The Plight of Christians in the Middle East

Ideas have consequences, and so do national policies. Ten years after our invasion of Iraq, many Americans remain largely unaware of the negative consequences of the interventionist foreign policy shared by our current President and his predecessor. Not least among these consequences is the increased persecution of Christians in Arab nations.

Andrew Noran’s recent article from The American Conservative, entitled How the Iraq War Became a War on Christians, shines much needed light on this particular fruit of American intervention overseas:

[O]n March 19, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced. Shortly after combat operations concluded on May 1, the real conflict began. Amid the chaos and sectarian violence that followed, Iraq’s Christians suffered severe persecution. Neither the military nor the State Department took action to protect them. In October 2003, human rights expert Nina Shea noted that religious freedom and a pluralistic Iraq were not high priorities for the administration, concluding that its “diffidence on religious freedom suggests Washington’s relative indifference to this basic human right.” Shea added, “Washington’s refusal to insist on guarantees of religious freedom threatens to undermine its already difficult task of securing a fully democratic government in Iraq”—more prescience that would be likewise disregarded.

The article goes on to show how the democratic governments we installed in the Middle East have been, for the most part, worse than the regimes they replaced. And how our country—during Republican as well as Democratic administrations—has refused to acknowledge the plight of Arab Christians as religious persecution, even as we continue to pursue a course of action in Syria that is resulting in the same consequences there.

For the record, I don’t believe that there has been malicious intent toward Middle Eastern Christians from either President Bush or President Obama, nor from the many American citizens who also support an interventionist foreign policy. Rather, I believe that the persecution being faced by our brothers and sisters in places like Iraq and Egypt is truly an unintended consequence. But there’s a difference between unintended and unforeseen. There were those who predicted such consequences prior to the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and have been consistently warning us about where such policies will lead us.

The question is, will we ever learn?

Why Most Conservatives Won’t Vote for Ron Paul

"We must change our foreign policy from one of interventionism and confrontation to cooperation and diplomacy."

Ron Paul is a kook.” “Ron Paul is crazy.” “Ron Paul is an isolationist.” “I like Ron Paul except on foreign policy.

We’ve all heard this before, right? Shoot, four years ago, you might have heard it from me. During the 2008 election cycle, I was all aboard the Paulwagon until I allowed myself to be talked off of it by talking heads who told me that Paul’s foreign policy was dangerous. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to look into it myself, believing instead the misleading summaries of his political opponents (and the pundits who supported them).

Having now rectified that situation, reading and listening in-depth to his own explanation of his foreign policy, it has gone from being the only reason I didn’t support him to being perhaps the primary reason I do support him.

For those of you who find yourselves today in the position I was in four years ago — appreciating Ron Paul’s economic policy but hesitant to buy into his foreign policy — allow me to show you what changed my mind. This may challenge many of your presuppositions, but I hope you’ll look into it with an open mind.

Warning: If you have fed yourself a steady diet of Hannity, Levin, Beck, et cetera, and actually believe that they are providing you with objective and factual information, this probably won’t help you. (But keep reading anyway, just in case!)

Isolationism vs. Noninterventionism

There are many reasons why people disagree with Paul’s foreign policy, but I think they fall into a few general categories. The first is a misunderstanding between the concepts of “isolationism” — which is how Paul’s position is often characterized by his opponents — and “noninterventionism”, which is the term Paul himself uses. Many of us remember the following exchange from one of the 2008 Republican debates, which, in a political culture that values sound bytes over sound policy, was probably a huge victory for the eventual nominee:

Wow… people like Ron Paul caused World War II? That is a scary thought! But is it true?

The implication behind the assertion that America “let” Hitler come to power through an “isolationist” policy is that Ron Paul’s foreign policy would allow evil men to come to power unchecked by the threat of violence from America’s world police peacekeeping forces. But let’s forget for the moment that Hitler came to power in a society wrecked by economic sanctions by promising to make Germany prosperous again, or that Japan was deeply and negatively impacted by American tariffs put in place during the 1930’s (interestingly enough the subject of Ben Stein’s economics lesson in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off), or that as recently as yesterday our President was pleading his case for economic sanctions against Iranjust as economic sanctions against Iraq were part of the foreign policy of Bill Clinton and both George Bush’s. The question we should be asking is that, if American foreign policy was responsible for WWII as many believe (a supposition I’m not necessarily willing to grant), is this the policy actually advocated by Ron Paul?

In fact, his position is nearly the exact opposite of that policy. See this excerpt from his book The Revolution:

It is easy to dismiss the noninterventionist view as the quaint aspiration of men who lived in a less complicated world, but it’s not so easy to demonstrate how current policies serve any national interest at all. Perhaps an honest examination of the history of American interventionism in the twentieth century, from Korea to Kosovo to the Middle East, would reveal that the Founding Fathers foresaw more than we think.

