Lincoln Chafee photo

Remarks Announcing Candidacy for President at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia

June 03, 2015

Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Bob and Mark, very much. A farrier puts shoes on horses. And after college, I worked on the horse racetrack for seven years. Great experience in my life. Very valuable experience in my life. And it is a great pleasure to be here, and thank you for inviting me.

Mixing foreign policy and politics is an invitation I could not pass up. It's a pleasure to be here for the George Mason University, which is named for one of the many great contributors to the best form of government on earth.

As prescribed by our Constitution, which George Mason helped write, we will be electing a new president in 2016. I enjoy challenges, and certainly we have many facing America. Today, I'm formally entering the race for Democratic nomination for president. Thank you. [applause]

If we as leaders show good judgment and make good decisions, we can fix much of what is ailing us. We must deliberately and carefully extricate ourselves from expensive wars. Just think of how better this money could be spent. For instance, our transportation network is deteriorating and becoming dangerous. We should be increasing our investment and priority in public schools and colleges. This is especially important in some of our cities, where there's a gnawing sense of hopelessness, racial injustice and economic disparity. We can and should do better for Native Americans, new Americans and disadvantaged Americans.

Let's keep pushing to get health care coverage to more of the uninsured. We can address climate change and extreme weather, while protecting American jobs. I believe that these priorities -- education, infrastructure, health care, environmental stewardship and a strong middle class are Americans' priorities.

Now, I'm also running for president because we need to be very smart in these volatile times overseas. I'd like to talk about how we found ourselves in the destructive and expensive chaos in the Middle East and North Africa. And then offer my views on seeking a peaceful resolution.

There were 23 Senators who voted against the Iraq war in October of 2002. Eighteen of us are still alive, and I'm sure every one of us has their own reasons for voting no. I'd like to share my primary three.

The first reason is that the long, painful chapter of the Vietnam era was finally ending. This is my generation. And the very last thing I wanted was any return to the horrific bungling of event into which we put our brave fighting men and women.

In fact, we had a precious moment in time where a lasting peace was within our grasp. Too many Senators forgot too quickly about the tragedy of Vietnam.

The second reason that I learned -- the second reason I voted against Iraq War Resolution is that I learned in the first nine months of the Bush-Cheney administration, prior to September 11th, not to trust them.

As a candidate, Governor Bush had said many things that were for the campaign only. governing would be a lot different. For example, a campaign staple was, "I'm a uniter, not a divider." He said clearly that his foreign policy would be humble, not arrogant,

And he promised to regulate carbon dioxide, a climate change pollutant. These promises were all broken early days of his administration. And sadly, the lies never stopped. This was an administration not to be trusted.

My third reason for voting against the war was based on a similar revulsion to mendacity. Many of the cheerleaders for the Iraq War and the Bush administration had been writing about regime change in Iraq and American unilateralism for years. They wrote about it in the 1992 Defense Planning Guide, in the 1996 report to Prime Minister Netanyahu, in the 1997 Project for a New American Century, and in the 1998 letter to President Clinton.

A little over a month before the vote on the war, back in 2002, I read an article in The Guardian by Brian Whitaker. Listen to this. Quote:

In a televised speech last week, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt predicted devastating consequences for the Middle East if Iraq is attacked. "We fear a state of disorder and chaos may prevail in the region," he said. Mr. Mubarak is an old-fashioned kind of Arab leader. In the brave new post-September 11th world he doesn't quite get it. What on earth did he expect the Pentagon hawks to do when they heard his words of warning? Throw up their hands in dismay? Gee, thanks, Hosni, we never thought of that. Better call the whole thing off right away." They're probably still splitting their sides with laughter in the Pentagon.

