August 24, 2006

Laffey-Chafee III: Debating Foreign Policy

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the second radio debate, Senator Lincoln Chafee was asked if he really believed that weapons of mass destruction were the sole reason for invading Iraq. Senator Chafee answered that if there was a wider purpose to the war, it should have been put forth by the President and debated in public before a decision was made. I believe that Senator Chafee was spot-on with this answer. When history looks back on the conduct of the War in Iraq, President George W. Bush’s decision to not rally America around a greater cause than WMD in making the case for invading Iraq and deposing Saddam Husein will be viewed as the primary failure from which the other problems have grown.

It is in a spirit that recognizes the importance of public debate when setting America's direction in the world -- the spirit expressed by Senator Chafee himself, at a moment where he well-represented the ideal of New England Republicanism -- that I offer the criticism that follows.

In three debates, Senator Chafee has offered three different views of foreign policy. In the first debate, Senator Chafee flirted dangerously with pacifism (“a bad peace is better than a good war”). In the second debate, the Senator presented a pre-World War II-style isolationism as true Republicanism (“avoid foreign entanglements”). Then, in Wednesday’s debate, Senator Chafee expressed a preference for a view that goes by the inelegant name of benevolent global hegemonism (“America should be the strongest country in a peaceful world”).

The dreaded neoconservatives also begin from the premise that America should be the strongest country in a peaceful world. But they go further, adding the idea that the only way the world will stay peaceful is if America is the nation that enforces the peace. Another group of foreign policy thinkers share the goal of a dominant America in a peaceful world, but believe that America is sufficiently powerful to creatively work through international institutions to reach that goal (no one has come up with a good name for this group yet). Then there are the realists who believe it is impossible for any country to maintain its status as most powerful, because everybody else inevitably gangs up to take down number one. There are many other possibilities, outside of and in between these views.

Given the diversity of choices available, Senator Chafee’s statement in the third debate that America should be the strongest country in a peaceful world was much more than a platitude. It was a very bold statement of American foreign policy. It was, however, entirely incompatible with his positions from the first two debates. It is not reasonable to believe that the world will stay peaceful if the U.S. disengages out of a desire to “avoid foreign entanglements”. With the US on the sidelines, who will stop a Slobodan Milosevic or a Saddam Husein from ending the peace in full scale military actions that swallow up neighboring states? And a stated willingness to accept a “bad peace” makes any hope of any peace less likely by neutralizing deterrence as a strategic option. Dictators and tyrants who believe they can be bully other nations into accepting disadvantageous truces will continually use violence or the threat of violence to take what they want.

I believe that Senator Chafee is sincere in what he has said about his beliefs, foreign policy or otherwise, but because of the contradictions, I am not yet convinced that he has expressed his core foreign policy beliefs during this series of debates.

Mayor Steve Laffey has approached foreign policy from a more operational direction, placing national energy policy at the center of his foreign policy platform. Not to be pedantic here, but this also is a way of avoiding foreign entanglements -- not all foreign entanglements, but a particular foreign entanglement, dependence on foreign oil, that is unduly controlled by other nations.

What makes the goal of energy independence more than the 21st century version of isolationism is that pursuing energy independence treats reduced entanglements as a means while traditional isolationism treats reduced entanglements as the end. In conventional foreign policy terms, the energy-policy-as-foreign-policy position is the belief that the constraints on America created by dependence on foreign oil have become so burdensome, they impair the ability of the United States to pursue whatever degree of foreign engagement the American polity chooses to be in its best interest.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

The candiates are polar opposites.

Chafee wants peace and won't fight to make it happen. Nice but irrational given the reality of things.

Laffey wants peace and will get it with strength of will and military might. A strong America that will fight for what is right against encroaching evil is the best policy if reality rules.

Truth is simple if you know and understand what it is. Laffey gets it while Chafee does not.

Everything else is just a huge pile os BS.

J Mahn

Posted by: Joe Mahn at August 25, 2006 9:46 AM