Anyone who advocates the noninterventionist foreign policy of the Founding Fathers can expect to be derided as an isolationist. I myself have never been an isolationist. I favor the exact opposite of isolation: diplomacy, free trade, and freedom of travel. The real isolationists are those who impose sanctions and embargoes on countries and peoples across the globe because they disagree with the internal and foreign policies of their leaders. The real isolationists are those who choose to use force overseas to promote democracy, rather than seeking change through diplomacy, engagement, and by setting a positive example. The real isolationists are those who isolate their country in the court of world opinion by pursuing needless belligerence and war that have nothing to do with legitimate national security concerns.

A week after his interaction with McCain shown above, Paul gave a more detailed explanation in a town hall meeting:

In a way, McCain was correct. Isolationism probably was a factor leading up to World War II. But today, it is the rest of the GOP candidates (not to mention the current administration) who advocate a similar foreign policy… though the nation-building is an added twist.

The Bipartisan Empire

Another reason that many Conservatives avoid Ron Paul is that they have been hoodwinked into thinking that you have to be a “Liberal” in order to be opposed to “preemptive” war. In other words, if you oppose social issues typically associated with the political Left (abortion, welfare, etc) then you must support wars of aggression as part of the Republican platform. Tom Woods did an excellent job addressing this in a video I posted yesterday, so I won’t go into much detail on this point.

One needs look no farther than Barack Obama — who authorized preemptive military action in Libya, Yemen, and Somalia, while escalating the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan — to see that being Liberal doesn’t rule out preemptive war (campaign promises to the contrary). The fact is: Empire-building is a bipartisan affair.

Whatever reasons one may have for supporting the expansion of the American Empire (to those who object to that term, what else can we call it when we have over 900 military bases in 130 countries?), the fact is that it is unsustainable. Here are just a few reasons why:

  • Economic — It is almost amusing that with so much talk of the need for budget cuts, it is political heresy to even consider cutting spending on the military. Yet with 60% of our 2012 budget going toward “National Security”, cuts coming only from the other 40% aren’t going to get us out of our economic woes.
  • Historical — No empire in history has survived for long being as widespread as we are (not that anyone has ever gotten close to the worldwide military presence we have). Whether from without or from within, empires always crumble, and there is no reason (other than blind nationalistic pride) to think that America would be any different.
  • Security — Many Americans seem to think that we need a vast network of overseas military bases to “keep America safe”. Assuming that at some point everyone would have to admit that there is such a thing as spending too much on “security”, one must ask when we will reach that point? Will it be when 100% of our budget is on security, or less than that? For me, at the very least, it would be some point long before we spent more on the military than every other nation in the world combined. I haven’t even touched on the idea of blowback (see video below) yet. It is very likely that our militarism actually makes us less safe. (This is also a good place to point out that Ron Paul differentiates between “defense” and “military” spending, and wants to actually increase spending on defense.) What will it take for you to feel “safe”?

The Dispensational Distortion

Evangelicals are particularly likely to steer clear of Ron Paul due to a perceived lack of support of Israel. Thanks to the relatively modern advent of dispensational theology, wide swaths of Christians (almost exclusively in America) have the notion that Scripture compels us to ally ourselves with the nation of Israel, to a fault. As I have written previously, I reject this idea, while remaining open to the acknowledgement that there may be many other reasons to support a political alliance with Israel.

Regardless of one’s views toward Israel, there remains the practical consideration of whether American Zionism is actually beneficial to Israel. Our current relationship has fostered such a dependency on America that we have undermined Israel’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, we continue to provoke Israel’s neighbors with our rhetoric and military presence, while providing Israel’s sworn enemies with seven times as much foreign aid as we give Israel. By what definition does this qualify as “support”?

Military Keynesianism

While the above three categories are reasons that “average” Conservative voters might have a problem with Paul’s foreign policy, this is the reason that the political establishment rejects it (and misrepresents it to the rest of us). The big-government spending philosophies of both parties require a constant stream of revenue flowing into the military-industrial complex. There exists the idea that war leads to economic prosperity as it provides jobs for a great many people, but the truth is that war never creates; it always destroys. The “prosperity” of wartime exists only because it creates a demand for products (bombs, bullets, bases, and many things that don’t start with “b”) that does not occur naturally within the market.

Ludwig von Mises once said, “War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings.” An earthquake puts builders to work. A cholera outbreak means more business for morticians. But are these a net benefit to the economy?

