Lincoln Chafee Comments on America’s Legitimacy Deficit in the Iraq War


chafee watson institute.jpg
Lincoln Chafee used to shoe horses — literally.
I never knew the term, farrier, until I walked into the then Rhode Island Senator’s office one day and saw a framed assortment of farrier licenses with the thin, scraggly-looking, long-haired picture of the would-be Senator Chafee on each. There must have been ten or so years of pictures of Chafee the farrier — so he must have been very good at what he did.
Chafee, despite a distinguished political lineage to draw from, made himself a regular guy with views grounded in a blacksmith’s common sense. He has been articulating an approach for US policy towards the Middle East, towards international institutions, and towards our problems in North Korea that are not convoluted or crafted 30,000 feet above normal Americans. My hunch is that Chafee probably thinks that there are a few different ways to shoe a horse — and there ought to be more to thinking about war and peace than just going to war or staying home.
For the few years I have been closely following Lincoln Chafee’s views, he has presciently outlined the general contours of where America may be tilting, more today by accident and desperation for new options than by design — but still in a slightly more positive direction.
We seem to have a new equilibrium of interests that has snapped together around the North Korea nuclear problem. John Bolton is now out of the United Nations criticizing President Bush and his team rather than undermining the UN from inside. And while it is too soon to over-invest in the news that American officials will sit in the same room as Iranian and Syrian officials in a Baghdad-hosted “neighborhood gathering” next month, it’s a possible start in a new direction.
Lincoln Chafee has been speaking about more informed policy options and new efforts at deal-making for a long time. He’s not satisfied with yes-no, binary choices that we often convince ourselves are our only choices.
Today, in the New York Times, Chafee writes about the fact that before the Iraq War Resolution was voted on, the Senate had a choice other than the binary one handed to it. He writes:

A mere 10 hours before the roll was called on the administration-backed Iraq war resolution, the Senate had an opportunity to prevent the current catastrophe in Iraq and to salvage the United States’ international standing. Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, offered a substitute to the war resolution, the Multilateral Use of Force Authorization Act of 2002.
Senator Levin’s amendment called for United Nations approval before force could be authorized. It was unambiguous and compatible with international law. Acutely cognizant of the dangers of the time, and the reality that diplomatic options could at some point be exhausted, Senator Levin wrote an amendment that was nimble: it affirmed that Congress would stand at the ready to reconsider the use of force if, in the judgment of the president, a United Nations resolution was not “promptly adopted” or enforced. Ceding no rights or sovereignty to an international body, the amendment explicitly avowed America’s right to defend itself if threatened.
An opponent of the Levin amendment said that the debate was not over objectives, but tactics. And he was right. To a senator, we all had as our objectives the safety of American citizens, the security of our country and the disarming of Saddam Hussein in compliance with United Nations resolutions. But there was a steadfast core of us who believed that the tactics should be diplomacy and multilateralism, not the “go it alone” approach of the Bush doctrine.
Those of us who supported the Levin amendment argued against a rush to war. We asserted that the Iraqi regime, though undeniably heinous, did not constitute an imminent threat to United States security, and that our campaign to renew weapons inspections in Iraq — whether by force or diplomacy — would succeed only if we enlisted a broad coalition that included Arab states.
We also urged our colleagues to take seriously the admonitions of our allies in the region — Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. As King Abdullah of Jordan warned, “A miscalculation in Iraq would throw the whole area into turmoil.”
Unfortunately, these arguments fell on deaf ears in that emotionally charged, hawkish, post-9/11 moment, less than four weeks before a midterm election. The Levin amendment was defeated by a 75 to 24 vote. Later that night, the Iraq War Resolution was approved, 77 to 23. It was clear that most senators were immune to persuasion because the two votes were almost mirror images of each other — no to the Levin amendment, aye to war. Their minds were made up.

In order to get the future right, we need to remember our history squarely — the constructive and the destructive initiatives that Washington has produced.
Chafee suggests that whether Members of Congress voted for the Iraq War Resolution are not is not as significant as whether they voted for an alternative option that would have slowed the march to war and that would have attempted to further secure legitimacy from the international community for what we were planning to unleash against Iraq.
Chafee writes:

Americans are gravely concerned about Iraq, and yearn for leadership to stabilize the situation there and gradually end United States involvement. Calling on presidential hopefuls to justify or recant their vote authorizing the president to take us to war almost misses the point.
The Senate had the opportunity to support a more deliberate, multilateral approach, one that still would have empowered the United States to respond to any imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein. We must not sidestep the fact that a sensible alternative did exist, but it was rejected. Candidates — Democrat and Republican — should be called to account for their vote on the Levin amendment.

