Chafee Chides Obama on Gaza: Brown Bag (IV)

I wouldn’t call Lincoln Chafee child-like, but he does have the penetrating eye of the innocent kid who sees through magicians’ tricks — who speaks up about what emperors are wearing, or aren’t. The ambitious ex-Senator Chafee is the working politician in this round of conversations at the Watson Institute on the first fortnight in the Age of Obama. And, as usual, he’s the sober, utterly independent voice at the party — “disappointed,” he volunteers, “in the silence from the Obama team as the Israelis invaded Gaza…”

In the US Senate, Chafee of Rhode Island cast the only Republican vote against the Iraq war authorization in October, 2002. In 2006 he fought the White House for renomination and the Democratic tide for reelection, but seemed selflessly content to lose his seat in the end because the vote was so clearly a repudiation of President Bush, not himself; and because his losing was required to empower a Senate opposition. From the start of the 2008 campaign, Chafee campaigned for Barack Obama because he was the only serious candidate “most fervently opposed to the Iraq war.” And so his counsel to the President, while we’re all presuming to give advice, is just the reminder: “That’s what got you elected.” He speaks here about two of his passions, Latin America and the Middle East, with common sense that passes these days for radical courage, about the rampage in Gaza, for example:

I would have hoped for… just a few words of disappointment as to how this is going to affect the region. It just makes the task of peace in the Middle East harder and harder. Hatreds are ratcheted up when children are killed and housed are demolished. I don’t see it working. It’s been a mystery to me — for my time in the Senate, as I served on the Foreign Relations committee and as chairman of the Middle East subcommittee. How does this agenda work for Israel? I don’t understand it.

Former US Senator Lincoln Chafee in conversation with Chris Lydon, January 30, 2009.

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  • nother

    Thank you for the interview. Responding to Bob Simon’s report about a two-state solution becoming unimaginable, Mr. Chafee tells us “you can’t have that thought, because then peace is unimaginable.” Well, with all do respect Mr, Chafee, I can have that thought precisely because I choose to use my imagination. And I imagine a one-state solution, as do many others.

    “The compromise is one state for all, an “Isratine” that would allow the people in each party to feel that they live in all of the disputed land and they are not deprived of any one part of it.”

    “Assimilation is already a fact of life in Israel. There are more than one million Muslim Arabs in Israel; they possess Israeli nationality and take part in political life with the Jews, forming political parties. On the other side, there are Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli factories depend on Palestinian labor, and goods and services are exchanged. This successful assimilation can be a model for Isratine.”

    -Muammar Qaddafi

    The fact that Muammar Qaddafi has become the voice of reason in this affair makes it even more evident to me that the supposed “pragmatic” US policy is way off track.

  • Conversation was frustratingly short …

  • ghostofdali

    Way to go, Linc. Obama’s apologies for Israel’s crimes against humanity is unacceptable. It is clear that the Palestinian people and their political leadership has been weakened to the point where they are absolutely unable to effectively negotiate with such a bloodthirsty neighbor, and so the only deciding factor in what will happen in that region is Israel. In complete disregard for the opinion of most Israelis, virtually all Palestinians, and the majority of the international community, the radical ideology of expansion has turned into national policy, which is coming dangerously close to genocide. As long as the United States insists on giving Israel a blank check, they will take it to the bank. We must make it clear that the continued violence and oppression of the Palestinian people has consequences, and instead of apologizing or justifying these actions by claiming a right of a nation to defend itself, the United States must begin withholding “aid” and support in correlation with these escalations. If there is to be a Palestinian state, we must begin to recognize it immediately and support its right to defend itself against attack from its neighbors.

  • hurley

    Another dissenting view in the wake of the “stimulus” debacle:

  • potter

    I don’t think it was Obama’s place to say anything about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict prior to taking office. After that he did say a few things that seemed to be right on the mark. I think he has to make a major speech about a change in policy that would bring us to a more neutral position. A pro-Israel policy will have to also be a pro-Palestinian policy. The veil of illusion should be lifted about that- that one side can win while the other side loses. Obama has enough awareness to come to this conclusion. I hope he acts on it.

  • wellbasically

    Chafee was right that Obama won because of the Iraq War.

    (Unfortunately Obama believes he won because of economics, and is working hard to fail, while he ignores the promise to get out of Iraq.)

    On Israel/Palestine, one solution may be for the USA to involve both sides in a supranational body like NATO, so that being an Israeli or being a Palestinian starts to lose some meaning.