But Mr. Mubarak and the hawks do agree on one thing. War with Iraq could spell disaster for several regimes in the Middle East. Mr. Mubarak believes that would be bad. The hawks though believe that would be good. For the hawks disorder and chaos sweeping through the region would not be an unfortunate side effect of the war with Iraq, but a sign that everything is going according to plan"

End quote. It's bad enough that the so-called neocons, most of whom had never experienced the horror of war were so gung ho. But worse yet was that they didn't have the guts to argue their points straight up to the American people. They knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, but they wanted their war badly enough to purposely deceive us.

After reading The Guardian article, I asked for a briefing from the CIA. I said, "I have to vote on this war resolution in a couple of weeks. Show me everything you have on weapons of mass destruction." So I went down to the CIA in Langley, and after an hour-long presentation, the answer was not much. Flawed intelligence is completely inaccurate. It was no intelligence. Believe me. I saw everything they had.

It's heartbreaking that more of my colleagues failed to do their homework. And incredibly, the neocon proponents of the war who sold us on the false premise of weapons of mass destruction, are still key advisers to presidential campaigns today.

So now, without a doubt, we have prodigious repair work to do in the Middle East and North Africa. We have to change our thinking. We have to find a way to wage peace. Let's have a rewrite of the neocons Project for a New American Century. It is essentially the opposite of everything proposed in the original. We will be honest and tell the truth. We will be a good international partner and respect international agreements.

The 70th anniversary of the United Nations is June 26th, in a few weeks. In the preamble to the U.N. charter says to "unite our strength to maintain peace and security." We can do that -- unite our strength to maintain peace and security.

Let's reinvigorate the United Nations and make the next 70 years even better. As part of our efforts to wage peace in this new American century, let's be bold. Some of our bravest and most patriotic Americans are our professional diplomats stationed all over the world. It isn't an easy career, and they deserve the best in support and respect.

As president, I would institute a ban on ambassadorships for sale. That means no more of these posts going to big political donors. I want the best trained people doing this important work. And it's critical that the integrity of the Office of Secretary of State never be questioned.

I want America to be a leader and an inspiration for civilized behavior in this new century. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions, which means we will not torture prisoners. Our sacred Constitution requires a warrant before unreasonable searches, which includes our phone records. Let's enforce that, and while we're at it, allow Edward Snowden to come home.

Extrajudicial assassinations by drone strike are not working. Many blame them for the upheaval in Yemen. And Pakistan is far too important a player for us to antagonize with these nefarious activities. They are not worth the collateral damage and toxic hatred they spread. Let's stop them.

For me, waging peace includes negotiating fair trade agreements that set standards for labor practices, environmental protections, preventing currency manipulation and protection of intellectual property among others.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has the potential to set fair guidelines for the robust commerce taking place in the Pacific Rim. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, many of the former Soviet republics, especially Ukraine, have been caught in a tug of war between Europe and Russia.

I believe stronger efforts should be made to encourage Russian integration, into the family of advanced industrial nations, with the objective of reducing tensions with between Russia and its neighbors. To wage peace in our own hemisphere, I would repair relations with Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. As part of that rapprochement, let's unite with all our experience to rethink the war on drugs.

Obviously, eradication, substitution and interdiction aren't working. Let's have an active, open-minded approach to drug trafficking that can corrupt everything, from the courts to the banks to law enforcement in our hemisphere.

And appropriately the United Nations is planning a special General Assembly meeting next year on the subject.

In this new American century, let's join the many countries who have banned capital punishment. Congratulations to Nebraska for your leadership.

Earlier I said, "Let's be bold." Here's a bold embrace of internationalism. Let's join the rest of the world and go metric. I happened to live in Canada, and they've completed the process. Believe me, it's easy. It doesn't take long before 34 degrees is hot. [laughter]

Only Myanmar, Liberia and the United States aren't metric. And it will help our economy.

In this new American century, it's very important to have a ready and strong military. The eagle on our great seal holds both arrows and an olive branch. Let's lead responsibly with a commitment to our unwavering defense and our peaceful purposes.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, "I refuse to accept the cynical notion after nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction."

He asked, "Where do we go from here. Chaos or community?"