I couldn’t agree with the Senator more, but I’ll go one step further.
While I think that benchmarking Senate positions on the Levin initiative makes sense, I think that as we see efforts to deauthorize the war or reframe our military engagement in the region through legislative entrenpreneurship, there will be key votes ahead on everything from potential engagement or conflict with Iran and Syria and provisions related to the Israel-Palestine negotiations.
These will need sensible third option possibilities as well — something more that appeasement or war, something more than zero sum games between one side in a conflict and another.
I have learned that Lincoln Chafee is treating his students to a debate today up at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. The contenders will by my New America Foundation colleague Daniel Levy, who was the lead Israeli drafter of the well-known Geneva Initiative, and neoconservative Middle East specialist Meyrav Wurmser.
I’d be interested to learn whether proposals other than bleak, binary choices emerge out of this Middle East issues session.

— Steve Clemons


35 comments on “Lincoln Chafee Comments on America’s Legitimacy Deficit in the Iraq War

  1. Pissed Off American says:

    Here is great take on Jimmy Carter’s speech at Brandeis, and the window his book has opened into a social and ideological atmosphere that allows an honest appraisal of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians….


  2. ... says:

    and you are doing what? lol –


  3. Winnipeger says:

    thanks, … , but i don’t think it’s in the fool’s nature to let anyone get the last word. he’s an ideologue who apparently has nothing better to do than hyperventilate and spew endless venom on this blog.
    as thomas fuller says, “He does not believe who does not live according to his belief.”


  4. ... says:

    poa, let him have the last word, as worthless as it is!


  5. Winnipeger says:

    you might want to follow your own advice, poa, and try getting a life.
    perhaps your roommate can help LOL
    as far as me “throwing shit” at you, please keep in mind the old adage, “you get what you give.”
    and keep up the good fight against the insidious hasbara! ROTFL!!!


  6. Pissed Off American says:

    Nah, winnipeger, it has finally sunk in that you are just an irritating asshole. No organization would be stupid enough to allow you to pimp for them.
    But MP obviously feels Hillary is worth lying to us about, as he did when he described Hillary’s stance on Iran. Remember? The one he said he was “pretty sure” about? Considering MP’s more measured and calculated defenses of Israel and AIPAC, and his slow metamorphosis here into a feigned position of moderation….
    Well, there must be a reason he is attempting to misrepresent Hillary’s past positions on the Iraq war, as well as her position on Iran. If it isn’t because she has herself firmly attached to AIPAC’s pocket book, I can’t imagine what it could be. And considering the alleged popularity of Steve’s blog in Washington circles, to think it would not be targeted by Hasbara would be naive. Yeah, sorry, but considering MP’s posting content, and the battles he picks, and his recent deceptive pimping of Hillary, it would not suprise me at all if he was tasked to carry Israel’s flag on blogs. I have long maintained that may well be the case, and I have seen nothing from him to allay or change my suspicions.
    By the way, winnipeger, you should get over your obsession with me. Its not healthy, and the fact that you are only posting here recently to throw shit at me only reinforces my opinion of you, and I am sure the opinion of others as well. Do you think any of us have forgotten the pretentious and false astonements you offered, as well as the promises you made to behave yourself? As I pointed out to Den at that time, you are a slimey lying weasel, whose purpose here is just to incite, inflame, and irritate, and your atonements and promises were not to be taken seriously. You have since proven me 100% correct.


  7. Winnipeger says:

    yeah, that’s it, poa, mp and i are part of a concerted effort to “sell” israel on this blog.
    our “handlers” have instructed us to frequent TWN to argue with the likes of you. LOL!
    i’m not sure which are exhibiting more: paranoia or delusions of grandeur.
    but, thanks for the laugh!


  8. Winnipeger says:

    poa wrote:
    “depicting her as a patron of Israel may well have the opposite effect that you and your handlers hope it will.”
    do you really believe that mp, or any of the contributors here, have “handlers?!” you and carrol have also made many similar accusations about me in the past.
    if so, i submit that you are paranoid, poa. do you really believe that we’re any different from you: private citizens expressing personal opinions?
    handlers?! LOL