Our Keynesian drive to “stimulate” the economy through military spending requires perpetual war. Because of this, the American people have been trained to see vital threats to our national security around every corner. “Get them before they get us” has become our mantra. Anyone who says otherwise is accused of “not supporting the troops”.

Click to enlarge.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Our troops know it. That’s why they support Ron Paul more than all the other candidates combined. History proves it. Every former enemy with which we trade freely is now an ally. Morality demands it. Any foreign policy that fails to account for the human cost of war and economic sanctions is a deeply flawed policy. Economics will force the issue. As our debt spirals out of control, with military spending leading the way, something’s got to give. Our currency is being devalued by the rampant inflation necessary to maintain the status quo. There’s no such thing as something for nothing, and eventually our creditors will come calling — unless the Americans whose wealth is being stolen to fund the Empire first rise up and force our government to stop.

Bottom Line

Here’s the deal: You can’t say you agree with Ron Paul on economics but not on foreign policy. They are one and the same. If you’re wondering how someone can make so much sense when he talks about economics while being totally off base on his foreign policy, then you probably don’t understand his foreign policy. I don’t blame you: It’s complex, and you’re not often going to get the opportunity to hear it accurately represented by the mainstream media. So here are a few bullet points to help summarize it, followed by some suggested further reading:

  • Ron Paul is not anti-war. He agrees with the Constitution that war must be authorized and declared by Congress, and that once war is declared we should get in, win, and come home again. Every military conflict since WWII has been an unconstitutional use of force, expanding the power of the Executive at the expense of the Legislature.
  • Ron Paul is not anti-defense. He agrees with the Constitution that it is the role of the Federal government to “provide for the common defence”, but disagrees that aggressive, preemptive, undeclared wars fall into that category.
  • Ron Paul is not an isolationist. He agrees with our Founding Fathers that we should have “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.” (Thomas Jefferson)
  • Ron Paul is not naive. He understands that there is such a thing as evil in the world, but believes that peace and liberty are better tools for overcoming it than war and tyranny. “The glory of victory in a senseless war should never replace the dignity of peace in a sane world.” (from Liberty Defined)

For further reading, I suggest Paul’s books The Revolution: A Manifesto and especially A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship. But since you can’t read those before voting in tomorrow’s primary, this video serves as a great “crash course”!

Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” ~ James Madison, Political Observations, 1795

The Greatest Moral Failure of Our Time

Abortion.

If you’ve known me or followed my blog for any period of time, you’ll know where I stand morally on this issue. If you’d like a recap of my views on the morality of abortion, read this article and especially its followup. Today’s post presupposes that abortion is an evil practice, and will focus on candidates’ strategies for ending it.

How Did We Get Here?

Before getting into the pragmatic considerations, I think it’s important to get a little historical perspective. Before trying to figure out how to make abortion illegal, we should understand how it came to be legal in the first place.

First of all, it is important to note that the moral debate over abortion long predates the founding of America, and religion has always played an important role. John Calvin explicitly forbade abortion for theological reasons during the 16th century. Early Christians and Jews opposed abortion, though it was an accepted practice across the Roman Empire (along with infanticide and the abandoning of unwanted newborns).

There was never a time in our nation’s history when abortion was not practiced. During the colonial period, laws regarding abortion were varied and non-specific, but for the most part, it was considered to be murder.

Abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, though many conservatives (including myself) interpret the Fifth Amendment’s clause that “No person shall be deprived of life… without due process of law” to implicitly protect the life of the unborn (one of the reasons why the debate over personhood is so important). Rather, this issue, like all criminal and civil matters, was left in the hands of the states via the Tenth Amendment.

Early on, abortions were rare, restricted primarily by the widespread belief that abortion killed a living person. As the nation expanded, morality relaxed, and abortion became more prevalent. The first laws explicitly restricting abortion were passed (by state legislatures) in the 1820’s. By the end of the 19th century, the rate of abortions was decreasing. Though most states had enacted legislation regulating the practice, abortion opponents realized that laws were not enough. They were  primarily focused on education and religious conversion (an apparently effective strategy).

The tide turned back again in the early 20th century. Public sentiment began to sway in favor of abortion, helped in large part by copious amounts of money being spent on advertising by those who were getting rich off of abortions (just one of the many ways in which abortion and economics are closely related concerns). The laws on the books were largely unenforced, and fewer and fewer people spoke against the practice.

By the late 1960’s, a majority of Americans wanted legalized abortion. State after state passed legislation legalizing abortion (the first signed into law by California Governor Ronald Reagan). Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade overturned all state legislation, providing abortion on demand in all 50 states.

By that time, those advocating the right to life of America’s youngest citizens were vastly outnumbered. Though Catholics strongly opposed Roe v. Wade, few other Christians stood in the way. Even the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions recognizing the legitimacy of abortion in some circumstances; a position that, thankfully, began to change in the 1980’s.