Our challenges are many and formidable. Let's wage peace in this new American century. Thank you for inviting me. [applause]

Q: Hello! So you said earlier that you wanted to establish more FTAs, like you know the way we establish good trade agreements and protect intellectual property rights. So my question is, obviously we can work out those agreements amongst other countries, but how will this effect countries like the US because the US heavily subsidizes agricultural products, and then in turn dumps it on these other economies, to where the farmers in these other economies are trying to compete really, really hard to sell their products, when the other people in their countries can just go buy the US products which are so much cheaper. So in part of these trade agreements, would it involve the US not dumping its subsidized agricultural products, or any other subsidized products, on the countries we have the agreements with?

Chafee: Good question, what's your name?

Q: Olivia.

Chafee: I think that's the whole point — to create a level playing field on negotiating these free trade agreements. And, that's exactly the point.

And of course, many of these subsidies will take congressional action and that's, uh, when I was in the United States Senate something we certainly dealt with many, many times. Very, very controversial some of these subsidies for agricultural products in particular. It's a good question.

Q: Hello. If you do become president what will your first priority be during your term?

Chafee: As I said in my statement here, of course domestic issues are critical. What's happening in our inner cities and with our middle class and the disparity of wealth, what's happening with climate change. It's all very, very important.

But of course, right there at the top is what's happening overseas also and some of these wars which are very expensive, very destructive, and as I said, I think we entered into very, very unnecessarily under false premises.

So we've got to fix that which then provides some of the opportunity and revenue to put into more beneficial ways in my view.

Q: Thank you.

Chafee: Good question.

Q: [On LGBT issues]

Chafee: Yes, I've had a great record of supporting LGBT issues, and to me it wasn't only a civil rights issue but also an economic issue and you certainly want a tolerant society if you're attract the best people to stimulate your economy.

And as governor, I pushed for marriage equality, gay marriage, and my state took a while. Very, very controversial. We finally got it through.

But I always argued not only was it fair in the civil rights issue and doing the right thing but it was going to help our economy.

And the same is relevant to your question about the military — we want the best.

And to your question about transgender, absolutely, we want the best fighting men and women in our military.

[On what he thinks it means to be a progressive and how he would address the problem of growing income inequality]

Chafee: That's one of the key questions of our time now — what's happening with the struggling Americans trying to get by and college tuitions and the debt they come out of college with while many, many Americans are just doing fabulously.

And I think the key was when I came into the Senate we had previous administrations going back to H.W. Bush, President Clinton fought to get to surpluses. And President Bush came in with Richard Cheney and all of sudden they have these monstrous tax cuts $1.6 trillion tax cuts which favored the wealthy.

It made no sense to me and I voted against every single one of those Bush-Cheney tax cuts when they came in because we finally got to surpluses, the last thing I want to do — and the wealthy are doing just fine — is to get back into deficits and widen that disparity of wealth.

And so a lot of it is in tax policy — how you address income inequality.

There's a lot of other ways — raising the minimum wage, which I voted for time and time again. I think every time I was in the Senate. And as governor, we raised it three times in my administration. And so there are different ways.

But certainly tax policy is one of the very, very important ways to address our disparity of wealth.

Include education, making sure we keep our tuitions down so people can afford to go not only to local George Masons of the world but community colleges and all the public institutions with low tuitions. That's what made America great, being able to go to your local public institution of higher education and not come out with enormous debt.

[On using the military to prevent genocide and crimes against humanity]

Chafee: Every place is different, and how you intervene is going to depend on the location.

When I was in the Senate, we had many Liberians were in Rhode Island. We have one of the largest Liberian populations — Liberians, West Africa — in Rhode Island. And so it's very interest what's happened in Liberia — civil war. And just a little bit of intervention, mostly by the United Nations I'd say. United Nations coming into Liberia. They were able to stop that long, brutal, horrendous civil war in Liberia.

So it depends on the location and how we're going to intervene.

