that this message can resonate even if the messenger lacks charisma. A call to bring U.S. troops home from abroad and to stop meddling outside of U.S. borders turned the charismatically-challenged Ron Paul into a political cult figure. It could work for Chafee too.