June 2, 2006

Laffey Claims Chafee Didn't Support Action in Afghanistan

Marc Comtois

Mayor Laffey is running a new radio ad that states that, in the aftermath of 9/11, Sen. Chafee did not support attacking the Taliban in Afghanistan. Sen. Chafee disputes that claim and can point to his September 14, 2001 affirmative vote for authorizing Military force against those who attacked the U.S. on 9/11. The Chafee campaign has asked Laffey to pull the ad. The Laffey campaign has refused.

The Laffey camp defends its decision with the claim that their ad is refering to Sen. Chafee's initial objection to the use of military force against the Taliban. Further, they contend, given that Sen. Chafee did eventually support the action, his shifting position on Afghanistan provides an example of how reluctant Sen. Chafee is to make a decision on even fundamental matters.

As proof, the Laffey campaign is citing a ProJo story (fee required) from September 21, 2001. In it, the ProJo reported that Senator Chafee:

...balked at endorsing a punishing strike on the Taliban in the event that it fails to cooperate in the hunt for the terrorists. "In anything we do, we've got to take the long-term view. There are a lot of people that would like to be on our side that can't," Chafee said.
Further, on October 8, 2001, the Projo reported (fee req'd) that
The three Democrats in Rhode Island's Washington delegation yesterday lined up solidly behind President [Bush]'s decision to launch a military reprisal against Osama bin Laden and the ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, but Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee declined comment on the attacks.

The attitudes of [Jack Reed], Kennedy and [James Langevin] were in line with the prevailing mood in Washington...

The next day (fee req'd), Sen. Chafee finally offered tepid--and worried--support for attacking the Taliban
Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, the lone Republican in Rhode Island's Washington delegation, said yesterday that he supports President Bush's decision to bomb Taliban targets in Afghanistan, but worries the military action will inflame anti-American opinion in other countries.

Chafee said he was waiting until he received more information and did not make statements until yesterday.

Finally, this story from December 2001 further supports the Laffey campaign's contention that Sen. Chafee was reluctant to pursue aggressive action in Afghanistan. In fact, Senator Chafee admits as much himself:
Senator Lincoln Chafee indicated today that he may have been wrong in his early doubts about the war in Afghanistan. Appearing on the WJAR-TV show "10 News Conference", Chafee said, "It is easy to admit when I am wrong. I could have been wrong on this" referring to the war. "I was apprehensive about going into Afghanistan" based on the unsuccessful Russian experience there. "We had not had success in our recent skirmishes in the area," he argued. "I came up through the Vietnam period. I have seen this country dragged through a bloody morass."
It is incorrect to simply state that Sen. Chafee didn't support attacking the Taliban: he eventually did, even if with reservation. The fact is that Sen. Chafee did support the action and it is not correct to imply--as the Laffey ad does--that Sen. Chafee never supported attacking the Taliban.

The Laffey campaign's subsequent defense of their ad rests on the reluctance of Sen. Chafee to make a firm decision. To my mind, this defense of the actual ad is actually more compelling and (yes) truthful than the original. As such, I would think that an ad that systematically presented the facts as listed above as proof of Sen. Chafee's pattern of always "considering" a tough issue and only making up his mind once his decision is essentially irrelevant (re: Alito) would have been just as effective and would have insulated the Laffey campaign from criticism. But then again, I'm no political consultant.

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Endless dithering and political gamesmanship may have its place in politics, but becomes counterproductive and possibly even fatal when it comes to decisions regarding military deployments. When military force is needed, it must be deployed in overwhelming fashion in concentrated attacks to defeat the enemy as quickly as possible. Long, drawn out conflicts resulting from politically-motivated gradual force deployments result in stalemates, significant civilian casualties, needlessly bloodied armies, and massive civil unrest on the home front.

The civil war would have been ended in 1861 if Lincoln's generals (McClellan in particular) would have listened to his orders to massively follow up on initial victories. Rather, they were more attuned to the political climate and their own desires to become President by taking actions they felt would please Lincoln's cabinet and the Congress. This indecision and gamesmanship ended up costing over 500,000 American lives.

