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SURPRISE OF THE DAY: Lincoln Chafee Shoves John Bolton Around Senate Hearing Room Floor

OK -- Something interesting is going on with Lincoln Chafee. He just shoved John Bolton all over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing Room floor.

Must have had spinach and Wheaties this morning. Chafee was dogged in questioning John Bolton on his views about Israel-Palestine, about the root causes of the crisis in the Middle East, about Bolton's simple-minded use of the term "terrorism", and about Bolton's views of "shaping the Middle East" as one of the greatest challenges America faces.

Senator Chafee started off reading a Bolton statement that he made in the past where Bolton essentially blamed terrorism as the fundamental problem in the Middle East. Chafee said to Bolton: "You are a brilliant man. Terrorism is a device. Your statement makes no sense. Explain it."

Bolton gave a long and convoluted response but also stated: "There is no basis for peace in the Middle East now." He suggested that one of the reasons why the U.S. has resisted calls for immediate cease fire in the region is that it wants to generate a "comprehensive solution". He said "we need to use current circumstances as a fulcrum to move towards a more stable, longer term solution."

Chafee jumped back: "Can't you go any deeper? This isn't just terrorism. What about the history of terrorism in the region? What are the root causes?"

Bolton continued to duck the question. And jumped back to focus his answer on Hezbollah -- which he said has one foot in as political party, one foot in as military movement and that it would have to abandon its military part for peace to move forward.

Bolton sounded reasonable but still ducked Chafee's question.

So Chafee charged AGAIN.

Chafee said, "We have serious problems now. This is a conflagration. You are not answering my question. What are the root problems? What do we have to get to -- to get to a permanent peace? Is there anything deeper than just terrorism that you can identify as the root cause of the conflagration?

Bolton finally began to yield to Chafee's impressive pressure and focus.

Bolton said that the problem in the region is mostly that some nations continue to question "the right of israel to exist." Bolton stated that "the peace process is incomplete." He continued, "Israel is not able to complete full peace agreeements with its neighbors," and the leadership of Iran has threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

Chafee then told Bolton that the American Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad had recently testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and made the statement: "Shaping the Middle East is the defining challenge of our time."

Chafee asked Bolton if he agreed with Ambassador Khalilzad.

Bolton stated that he thought "shaping the Middle East" was 'one' of the significant challenges of our time, but intimated that WMD proliferation was another definining challenge that he worried about as much. He then turned his response into more criticism of Iran.

Then Chafee came out with a whopper on Palestine/Israel.

He asked Bolton if "he believed in a viable, contiguous Palestinian state existing side-by-side Israel."

Bolton repied that he does believe in a Palestinian state, but then obscured his answer with more about Hezbollah and its destabilization of the current situation.

Chafee then came back, again: "What has the US done about a contiguous Palestinian state?"

Chafee asked John Bolton if he thought that one of the root causes of our problems in the Middle East is our failure to make progress on a viable, contiguous Palestinian state existing peacefully, side-by-side next to Israel.

This is a remarkable and brave statement and query for Chafee to offer in these times.

Bolton responded somewhat constructively suggesting that "This is the time to look at "broader solutions" that could very well make progress on the Palestinian front as well." Bolton stated that discussions at the UN regarding Lebanon often include as well the Occupied Territories (Bolton's term).

While I happen to think that these issues ought not to be lumped together -- the fact that Chafee compelled Bolton to agree that a comprehensive solution was needed that resulted in a viable, contiguous Palestinian state was a very important exchange.

I would have been thrilled with Chafee's performance just as it was -- but THEN HE WENT ONE BETTER.

Lincoln Chafee said to Bolton that "he disagrees" with Bolton and does not see the administration putting "the effort put behind the rhetoric" that Bolton provided today.

Lincoln Chafee seems back in play to me. It may not be enough for him to reverse his vote -- but Chafee has certainly done more to open new territory in this battle than anyone else this morning.

Steve Clemons is publisher of the popular political blog, The Washington Note and editor of Bolton Watch at TPM Cafe.