I wish there was a peace candidate in the Presidential race. Though I like Bernie Sanders, he doesn’t qualify.
He is less militaristic than Hillary Clinton and she is less militaristic than Ted Cruz and most of the other Republicans, but they all accept as a given fact that the United States must be ready to intervene militarily anywhere in the world at the sole discretion of the President.
I voted for President Obama in the hope that he would disengage from the disastrous U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not start any new wars. Instead he invented new means of intervention that don’t involve large numbers of American troops. Sanders would not break from Obama’s policy.
Most of the Republican candidates criticize Obama for not being war-like enough. Jeb Bush endorses the disastrous policies of his brother, George W. Bush.
Compared to the rest of the GOP field, Donald Trump sounds relatively sensible. As Patrick Cockburn wrote in Britain’s The Independent:
Asked by an NBC news presenter if Iraq and Libya had been better off when Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi were in power, a question most politicians would have dodged, Trump said: “Iraq is a disaster … Libya is not even a country. You can make the case, if you look at Libya, look at what we did there – it’s a mess. If you look at Saddam Hussein with Iraq, look what we did there – it’s a mess.”
This should not be controversial stuff. Many Iraqis and Libyans are glad to have got rid of the old dictators, but they have no doubt about the calamities that have befallen their countries since the change of regime. [snip]
Speaking about the White House’s policy of supporting the Syrian armed opposition, Trump truthfully said the administration “doesn’t know who they are. They could be Isis. Assad is bad. Maybe these other people are worse.”
He said he was bothered by “the concept of backing people they have absolutely no idea who they are”. Again, US officials admit that they have armed opposition fighters who, on entering Syria promptly handed their weapons over to Jabhat al-Nusra, the local representatives of al-Qaeda.
Trump added: “I was talking to a general two days ago. He said: ‘We have no idea who these people are.’”
Then again, he has boasted of being “the most militaristic person in the room.” He has advocated sending American ground troops to seize ISIS-controlled oil fields or destroying those oil fields through bombing.
I give Trump credit for common sense and the willingness to speak his mind, but I don’t think his off-the-cuff opinions are well-thought-out or firmly held.
Who else could be a peace candidate?
I respect ex-Senator James Webb of Virginia, and expected him to have more to say than he has. He is a combat veteran of Vietnam and was Secretary of the Navy under the Reagan administration before he turned Democrat because he thought Republicans were controlled by the plutocracy.
[This just in: Webb dropped out of the Democratic Presidential race and may run as an independent.]
His opinions are the opinions of an intelligent military man who does not question the goal of making the United States militarily supreme in the world. He correctly perceives that the attempts to occupy or control Middle East countries have led to quagmires that subtract from American strength. He doesn’t believe in the possibility of nation-building.
He questions the deal with Iran on the grounds that Middle East leaders will see it as a sign of weakness. Whenever anybody advocates doing something on the grounds that it is necessary in order to seem strong, it means there is no material reason for doing it. People and nations that really are strong don’t have to do things to seem strong.
Webb worries about the growth of Chinese power in the South China Sea, and also about China as an economic competitor.
Neither he nor any other candidate has raised the question of Russian territorial claims in the Arctic, which is the one part of the world in which Russia is a threat to U.S. national interest. I hope large-scale oil drilling in the Arctic will not be necessary, but it is to the U.S. interest that as much of those decisions as possible be made in Washington or Ottawa rather than Moscow.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky says some good things, but he seems to be trying to strike a balance between the non-interventionism of his father, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and the militarism of the mainstream Republican Party.
He stated in a major foreign policy article last year that he is opposed to going to war without a declaration of war, and he thinks the invasion of Iraq and the attack on Libya were mistakes.
He says the world does not have “an Islam problem,” but “a dignity problem,” with so many people in majority-Muslim countries being treated like chattels by their governments. This is not a problem that can be solved with bombs, he rightly says. He doesn’t believe in the possibility of nation-building, either.
He is opposed to arming supposedly moderate rebels in Syria. He favors bombing ISIS forces, but says that only people in the region can defeat ISIS. He opposed the nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.
Paul favors continuation of sanctions against Russia, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, free trade with China and a substantial increase in the military budget.
All very interesting. But neither Clinton, Sanders, Trump, Webb or Rand Paul offers a path to peace.
The real peace candidate is Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a former liberal Republican turned Democrat. He was the only Republican in the Senate to vote against authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq, and the only one to vote against the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which denies habeas corpus rights to “enemy combatants”.
He opposes expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. He favors making peace with Iran, similar to President Nixon’s approach to China. He favors making peace with the Russian Federation, and having Russia join the European Union.
I think Rand Paul, James Webb, Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump raise points that are worth discussing. But, among the candidates, only Lincoln Chafee is willing to consider what it would take to make the United States a country for which peace and not war was regarded as the normal state of affairs.
And I wonder whether even Chaffee realizes the power of the vested interests, in and out of government, in the current war policy.
There has to be a change in American public understanding of the world for there to be a change in American foreign policy, and even then change wouldn’t be automatic. Anything that contributes to better understanding, however seemingly ineffectual, is a good thing—I guess.
Donald Trump is much derided – but he is right about the Middle East by Patrick Cockburn for The Independent.
Trump’s Biggest Lie: ‘I’m The Most Militaristic Person’ In This Race by Gene Healy for The Federalist. Most of the other Republican candidates are much more militaristic and irresponsible than Trump.
To End Wars – Trump vs. Sanders by Pat Buchanan.
Hillary Clinton will pull the Democrats – and the country – in a hawkish direction by Zack Beauchamp for Vox.
A Conversation With James Webb, an interview by Jacob Weisberg for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Webb drops out of Democratic race, will explore independent bid by David Jackson for USA Today.
The Case for Conservative Realism by Rand Paul for The National Interest (2014)
Lincoln Chafee: The Heir Apparent to Ron Paul on Foreign Policy? by Ron Rubino for the Huffington Post.
Lincoln Chafee Wikipedia article. This was the only place I could find a complete outline of Chafee’s foreign policy views, and this includes his campaign web site.