WWII would never have started if the French and English listened to Winston Churchill and attacked Germany with massive force in 1936 after Germany's invasion and subsequent annexation of the Rhineland. At that time, the German military build-up was well underway yet it still lacked sufficient tanks and airpower to defeat a combined effort by France and England.

The Vietnam conflict would also have ended quickly if Lyndon Johnson owned up to the fact that the real enemy was North Vietnam, not the so-called irregulars known as the Viet Cong. However, this would have involved being honest with the American people, which he was loathe to do. Instead of cutting off the Ho Chi Min trail on one front and driving the North Vietnamese back into their own country on another front, he gradually escalated forces in an effort to tally up huge body counts but gain no real strategic victories. This overwhelming miscalcuation and deceit cost 56,000 American lives and over 1m vietnamese. Interestingly, even though he gradually withdrew forces, Nixon essentially had this war won by 1973 with the Viet Cong obliterated and North Vietnamese forces driven out of the country by a massive concentration of forces and strategic bombing (operation linebacker)of targets in North Vietnam that actually had significant military value.

Israel is an example of a country that understands military history and acts decisively when a military confrontation is clearly brewing. In 1967 when Egypt closed off waterways vital to Israeli shipping and massed troops in the Sinai, there was no indecision on the part of its leaders when they ordered a pre-dawn air strike that obliterated the Egyptian air force and paved the way to an easy victory in the six day war. As conflicts go, the casualties in this one were very light on both sides.

And let's not forget Israel's 1982 raid on Iraqi nuclar facilities, for which it was villified by the world, including the United States. The world is quite grateful today for that bold action.

Lincoln Chafee tends to support the Arabs over Israel, so it is not surprising that he is not a keen student of their military actions and the number of lives ultimately saved by bold and decisive maneuvers. Steve Laffey, in contrast, is a keen student of both Israeli and general military history and obviously understands the paradox that decisive action saves lives and saves entire countries. His criticism of Chafee's Afghanistan dithering is not only fair, but indeed does not go far enough.

Posted by: bountyhunter at June 2, 2006 4:38 PM

What is stated in the ad is entirely truthful ... Chafee did not support attacking the Taliban. Just because he voted for the congressional authorization to give the president the authority to use force -- as I recall it was a 98-0 vote, with 2 others not voting -- I hardly think simply voting for that resolution was the benchmark that anyone should be setting for "support" of the use of force. That's almost as bad as the John Kerry "I voted for it, before I voted against it" remark regarding his support of the war in Iraq. If we'd followed Linc's instincts, there would still be a strong market for burkas in Afghanistan right now.

PS Marc may not be a political consultant, but I thought he did an excellent analysis of the details. Think we might have a few more ideas for commericials?

Posted by: Will at June 2, 2006 5:11 PM

Laffey can parse words as hard as he wants, and maybe it'll get him past Chafee...but it only puts more ammunition at the Whitehouse campaign's disposal. The message that an opponent is insufficiently pro-war is not the politically smartest, however - it smacks of campaign hubris. There are quite a few Republicans tired of war these days (debate over the Afghan campaign doesn't seem quite as relevant as the Iraq debate).
What's the next message? Chafee's un-American because he doesn't consume enough Dunkin' Donuts?

