Lincoln Chafee: Stop Endless Wars To Deal With Coronavirus Pandemic

An NYPD officer is pictured as the USNS Comfort is pulled into a berth in Manhattan during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 30, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Lincoln Chafee: Stop Endless Wars To Deal With Coronavirus Pandemic

But the former governor and Libertarian candidate doesn’t think anyone else can do that.


Lincoln Chafee once shared a debate stage with Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. This year, he’s running for President again—as a Libertarian.

Small government is not a popular position to take in the face of a terrifying pandemic. But the former Rhode Island governor thinks that the Libertarian message of responsibility is actually well-suited for dealing with the coronavirus outbreak. And he feels vindicated in his message of ending America’s resource-draining overseas wars. 


The former Rhode Island governor is the candidate with the highest national profile in a crowded Libertarian race, which has been dominated by the academic Jacob Hornberger and performance art prankster Vermin Supreme. Below is a lightly-edited transcript of the conversation between Chafee and the National Interest.

Your campaign slogan is "end the wars, end the reckless spending, tell the truth." I think that's a pretty good summary of what's consistently been your message throughout your political career. I'm wondering why you think these are the three issues that you want to put at the forefront.

Well, now more than ever, these issues are relevant, and with the $24 trillion deficit, we're just unprepared for what is inevitable. These crises that occur, whether it's Katrina, or a health crisis such as we have now, we have to be prepared and have the resources available. Now, we're just adding $2 trillion to what is a record deficit.

That deficit was built up largely by our adventures overseas, and the high cost of veterans coming home, the need for post-traumatic stress disorder help, and other issues that veterans have been dealing, especially since the Vietnam War—it's all very predictable.

They all come together. If we could have a more peaceful world such as we did in the 90s after the breakup of the Soviet Union, that's when we had our surpluses, because of the peace dividend. Now, more than ever, it's relevant to curtail our military aggression and take care of issues here at home.

It's interesting that you brought up the need to have resources for health crises because I think Americans might be taking the opposite lesson [from the coronavirus crisis]. Now, there are people clamoring for government help. Unemployment might reach thirty percent and Congress just passed a multi-trillion dollar stimulus bill in response to coronavirus. Do you think Americans should be taking the opposite lesson, that we can't spend our way out of a crisis?

In the crash of 08, different countries addressed it differently. That argument has been made recently. Germany and some of these other countries were not as generous with their stimulus packages. We were.

I think history would show that the corporations here rebounded well after the crash of 08, but the middle class did not. Maybe we learned some lessons in this stimulus, our multi-trillion dollar package is better-tailored than the one crafted after the crash of 08. We shall see.

Looking to the future, if we can have a more peaceful world, and change our policies from the Project for a New American Century—that we're going to be the policeman of the world and dictate to the rest of the world, the philosophy that came in with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney—a change that, then we can have better surpluses such as we had in the 90s.

I think that actually has a lot more consensus support among Americans than cutting spending right now. The Democratic debates, you pretty much had all the candidates, at least rhetorically embracing "ending endless wars." You have Republicans with similar rhetoric, and you have Congress for the first time forever passing war powers resolutions—two in the past two years. Are you optimistic about the direction of American foreign policy?

Unfortunately, I'm not optimistic, because Trump is vowing to veto the bills you mentioned, the War Powers Act, enforcing it since 1973, especially in Yemen. It's been difficult getting the votes. There are Republicans, Mike Lee and others, that have been on it, but Democrats have been opposed.

[Editor's note: The Yemen war powers resolution passed with unanimous Democratic support, but several Democrats voted against the Iran war powers resolution. President Donald Trump has vetoed the Yemen resolution, and is promising to veto the Iran resolution.]

So no, I'm not optimistic. President Obama ran on an anti-war platform, and nothing changed. Over the next eight years, nothing changed. The Bush policies continued—torture of prisoners, extraordinary extradition of foreigners, drone strikes. They escalated, in fact. Trump promised to have change also, and now he's blocking enforcement of the 1973 War Powers Act.

So, I'm not optimistic. Nothing changes. That's why I'm running as a Libertarian. The Libertarian Party's been very very consistent over their decades of history of non-intervention.

The Libertarians had a moment in the national media in the 2016 election. We had two historically polarizing candidates. A lot of people really were looking for an alternative. It seems this time, now, Trump is less polarizing than he was in 2016, and Joe Biden—he has baggage but it's less well-known than Hillary Clinton's. Do you think Libertarians can be even more successful than they were in 2016?

That's a good question. What happened, as you said in 2016—I think many Libertarians were disappointed that they couldn't crack five percent, couldn't make the threshold for the debates.

I think that 2020 has the potential to be different. The crisis that we're in now, the failure of both parties to be fiscally responsible. Trump's base has been so solid up until now. I know my friends that were avid Trump supporters are questioning his performance now.

I do think 2020 will be better than 2016—if I'm the nominee, to be frank.

How do you see the odds of that? It seems like Jacob Hornberger swept up Super Tuesday. Do you think you could make a comeback?

These are non-binding straw polls. The convention is different, and I'm new to the party. That's a liability for my campaign, being so new to the party, but I believe I make up for it with experience, and now, in the challenging times we're in, there's just no substitute for that kind of experience, and a record of performance under pressure.

I mean, yeah, you have a pretty distinguished political career, which actually brings me to one question I wanted to ask. Back in 2006, you opposed John Bolton's nomination as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Now we see with Iran and Venezuela and North Korea the fruits of Bolton's policy. Do you feel vindicated?

Absolutely. I never thought he was a good diplomat. Never would be anywhere near diplomacy. All the hearings about how he—when he had the position as Undersecretary for Arms Control, whatever it was at the State Department, his performance there, absolute disqualifier for any kind of post trying to resolve conflict issues with cool heads.

Yet for three years he was given the second-most powerful position in the White House.

It definitely questions the people that chose him. I couldn't believe when President Trump started mentioning John Bolton's name. Like a bad penny.

If you found yourself in the Oval Office come January, what do the first hundred days look like?

I have, in some ways, what some might consider a liability, but I consider it a liability, of having been a Republican, an Independent governor, and a Democratic candidate for President. The first hundred days would be what Abraham Lincoln did. Bring in the team.

That's one of the problems this country has, the rancid polarization of the two parties. Yes, they got the stimulus done. But nothing else positive is happening. Supreme Court justices and warfare. That's the first order of business.

I have legs in all camps, having been a Republican, an Independent, and a Democrat, and having a good team that can address the tremendous challenges we face.

Top three specific policy priorities?

Ending the wars, addressing the deficits, and protecting our constitutional liberties. Those are the Big Three for me. Any time you have a crisis, it seems our liberties get compromised, and that's another area the Libertarians are so strong on.

They all kind of come together. If you could end the wars, you could address the deficits, less reason to say, "security reasons, we're tapping your phones without warrants" or whatever the infringements might be. Whatever you might say about Edward Snowden, he certainly pointed out the illegal behavior of the government.

If you do secure the Libertarian nomination, what's your strategy look like in the general election?

Those three issues, I think, are appealing to Libertarians and also to the American public, to American voters. We all have to balance our books. We can't just keep printing money. I know, having been a governor and a mayor, you can't print money at the local level or the state level, and it has bad consequences.

I think everybody knows that in their heart. Not only does it cost us to pay the interest on the debt, which is $400 billion a year right now at low interest rates, but it's just not good for the long-term health of the economy.