Right now, after a loss of credibility, no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, I think it's difficult for the United States to intervene because of that tremendous loss of credibility in the region.

[On the role of American allies]

Chafee: ...That's the big international question. How do we fix this?

The neocons gave us their chaos — everything's going according to plan.

And my fear, as I said, that the same people that advocated for this are now advising other presidential campaigns including the main Democratic candidate.

And so to your question, it's going to take international cooperation...that's my proposal. Reinvigorate the United Nations and see what we can come out of those discussions.

We certainly have chaos in that region right now and across North Africa — Libya, Boko Haram in Nigeria.

[On the war on drugs]

Chafee: Well, I don't to be honest. I want to listen to those people in the neighborhood. And as I said, the United Nations is going to have next year a special General Assembly on the issue. I think that's exactly what should be happening. You know, let's get in and combine our collective thoughts on what has worked, what hasn't.

Certainly eradication. Many of the countries are banning that — the spraying. They don't want it any more.

Interdiction — some of the countries like Ecuador has kicked us out of our post on the seashore of Ecuador.

And it's a substitution. It's the common sense of if you can make more money growing one thing it's going to be hard to substitute for something you're not growing.

So those have been the key of our approach to the drug trafficking.

And so I think get us all together.

Uruguay is doing some very revolutionary things with their laws regarding this trafficking.

But without a doubt, what I said, the corruption gets into the courts, into the banks, into the law enforcement — undermines everything that we want to happen — everything good that we want to happen in the region.

[On how Chafee would help the working poor, the homeless, and those who are incarcerated]

Chafee: ...When I talked about helping in different ways and I said in my speech helping disadvantaged Americans, that's the population you're talking about, I'd like to be able to find a way to pay for it. How are we going to be able to pay for those beneficial social programs? How are we going to pay for good educational programs? How are we going to pay for that safety net?

So what I'm proposing here is how to pay for it. Let's get out of these wars and redirect those funds and those revenues back to growing the middle class and giving the disadvantaged Americans, Native Americans on the reservations, a better life. We can do it.

[On forging new relationships with Native Americans and new Americans]

Chafee: Well, for new Americans, a path to citizenship is the first thing we want to accomplish for the 11 million or so that are out there living in the shadows get a path to citizenship. And I was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill back when I was in the Senate offered by John McCain from the border state of Arizona and Ted Kennedy. McCain-Kennedy bill. Path to citizenship.

And there are only 9 of us who originally sponsored it and I was one of the 9. It was a bipartisan group either way. So that's the first thing.

For Native Americans on reservation, deep, deep social issues that we have to address and it always takes resources and a caring and a commitment, and I believe we as Americans should do that.

[On climate change]

Chafee: The first way to address climate change is in our power plants. It's the biggest way we can address climate change. The carbon dioxides coming out of our electricity-generating power plants.

And when I was in the Senate, Tom Carper from Delaware and I had a bill to do that. Carper-Chafee bill.

And as I mentioned, President Bush had promised to designate carbon dioxide as a pollutant — the fourth pollutant. He promised in a campaign speech.

...He made the former governor of New Jersey, Gov. Whitman his EPA administrator, and Administrator Whitman then started to go around the country on Sunday talk shows and the like, talking about how we're going to regulate carbon dioxide.

Back when I was a Republican, I was at a Republican breakfast with the Senators, and Vice President Cheney attended. This was very early days...Gov. Whitman had been going around. And the Republican Senators were all over the Vice President — "What is he talking about carbon dioxide?" And he finally stood up and said "Look, I'm going to come out with my new energy policy and we're not going to regulate carbon dioxide."

I just about fell off my chair. All of the Senators stood up and started cheering "Yeah!"

And "Wait a sec. Didn't you promise in your campaign and Gov. Whitman just took you on your word?"

So when I talk about not trusting them on weapons of mass destruction, that was a big reason why I didn't. You don't go before the people and say something when you're campaigning and just change it weeks into your administration.

