Understanding Senator Chafee’s Thinking on Foreign Policy, Israel, and John Bolton
After the first three Republican Senate debates, Senator Lincoln Chafee left voters with three seemingly incompatible views of foreign policy…
- A flirtation with pacifism (“A bad peace is better than a good war“),
- Support for isolationism (“Fear of foreign entanglements“), and
- Support for American hegemony (“A world where America is the strongest country in a peaceful world“).
Start with the second statement above. Senator Chafee is not issuing the warning against entanglements as an endorsement of a minimalist foreign policy, in the way that the warning has historically been understood. In fact, over the course of the campaign, the Senator has made it clear that he favors of a great number of foreign entanglements.
Let’s compare the entanglements that Senator Chafee favors to ones he opposes. We know that Senator Chafee opposed the War in Iraq; you can make a perfectly valid case that Iraq has proven that the US was not ready for an entanglement of that scale, so there is no problem with the Senator’s position here.
But we also know that Senator Chafee had an initial instinctive ambivalence against action in Afghanistan. We know that the Senator was one of just three to oppose sanctions against Syria for its continuing support of terrorism, yet he wants America to invest itself in putting strong diplomatic pressure on Israel. You can’t apply the kind of diplomatic pressure the Senator favors without being strongly entangled in the world. We know that Senator Chafee favors more negotiations with Syria and Iran, which can be fairly described as further entanglements. We know that the Senator was willing to tangle himself up with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela to take his low-cost oil. And it is hard to see how the US can play enough of role in reducing poverty in Mexico to impact illegal immigration into the United States, as the Senator has suggested, without a willingness to become entangled in that country’s affairs.
An unfortunate pattern emerges. The Senator seems biased against “entanglements” when they support an ally facing an armed threat (Israel) or take the battle to an adversary (Syria, Afghanistan), while he embraces entanglements that are of the nature of “global social work” or quests for — dare I use the word — appeasement of adversaries.
With this narrow meaning of “entanglement” understood, the different ideas expressed by Senator Chafee do fit together into a coherent whole. Change the third principle expressed by the Senator to “America should be one of the two strongest countries in a peaceful world”, and you have a pretty good description of the foreign policy of President Jimmy Carter, a policy that was built on the assumption that the existence of the United States somehow frightened leaders that might otherwise be reasonable into becoming hard-line expansionists. History quickly revealed this assumption to be wrong. The existence of the US was the check on Communist expansion, not the source of it. And the policies that flowed from the Carter administration — heavy-pressure-on-allies/nothing-more-than-talk-with-adversaries to prove how “nice” we were — did nothing to mellow the totalitarian drive for domination.
Now, the source of instability in the world is not a Communist bloc, but the dictatorships, oligarchies and terrorist networks that have been spawned in failed states and are controlled by leaders all-too-comfortable with the use of violence for expanding their political power. But the nature of dictatorship really hasn’t changed in the last 25 years. Dictators today, just like the dictators of the past, are willing to use violence as an instrument of policy because of something intrinsic to themselves, not because of a reaction to the policies of the United States.
If the United States follows the path that Senator Chafee seems to be suggesting — punishing allies and engaging in endless talk with adversaries while signaling that any action against adversaries is off-the-table, because it is too “entangling” — the result will be an invitation to oligarchs and warlords to step-up their violent push against us. This is not an invitation that will promote peace, or even mere stability, for anyone.