A few weeks ago, I reviewed Ron Paul’s newest book, Liberty Defined. Today I’d like to add just a few further thoughts.
Most of Paul’s book focused on domestic policy. On these issues, I have no problem giving him my full support. I believe that his is the most consistent stance for the promotion of personal liberty of any candidate who’s come within range of the presidency since I’ve been eligible to vote.
However, the biggest knock most conservatives have against him — and my biggest reservation prior to reading his book — is his foreign policy. Here is a short list of complaints some people have against Dr. Paul, along with my take:
Foreign Aid — Ron Paul wants to end all (government) foreign aid, which strikes many as being heartless. This is really just an extension of his economic philosophy that also opposes most government domestic aid, such as welfare and FEMA. His belief in the free markets (and in the compassion of free people) leads to a conviction that the corporate and private sectors could and would provide relief in the case of a true emergency (natural disasters, refugees from persecution and war, etc). Most government aid is NOT in emergency situations, and is actually harmful rather than helpful. American “aid” hinders the economic growth and self-sufficiency of foreign nations. Government handouts are about as effective (and affordable) on a global scale as they are domestically… which is to say, not at all.
Military Non-Intervention — It’s no secret that Ron Paul wants to immediately bring troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq, and stop military operations in Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan (in his own words here). He’s been a vocal opponent of American military activity throughout his decades in Congress. Because of this, there is a perception that he is totally opposed to using the military at all. This is not the case. Paul is a proponent of Christian Just War Theory, and a veteran himself. His problem is that every U.S. military action since World War II has been unconstitutional. Constitutionally, our nation can only be at war by declaration of Congress, but no such declaration has been made in over 60 years. Our subsequent and ongoing “wars” have been, according to Paul, a dangerous abuse of executive power.
The basic difference here between Ron Paul and every other candidate is the difference between a foreign policy based on empiricism versus one based on trade (it all comes back to economics for Paul). Despite rhetoric to the contrary, both major political parties in this country have been engaged in nation building for decades. America has a military presence in nearly every country in the world, and seems intent on achieving “American interests” through military force across the globe.
Paul argues that this is counter-productive to our own best interest. Just as capitalism proposes that free trade thrives when individuals acting in their own self-interest agree to mutually beneficial trades, Paul proposes that the best way for America to promote her own interests is to trade freely with everyone. Furthermore, it would allow other nations to prosper as well, increasing goodwill toward America. Empiricism, he says, multiplies our enemies and creates barriers to free trade. In his opinion, our present military action around the world is accomplishing neither our safety or prosperity; free trade would foster both.
Support of Israel — In a similar vein, Ron Paul has been accused of being “anti-Israel” for proposing that America ought not be involved in giving Israel military or economic assistance or dictating borders with the Palestinian territories and other Arab states (see here and here). He believes that America is actually a bigger threat to Israel than her neighbors, because in our current relationship, Israel sacrifices much of her sovereignty to the United States, and must ask us before taking action to protect herself. Compounding the problem, our military presence in the Middle East and our favoring Israel over other nations stirs up dissent in the region.
Slightly separate from this political issue is an understanding among a large number of American Christians that the Bible obligates Christians to support the nation-state of Israel, which I have previously addressed. Those who believe this way are not likely to be satisfied by a foreign policy that does not continue the type of unconditional support and defense of Israel.
Misunderstanding Islam — This is one objection that I believe sticks. At several points in his book, Ron Paul states that Christians, Muslims, and Jews all worship the same God. I was disappointed to read that, because it is decidedly untrue. Paul supposes that by focusing on our commonalities rather than our differences, the adherents of the world’s three monotheistic religions could cooperate peacefully.
While I firmly agree that it is very possible for Jews, Muslims, and Christians to cooperate in some matters of mutual self-interest (and that this would be aided by the removal of American military presence in Arab and Jewish nations), it strikes me as a bit ignorant or naive to presume that there are not real and significant differences between these faiths. Each of these religions believes that it is the only way to Heaven, and that everyone else is damned to Hell. This is bound to cause conflict! I would like to hear Dr. Paul speak more as to how he would handle religiously-motivated conflict if it did persist despite his best efforts to promote peace.
He Looks Like a Weenie — To those who believe we need a leader who looks and sounds the part, I’m afraid there is no solution here. Ron Paul is in his 70’s, and is unlikely to develop an imposing figure and strong speaking voice. Would other nations take us seriously with Ron Paul at the helm? Let me flip this around: How are we doing with the imposing presidents we’ve had for the last three years, who all looked the part?
In Summary — Ron Paul is not a perfect candidate, but I have far fewer reservations about him now than I’ve had previously. Yes, his foreign policy is very different from what we’ve come to expect, but maybe that’s exactly what we need. I suggest that those who so strongly agree with his economic policies in the domestic arena give consideration to their logical extension into foreign policy. Ron Paul makes a compelling case, and I, for one, would like to see him get a chance to try it out.