Posted by: Rhody at June 2, 2006 5:23 PM

Mr. Comtois, you raise a valid critique of the Laffey ad. I can tell you have a historian's training and an eye for objectivity. Although I am just a junkman, I know a little bit about history too. However, you missed a rather important article in your research, and maybe the Laffey campaign did too. A ProJo article on 10/11/01 by Mulligan, which states: "When Mr. Bush addressed the Congress on Sept.20, Chafee declined to support the president's threat to retaliate against the Taliban if it refused to hand over members of bin Laden's Al Qaeda network, chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks. That position seperated Chafee from the rest of Rhode Island's congressional delegation and most members of Congress." I think you should have added that to your post. You can find it on the internet. This article in the ProJo clearly shows that Chafee did NOT support attacking the Taliban at first. Now, for the sake of fairness, the Laffey ad could have said that Chafee did not "initially" support attacking the Taliban. (There was no mention of a vote in the ad I believe.) But, political ads, regretfully, are not history papers...otherwise Chafee's ads would say Laffey raised taxes in Cranston because of a financial crisis, then after the city got out junk bond status, Laffey frooze and then cut taxes. The Laffey ad is factual.

In any case, it is quite humorous that the Chafee camp would be making a big deal out of this. Now, people are discussing Chafee's flip flops, and weakness in foreign policy. Funny.

Posted by: Fred Sanford at June 2, 2006 7:22 PM

I think it is funny that Chafee is having a problem with ads that he thinks are misleading. What a fairy! If he can't take it he shouldn't dish it out.

Posted by: Jim at June 2, 2006 7:41 PM

Fred: Thanks for the kind words, however, note that the article to which you refer (10/11/2001) mentions that Sen. Chafee didn't support President Bush after his speech of 9/21/2001. That was reported at the time, and I've linked to that story. In fact it is the first example I gave of Chafee not supporting the President. The 10/11/2001 story is simply reiterating Chafee's stance as first reported on 9/21/2001.

Will: You are technically correct. Sen. Chafee didn't support attacking the Taliban, but within a day or two (albeit too long) he said he supported the action taken by the President.

In these political games, one side or the other will always bring up the "attack ad" mantra. I'm not trying to defend Sen. Chafee, I just think that if you can attack your opponent in a concise and accurate fashion, do it. If you try to get too cute, or stretch your point too much, it might look like a cheap shot to Mr. and Mrs. Independent RI Voter.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at June 2, 2006 8:02 PM

Your comment "trying to get to cute", would put Chafee's ads admonishing Laffey for raising taxes into this category, correct?

Posted by: Jim at June 2, 2006 9:27 PM

Jim, Exactly (and good example). Many people (including myself) realized immediately how disingenuous it was for Sen. Chafee to make such a claim given the context of the situation in Cranston when Mayor Laffey took over.

The similarity between the two ads lies in that both accusations (Laffey = tax raiser, Chafee did'nt support attacking Taliban) are technically true, but there is more to the story. The thing is, the "more to the story" of the accusation against Chafee doesn't do him much good, while the opposite is true for Laffey.

Given that, it's my opinion that focusing on the whole story of the tortuous and pained decision making process of Republican Sen. Chafee with regard to Afghanistan could have been the first of many ads focusing on such a theme.

Posted by: Marc Comtois at June 2, 2006 11:44 PM

Something that I will never forget turned me off to Senator Chafee fairly early on in his senatorial career, despite the fact that I voted for him in 2000 (yes, I admit it to my everlasting shame).

Following the attacks of 9/11, I attended a rally at the RI State House -- I believe either the Friday or Saturday after the attacks -- which was attended by at least 20,000 people. Various dignitaries, including then Gov. Almond, Gen. Centracchio, Rep. Kennedy, Sen. Reed, and of course Sen. Chafee spoke -- they spoke in more or less in that order. The thing that I came away with, that has stuck with me ever since then, was that most of the speeches were pretty darn good and seemingly well-prepared. I specfically recall Sen. Reed's speech, which was as passionately pro-American and pro-military as any Republican could hope to give.

After a number of gung-ho, let's get 'em speeches, Sen. Chafee began to speak. It sounded like it had been prepared in the limo on his way from the airport. Besides the speaking style, which was even worse than we are accustomed to now, it was what he said that really turned me off, and left a number of people around me looking at him in absolute bewilderment. I remember him saying (I'm paraphrasing from memory, so if anyone has a transcript, I'm open to it), that "we need to understand why they did this to us" and "why they hate us" and to not "not give into our prejudices" or "to misplaced patriotism" or "rush to judgement" and that "[he] didn't want us to do anything to inflame the situtation," like attack the Taliban prematurely.