  9. Pissed Off American says:

    Sure, this is Hillary’s position precisely. Go back and read her statements from the floor on the 2002 vote. This is EXACTLY what she said. Ultimately, she trusted Bush not to go to war unless ALL recourses had been exhausted–and he didn’t.
    Posted by MP
    Hillary was feeding us the exact same fearmongering horseshit Israel and Bush were feeding us about Iraq. She chose to ignore the experts that disputed Bush’s lies about Iraqi WMDs. She echoed Bush’s crap about Iraq harboring Al Qaeda, despite the fact that the common concensus among experts was that there was NO Al Qaeda connection. And until recently, when it became politically expedient to oppose Bush’s Iraq policies, she has done virtually NOTHING in the way of substantive opposition to Bush’s policies.
    You purposelly misrepresented Hillary’s stance on Iran by fabricating fictional actions on her part. Despite numerous requests for you to substantiate your claims you have offered no explanation for the apparent deception. Now, you want to paint Hillary as a dove on the Iraq war, when in fact the opposite is true. In light of your obvious lack of participation here in threads whose topic does not involve Israel, and your voracious defense of AIPAC and Israel…..
    ……well, one can only surmise that Hillary is Israel’s shining star. I imagine your defense of Hillary will closely resemble the home page of the AIPAC website as we near the elections. Predictable, MP. But tread lightly. The American public is waking up to the undue and damaging influence that Israel and AIPAC has on American foreign policy, and depicting her as a patron of Israel may well have the opposite effect that you and your handlers hope it will.


  10. Kathleen says:

    There was a similar measure in the House, which would hsve required Bush to return to Congress for authorization to use force in Iraq. I wish I remembered the details, but when I met with former Republican Congressman Rob Simmons in CT. last September, he said he was one of a very few in the House who did not support the Iraq resolution and who did want to require Bush to obtain further authorization for the sue of force in Iraq.
    Chafee is correct. There were other options, just as there are today. What is wrong with accepting the Maliki Gov’t’s Proposed Peace Plan? They have an agreement with the Sunnis to lay down their arms if we withdraw in two years. I don’t see the problem with that. What was the point of Iraqis risking life and limb to get a purple finger, if we just trash their thoughts and efforts?
    All we need to do is shake hands and pack up.


  11. PoliticalCritic says:

    Great post! I’m sure Lincoln Chafee will be back in the Senate or somewhere in national politics in no time. He is still revered here in Rhode Island, even if he didn’t win this time around.


  12. JohnH says:

    Fascinating post over at
    “Iran EFP Story a New “Yellowcake” Scandal?”
    Iraq got blamed for 9/11 though Saudis flew the planes. Will Iran get blamed for supporting the Sunni insurgency instead of Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regimes? One thing is constant–the administration’s Bu_Sh_ continues. Meanwhile Congress aids and abets by refusing to pass the DeFazio bill calling on the president to seek authorization from Congress prior to taking any military action against Iran. Hopefully Chaffee will publicize the parallels between the rejection of the Levin alternative to the AUMF and the current refusal to reign in military force.


  13. ... says:

    Pro-Israel money was also a factor in Rhode Island, where Sen. Lincoln Chafee, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s Middle East subcommittee, was projected to lose to Sheldon Whitehouse.
    Chafee was a tough critic of Israel’s settlement policy, and blocked the nomination of John Bolton – who is very friendly to Israel – as ambassador to the United Nations to protest a planned settlement expansion. Pro-Israel contributors boosted Whitehouse’s bid.


  14. CheckingIn says:

    Sheldon’s Loyality Letter to AIPAC:
    RI—Sheldon Whitehouse: Former state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse
    (D) defeated incumbent Sen. Lincoln Chafee
    (R), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
    Whitehouse, who met with AIPAC staff, wrote a position paper in which he pledged to support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism. “The unique burdens Israel endures were clearly brought home to me as the child of a U.S. diplomat,” he wrote in a position paper. “The extraordinary security which Israeli embassies are obliged to maintain around the world—greater even than our American embassies—is a clear demonstration of what is necessary given those who seek to destroy the very principles upon which Israel was founded. The United States must protect Israel’s democratic foundation and maintain the unbreakable bond between our two countries.”


  15. ... says:

    thought i better back it up with a news article from a jewish publication rather then be labelled something, lol…


  16. ... says:

    Pro-Israel activists dislike Chafee’s Middle East record, arguing that he supports a more balanced American approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a rare concerted effort to sink an incumbent, pro-Israel political action committees first contributed to Chafee’s conservative primary opponent, Stephen Laffey, and are now backing Whitehouse.


  17. ... says:

    the jewish lobby threw there money in with whitehouse… they didn’t want chafee to win.


  18. MP says:

    bakho writes: “Bush claimed that the resolution that passed gave him more power to go to war than it actually did. Shame on Congress for ever trusting Bush. But Bush did break his promise to use force in Iraq as a last resort. A lot of Senators regret their vote because the diplomacy that Bush promised never happened.”
    Sure, this is Hillary’s position precisely. Go back and read her statements from the floor on the 2002 vote. This is EXACTLY what she said. Ultimately, she trusted Bush not to go to war unless ALL recourses had been exhausted–and he didn’t.


