Lincoln Chafee drew national attention when he was the only Republican Senator to vote against the use of military force in Iraq. He also earned the distinction of being the first Independent to be elected Governor of Rhode Island in over 150 years. Just last month, this Republican turned Independent turned Democrat announced his intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the 2016 Presidential race.
In a recent interview on The Costa Report, Chafee explained his reason for leaving the Republican party: “The party changed,” he said. “There was no room for moderates like myself.”
When asked about his decision to switch from being an Independent to joining the Democratic party, Chafee said, “I found it hard to operate as an Independent. You need a party to back and support you.”
Though the experience has given Chafee a more balanced perspective he admits the changes have not helped his campaign.
“I think (voters) are a little cautious about a former Republican in a Democratic primary, but once I tell them that I’ve never changed on the issues, they’re receptive. I’ve been very consistent.
“They can look at my record on the environment, on civil liberties, on building social programs for the middle class, and on not getting us into these quagmires overseas. I’ve been very consistent in my long tenure as a public servant — and people like consistency.”
Chafee has focused his Presidential campaign on four primary issues: 1) An aversion to foreign involvement, 2) Support of the middle class, 3) Making the environment a priority and 4) Protecting individual liberties protected by the Constitution.
When it comes to foreign policy, he admits his aversion to foreign entanglements has a great deal to do with growing up during the Vietnam War — a war he characterizes as “a tragedy” that resulted in more than 50,000 American death. “And for what?,” he asked.
“When we started to look toward Iraq after September 11, I had my questions as to whether the premise of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction was accurate. I didn’t want to get back into another tragedy like Vietnam, and didn’t see the proof that Saddam had WMDs.”
Chafee became one of just 23 Senators (and the only Republican) who voted against the authorization because he didn’t trust President George W. Bush and Vice President, Dick Cheney.
“‘I’m a uniter, not a divider’ — that was the phrase candidate Bush used to get elected, and as soon as he got in, everything was divisive: Big tax cuts, getting out of international agreements…” Chafee said. “I started with a lack of trust as we went into the debate about going into Iraq, and that helped me do my homework. I don’t think any other Senator went down to the CIA and got a personal briefing, and I was right. Now we have to fix it over there.”
According to Chafee, the decision to use military force should be made in conjunction with the United Nations, which, he says, is the proper way to proceed.
“The first President Bush did it the right way in Kuwait. He went to the United Nations and we worked together. That’s the way it should be: Strong alliances and working together to make our world secure.”
The former Senator says the United States must “use its brains, not its biceps” when it comes to foreign policy. When asked whether Chafee was in favor of current negotiations with Iran regarding nuclear proliferation Chafee said, “I am in favor of what we’re doing there. I applaud President Obama and Secretary Kerry for their hard work. We haven’t seen the final product, so I can’t say whether I support that, but I support our effort.
“It’s one of the lessons of the Cold War,” Chafee continued. “If we just start talking, eventually you can come to some agreements and find some areas of common ground. I think that’s a good thing.”
Regarding the threat form ISIS, Chafee commented, “They are a fairly recent phenomenon that has arisen over the last nine months to a year or so. It was the Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, and Bocoharun, and now it’s ISIS. We need to find out who they are. Over July 4 there was a meeting between former GIs and Vietcong, and one of the comments that came out of that was, ‘This war could have been averted if we had understood Vietnam better’ Just think of that: The loss of 50,000 lives, and all of those resources … it all could have been averted if we had understood that situation a little bit better.”
To hear the full interview with Lincoln Chafee, visit www.rebeccacosta.com.