10/28/2006 05:26 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I Support Lincoln Chafee's Re-Election

chafee in rhode island.jpg

My posts here on Huffington Post and The Washington Note have highlighted both the weaknesses and strengths of Senator Lincoln Chafee -- occasionally in very strong terms.

When Chafee himself articulated the many reasons to oppose John Bolton's confirmation as America's Ambassador to the United Nations and then voted in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to support him, I wrote a scathing critique of his decision at that time. Chafee made a couple of miscalculations at the time, but so did many of the Republicans and Democrats involved in the Bolton battle.

Chafee believed that Bolton was too obscure a bureaucrat going for a position that Americans would not be up-in-arms about given the many other controversies of the day. Senators pick their battles, and Bolton seemed too insignificant to spend political capital on during the Spring and Summer of 2005. This blog disagreed, but people of civil mind and good intention -- even if they disagree -- move on.

Chafee thought people would remember his judicial votes and defense of a woman's right to choose more than his vote on Bolton -- and he had a point actually -- until the administration miscalculated and brought the Bolton battle back to life.

But my criticism aside, Chafee did articulate precisely the concerns that mattered most about Bolton, the vapid state of American foreign policy, and the harm that the White House had done to undermine a potentially more fruitful course with North Korea than the result today, as well as other enormous mistakes of the administration -- particularly in failing miserably in curbing the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Chafee's confidence has grown enormously this year, and while it would have been easy for him to just stay where he had been on Bolton, he actually changed direction. Lincoln Chafee replaced Voinovich as a key no vote on Bolton -- but in contrast to Voinovich, Chafee would not vote in favor of sending Bolton's nomination to the floor of the Senate. This was an admirable stand, but more importantly, Chafee went further. Chafee then attached his opposition to Bolton to the miserable and worsening state of American foreign policy in the Middle East.

Chafee has been arguing something that others like Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel have been lobbying for in Republcan foreign policy circles: a new push on establishing a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. This might help spark a virtuous cycle for American foreign policy in the region, rather than the deteriorating situation now.

Chafee was bold in other areas as well. He supported Chief Justice John Roberts -- which my blog, The Washington Note, did as well -- and he opposed strongly Samuel Alito, also consistent with my public position.

He worked hard in deals with the White House to maintain Rhode Island's important naval base infrastructure, which had been on the chopping block of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Last year, Rhode Island had the smallest number of closures in the country. Rhode Island constituents should remember that.

Right now, polls show former Rhode Island Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse as leading Chafee in the forthcoming Senate race. Polls can be deceptive, and I don't think that Chafee is anywhere near out of the race. One of my disappointments in the Whitehouse campaign is that there is nothing more than cosmetic commentary on Iraq as the entirety of his commentary on foreign policy.

But while many progressives are focused on supporting Democrats everywhere, that's not what my blogging is about. I have already received near apoplectic emails from some political commentators about the strongly positive commentary I offered about Chafee at the time of his primary race.

My blog commentary is about promoting healty discourse and new policy ideas along with principled leadership. I have nothing against Whitehouse's candidacy -- and if proves victorious, TWN and my writing at Huffington Post and elsewhere plan to help encourage him to take the kind of enlightened foreign policy positions that Lincoln Chafee has been articulating. My understanding is that Whitehouse is a very decent and smart guy. Chafee is as well.

But I'm in favor of Chafee winning his race.

I agree with Zbigniew Brzezinski that America's engagement in the Middle East is the defining challenge for this nation in this century.

Chafee is one of the few Senators of either political party who has articulated a workable vision for American engagement in the Middle East, and I think that he could be the kind of key bridge politically in attempting to restart a new positive cycle in foreign policy -- particularly after the 2008 elections.

Chafee opposed John Bolton. Chafee promoted an enlightened new course in the Middle East. Chafee challenged the Bush administration for dropping the ball on North Korea over the last several years. Chafee opposed Samuel Alito's appointment to the Supreme Court. Chafee did what needed to be done on behalf of constituents concerned with base closures -- and succeeded.

I do hope that the Dems do well in the next race and support their taking the House and the Senate, but particularly the House -- so as to undo the power dynamics that Tom DeLay built which have kept the Congress from defending its prerogatives in our system of checks and balances.

But I do support Chafee in this upcoming race. We need to support moderates who are willing to stand up to extremists. I think Chafee is such a sensible and thoughtful moderate.

If he wins, we hope he'll stay on the course he has been bravely taking. If he loses, we hope he won't leave public life and will find a way to work on American foreign policy in the Middle East. And in that case, Sheldon Whitehouse would be wise to stay on the track that Chafee has laid.

-- Steve Clemons is Senior Fellow and Director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation and publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note