  19. pauline says:

    Back on 10/20/05, listed the following —
    “Rice Suggests Iraq War Resolution Could Allow For War Against Syria”
    “Yesterday, in her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Lincoln Chafee wanted to clarify a simple issue “Did the Iraq war resolution passed by Congress restrict military action only to Iraq?” Chafee asked, “so would you agree that if anything were to occur on Syrian or Iranian soil, you would have to return to Congress to get that authorization?”
    Rice responded:
    RICE: Senator, I don’t want to try and circumscribe presidential war powers. And I think you’ll understand fully that the president retains those powers in the war on terrorism and in the war on Iraq.
    CHAFEE: So that’s a no.
    RICE: Senator, I am not going to be in the position of circumscribing the president’s powers.”
    Chafee of course lost in the Nov 2006 election to Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse stood farther away from Bush than Chafee did on the Iraqi war.


  20. Winnipeger says:

    “What? Where’s POA? Shouldn’t he be saying how awful Steve is for writing something positive about a Republican? I like predicatability.”
    Posted by kgb
    Another brilliant and constructive comment from our resident troll.
    Posted by: Pissed Off American at March 1, 2007 09:48 PM
    wasn’t me, POA. i guess that anyone who takes exception to anything you do or say here is a “troll,” huh?
    doesn’t that kind of mirror bushco’s rhetoric about “aiding the enemy?”


  21. bakho says:

    These comments overlook that our intervention in Kosovo was done with NATO but NOT UN approval. UN approval for Kosovo was blocked by Russia.
    Bush claimed that the resolution that passed gave him more power to go to war than it actually did. Shame on Congress for ever trusting Bush. But Bush did break his promise to use force in Iraq as a last resort.
    A lot of Senators regret their vote because the diplomacy that Bush promised never happened.


  22. ... says:

    one can get a laugh hitting the news reports and editorials as well… a list of wacko right wing publications jumps out- washington times, national review, new york sun being the most obvious..he refers to these news outlets as ‘factual’… probably that has to do with what he considers ‘facts’..


  23. Pissed Off American says:

    Douglas Feith has launched a website designed to defend himself against the obvious truth that he is a damned liar, and is also one of the sons a bitches that helped frame the deceptions that the Iraq invasion was marketed with.
    If you want a chuckle, click on “Media Myths vs Facts”.


  24. Pissed Off American says:

    “What? Where’s POA? Shouldn’t he be saying how awful Steve is for writing something positive about a Republican? I like predicatability.”
    Posted by kgb
    Another brilliant and constructive comment from our resident troll.


  25. gq says:

    You are perfect so we can find a way to justify it later by having you say something nice. Great job voting against the increase in the minimum wage. $10,712 is way more than enough to raise a family on. Good for you! If poor people were so desparate, then why do they have cable!


  26. eCAHNomics says:

    H/T boomantribune:
    There were four amendments. This from the post:
    Dodd and Kerry voted for the Durbin amendment, which would have amended ‘the authorization for the use of the Armed Forces to cover an imminent threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction rather than the continuing threat posed by Iraq.’ But, when that amendment failed, they caved on the AUMF. Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, and John Edwards got all four votes wrong. All four.


  27. kgb says:

    Try predictability. Can’t even spell. Sheesh.


  28. kgb says:

    What? Where’s POA? Shouldn’t he be saying how awful Steve is for writing something positive about a Republican? I like predicatability.


  29. Chuck Hagel says:

    I voted for the stupid war.


  30. Marcia says:

    What was incomprehensible was that 77 Senators accompanied a “volte face” of the B/C office from Afganstan to Iraq followed by the media and Washington pundits. There were so few who questioned the merit of action against Iraq, most wanted approval from the UN as a back-up but passed no judgment on the invasion itself.
    The Democrats wanted the vote behind them to prepare the coming elections, the Republicans were gun-ho. The administration managed to avoid a real discussion in favor of quibbling about the modalities of execution of what should have been the primary question. Why the shift from Afganstan to Iraq? They were using Afganstan as a key to open the door to re-modeling the ME.


  31. selise says:

    steve, is the levin amendment chafee describes S J RES 45 ?
    if so, here is the roll call vote:
    i wish chafee had done what jeffords did. i’d love to have him still in the senate.


  32. Reader says:

    On the difference between the “Liberal” and the conservative Republican approach to foreign policy:


  33. liz says:

    I don’t remember this amendment from the time. Did it get any publicity? So much has happened since, this could be my slip of memory. It was the reasonable and prudent thing to do and Mr. Levin himself deserves some credit for one thing. Mr. Chafee in my opinion was a tremendous loss in DC but I saw an “independent” not trusting himself ( as Leiberman successfully did) and running on his own name . He did not go back because he wore that scarlet R on his shirt and sleeve however, he sounds so independent minded it’s really a shame.
    Bigger shame: how the Republican party let one particular segment of it’s radical element rule over common sense at each and every opportunity.


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