...How we address climate change? The biggest way is through putting carbon dioxide as a pollutant on the electricity generating power plants around the country. It's a major cause right.

[On whether Chafee has plans to promote racial integration in America and housing discrimination]

Chafee: Yes, to think that I quoted Martin Luther King in 1964 and all the work that the non-violent marches and all the benefits that came out of that and we're still struggling with this issue.

We just have to refocus. What's happening in Baltimore, what's happened in Ferguson, what's happened in north Charleston. It helps us to refocus on this issue.

My view — the short term fixes don't work. The zero tolerance type of things — they don't work. And we see that.

It's going to be a long-term approach. And my view is education — investment in education in these inner cities, and a lot of that has to do with career and technical schools now. Different opportunities. Let's mix in the opportunities in what are now career and technical schools. Big effort on getting our youngsters to stay through in something that they like and enjoy and give them those options, and career and technical schools can do that.

Good new initiative that's occurring. A rethinking on how we can keep these youngsters from getting into the gangs and the hopelessness and the disenfranchisement and the brutality of the police by a few of them as they struggle with these gang issues.

[On Hillary Clinton's email scandal]

Chafee: As I said, I think our diplomatic corps right now because of what happened with the lies and the prevarications on weapons of mass destructions and how other countries naturally — why should they trust us? We weren't honest with them. We got into this war on false pretenses.

And so our State Department has to just be above all controversy.

And it's regrettable to me what's happening now — with emails, with the foundation that affects decision-making coming out of State.

We just can't have that. We have to repair our credibility, and it starts with the diplomatic corp.

We really need to just get back the respect and admiration of the international community. We still have a lot of it but we squandered a lot also.

[On how to normalize relations between Russia and its Eastern European neighbors]

Chafee: Well, it's lucky after I left the Senate and I worked at the Brown Watson Institute for International Studies and while I was there I also served on a board that advised Ukraine on good government issues. So I've been there many a dozen times to Kyiv, Lviv in the west, and then Donetsk in the east where all the fighting is now.

And every time I went there, I had this feeling about this tug of war. And to me, it just didn't make sense. The Cold War is over. The Berlin wall has come down.

Let's integrate Russia so these other countries aren't in this tug of war going on.

And how do we do that? First, just don't make mistakes, and I think we've made some mistakes with Russia.

At one time, as I said, we had before Sept. 11th the possibility of a very, very peaceful world.

And maybe I could just take a second, if I could. It helps answer this question.

When I was in the Senate, the Prime Minister of Italy came to address us in a joint session. So Congressmen and Senators got there. And this is what the Prime Minister said — it's a little long but I think it helps address your question.

"In 2001 — so this is before Sept. 11 — in the early days of my second government, I was called to chair the G-8 Summit in Genoa. After the conclusion of the summit's official program, the final dinner became a dinner among friends. At one point that evening...I sat back slightly from the table almost an external observer in order to enjoy the cordial discussion among the leaders of the largest industrial countries of the world. President Bush was chatting amiably with Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima were but a distant memory. Prime Minister Blair was joking with Chancellor Schroeder. And the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin was also talking with President Bush. The tragedy of the Second World War and the Cold War which had lasted for so many years was forgotten. I felt great pleasure inside. I thought the world had in fact changed and how different and peaceful was the world we were handing to our children. An age of lasting peace beckoned."

I'm sitting in my chair listening to him say that and I'm thinking "That's exactly how I felt." Bush and Schroeder and Putin and Koizumi and Blair and I go "My gosh." And he includes Putin.

So we had a chance of everybody getting together. We made some mistakes. We presented the restart button at the wrong label. It was a big mistake in my view. Diplomatic. You remember that incident?

So just have more repair work to do — get back and try and get back to what the Prime Minister of Italy talked about there. We can do it. We had it in our hands at one time. An age of lasting peace for our children. What could be better than that?