Being that the speech was so different from that of all the prior speakers, I also remember him getting the least applause, some boos, I actually recall, several hisses. Anyway, from that moment forward, I've never been able to be proud that he was my/our "Republican" voice in the Senate, because his voice sounded an awful lot like what you might expect to come out of Neville "peace in our time" Chamberlain's mouth.

PS I'll again reiterate my point that voting with the majority, when the vote was 98-0, is not decisive or indicative of any "real" support for an action.

Posted by: Will at June 3, 2006 2:37 AM

Will, Thanks for the anecdote: wish I could find Chafee's remarks on the web, but that was the pre-blog era.

Just to clarify, I understand and agree that voting for the resolution isn't the same thing as supporting the actual attack against an actual enemy at the very beginning. As I've stated, my only problem with the Laffey ad is that it left hanging the implication that Chafee never supported the President. I also can't agree at all with the whole process by which Sen. Chafee finally decided support the Pres., but he did.

So, I don't disagree with you Will, but I think (admittedly being somewhat pollyannish) that there is so much about Sen. Chafee's record that can can be attacked without resorting to innuendo or fudging. So why bother?

I've already gone into what I think would have been a better approach ad naseum. So I won't beat this horse anymore. It's dead. (Though it could use some horseshoes...)

Posted by: Marc Comtois at June 3, 2006 9:33 AM


Each candidate has his issues. When Laffey and Casa Blanca go at it for 56 days this fall the same issues will prevail with one distinct and interesting difference, Casa Blanca has no record of governing anything.

He talks like a tax and spend liberal, he walks like a tax and spend liberal, he is a tax and spend liberal.

Unlike Chafee, I believe he will debate Laffey and so he should. That will be better television than the climax of American Idol, The Sopranos, and Survivor put together.

Mind you I do not watch much TV but that night and any other night these two go at it I will be tuned in.

The outcome: Casa Blanca is #2, ends up at the dump and is kicked off the Island.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at June 3, 2006 2:28 PM

Dear J Mahn,

Did you wake up this morning thinking you were living in Idaho?

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at June 3, 2006 3:04 PM

Dear Bobby:

All I can say is:

Antiquis temporibus, nati tibi similes in rupibus ventosissimis exponebantur ad necem.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at June 3, 2006 4:23 PM

Dear Joe,

The Latin was a nice touch. Well done.

Posted by: Bobby Oliveira at June 3, 2006 6:43 PM

Your Latin is almost as good as my hero Joe Paterno's. We Penn State farm boys were always grateful when the Brown-educated Mr. Paterno regularly enlivened our ag-oriented campus with such utterances. Paterno was a classics major too, although he actually made an effort to establish a career post-college. Maybe Chafee should do his speeches in Latin. They couldn't be any less intelligible than in their present form.

Posted by: bountyhunter at June 3, 2006 6:59 PM

I would just like to add (albeit late in the discussion) that if we recall Chafee's interview on WPRO with Dan Yorke, Chafee clearly expressed his sincere pacifism. The man struggles with warfare, even the kind that is done in self defense. As such, Republicans need to ask themselves: can we afford to have a pacifist representing us at this time in history?

The issue isn't so much whether Laffey got his facts exactly right -- the pols are really forced to make their points in too few words (bites, they call them) these days -- the point is, why was (is) Chafee so slishy sloshy? And will he continue to be? (yes).

I think Will hit it on the head as is his wont - Chafee can make your stomach turn.

Posted by: Chuck Nevola at June 3, 2006 7:22 PM

There's nothing wrong with wanting to avoid war; the problem is when you've been attacked and you still don't want to respond. That's not pacificism; that's just surrendering.

Posted by: Will at June 7, 2006 12:40 AM