[On switching to the metric system]

Chafee: One, it's a symbolic integration of ourselves into the international community after the mistakes of the last 10, 14 years. The mistakes that we have made internationally. So it's symbolic that we're going to do something different here in the United States.

And then of course, for the economy. Scientists are all working in metric, because they have to deal internationally. It's just very hard for many of our exporters and businesses to have to deal with two ways of measuring.

So economically, it'll help pay for these science — of course that question's a natural. Of all the things we have to do in this country, how can you talk about changing science and the cost that come with it. But the economic benefit will help pay for that.

And why would Canada do it? I was there in Canada when they did it. Why would they do it if there wasn't an economic benefit?

34's hot.

And I'm not saying that we have to do it tomorrow but I think it should aspire to in this new American century that I'm talking about where we reach out to the rest of the world, that we're not arrogant and unilateral as some would propose we be and it's always America's way or the highway.

And it's a symbolic — and I just don't think Canada wouldn't have done it if the cost was that high.

It's not that hard. I hear you though. There's a cost involved.

I would argue that the economic benefits would outweigh it and the symbolic benefits.

[On reinvigorating the diplomatic corp]

Chafee: ...I think it was former Secretary Gates who said "Our foreign policy is too militarized". And that's kind of what I'm seeing also.

We need to rethink our Department of State and how we act around the world.

And become good listeners. It's so important.

These people are so skilled. When I served on the Foreign Relations Committee, I was lucky to travel around the country, and these people in these embassies — these young people coming up through the foreign service, they're so knowledgeable what's happening on the ground in these countries. And they're extremely valuable to what I would propose our efforts to wage peace.

I want to empower them. I think if you worked your whole career and somebody happen to give a bundle of a million dollars comes in above you and becomes the Ambassador of the country that you've been waiting, I just don't think that's right.

[On U.S.-China relations]

Chafee: They're kind of the like the America of the industrial revolution. They're just growing so fast. And so we just have to understand that — that the speed of what's happening in that country.

Just think with understanding what's happening in their country and constant dialogue, I think we're doing a lot of the right things.

I know of course what's happening with the South China Sea and some of the islands there. But we just keep working — good dialogue. And some of the currency manipulation issues that we have. And how we can have mutually beneficial programs is the key.

[On U.S. aid for developing nations]

Chafee: Yes, of course. We have a role to play by virtue of our enormous economy we have here and our great technology that we have in this country. So we have that responsibility.

But ultimately, I'm a big advocate of internationalism and reinvigorating the United Nations and that's an area that they excel with UNICEF and the different programs they have in helping earthquakes and tsunamis and different things — disasters around the world.

But we certainly by virtue of our strength economically have a major role to play and we have — we have over the years.

[On undocumented immigrants]

Chafee: I mentioned earlier that McCain-Kennedy — it's old — but I was just looking at it the other day and it's still relevant. It had all the parameters that help it get passed. I don't know why we couldn't get it passed back then. But it's not only a path to citizenship but you have border security. I think there was some funding to help learn English.

All the pieces that are good and to thwart some of the criticisms of helping our people who live in the shadow get back into paying taxes and into the normal life that we want everybody to have here.

[On what differentiates Chafee from other Democratic candidates]

Chafee: I'd like to say it's really three things.

It's your record, which I have a 30-year record at the local level. I was a councilman, a mayor, and then at the state level I was a governor, and then at the federal level I was a Senator. So it's your record. I open my record to scrutiny.

And then it's your character. I open my trustworthiness over that 30 years in fulfilling what I say on the campaign trail to what I do when I'm elected.

And then thirdly, your vision. And hopefully, I've outlined a little bit here of my vision of where America fits in the world and how we can then use that better to help us here domestically.

Your record — that's what should be judged on. How have you performed? And your character. Have you been ethical? And what's your vision?

I think those are the three keys, and elections are about choices and that's the way it should be. I'm happy to join the choices out there.

Lincoln Chafee, Remarks Announcing Candidacy for President at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/310142

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