Over the last three decades, the abortion debate has grown increasingly heated, becoming the single most important item on any politician’s platform in the eyes of many voters.

Much of this information comes from Marvin Olasky’s book Abortion Rites, summarized and excerpted here.

What Are Our Options?

Let me be clear… I do believe it is the government’s duty to criminalize abortion. Government is necessary because evil is a reality. Government is a blessing from God intended to restrain evil (Romans 13:3-4), a category into which abortion certainly fits. But there is, as they say, more than one way to skin a cat (also evil).

Ever since the political fight over abortion hit Prime Time, most people within the Pro-Life movement have sought a Federal solution: something that would instantly make abortion illegal in all 50 states by way of Congressional legislation or conservative nominees to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. This is the position of most within the mainstream GOP, just as it was for our last Republican President — who, by the way, was not able to make this happen despite enjoying six years with a strong Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, advocates removing the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to rule in this matter and returning the issue to the state legislatures. He has taken flak from many conservatives for his stance on abortion. He is often accused of not being “pro-life” enough because he does not favor a federal abortion ban. It is commonly claimed (even by those who supposedly favor small government) that the states could not adequately restrain abortion; only a national solution will do.

On the contrary, claims Paul in his 2010 book Liberty Defined (my review here):

I believe it is a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being… Demanding a national and only a national solution, as some do, gives credence to the very process that made abortions so prevalent. Ending nationally legalized abortions by federal court order is neither a practical answer to the problem, nor a constitutionally sound argument.

Certainly states are capable of effectively enforcing laws criminalizing violent behavior. There is no Federal law prohibiting rape or murder, but both are crimes in all 50 states. In America, if you kill somebody (who has been born), you will be prosecuted not by the United States, but by the state in which the crime took place. In fact, the only crimes prohibited by the U.S. Constitution were treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. Slavery was added to that list by the Thirteenth Amendment.

Why are we so opposed to the idea of returning jurisdiction of abortion to the states? Do we have so little confidence in our ability to govern ourselves locally?

I suspect the real reason is that we realize that in order for abortion to become illegal in all 50 states, we would have to engage in the difficult work of winning hearts and minds in the court of public opinion — something requiring much more dedication and perseverance than merely casting a vote for a candidate who claims to be pro-life. Few have the fortitude to engage in this duty, which is the fruit of generations of Americans who similarly neglected this responsibility.

It is time for us to realize that Dr. Paul is correct in agreeing with the 19th century pro-life advocates as he writes: “Legislation… will not stop all abortions. Only a truly moral society can do that.” We will never have a “truly moral society” until Christ returns, but we can reverse the moral decline of our nation, if only we realize that the solution is the Gospel, not the GOP.

Who Can We Trust?

Tactics aside, which candidates can we reliably trust to defend the unborn? Surely we aren’t just taking them at their word. After all, even Barack Obama has said (repeatedly) that his desire is to reduce the number of abortions in this country. All four GOP candidates say they oppose abortion. Which have consistent records to back that up?
Newt Gingrich — whose unrepentant serial adultery ought to cast plenty of doubt on his moral judgment — does not generally emphasize the abortion issue. Though he now says that he opposes abortion in all cases, he stated in 1995 that he supported federal funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the health of the mother.

Mitt Romney has similarly (and famously) changed his views on abortion. After previously supporting abortion “rights”, Romney began to describe himself as pro-life. Romney, like Paul, opposes a federal abortion ban, preferring to leave the matter to the states.

Unlike Gingrich and Romney, I do not doubt Rick Santorum’s personal convictions on this matter (though his wife’s views have certainly changed). I admire his willingness to take a stand against abortion. I just think his tactics are poor. Furthermore, I think his record of big government spending reflects a basic lack of understanding of how economics is inseparable from other ethical issues. This is evidenced by his recent defense of (and even bragging about) his vote to fund Title X family planning services. Though he says that his vote was to provide non-abortive contraceptives, the fact remains that funds are fungible, and that one of the beneficiaries was Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America.

Ron Paul was pro-life long before it was cool. His strong convictions stem from an experience during his residency as a young OB/GYN in the 1960’s, in which he witnessed a botched abortion. The baby survived outside the womb, but was left to die by the medical personnel. This deeply troubled him, and led him to conclude that there could be “no consistent moral basis to the value of life” in a society that allowed abortion. As a libertarian physician, he urged other doctors to refuse to participate in abortion regardless of its legality, and to resume the practice of taking the Hippocratic oath, which includes a pledge not to do abortions, and which his med school graduating class (like so many others) had ignored.

From the beginning of his career as a politician, he has repeatedly asserted that personal liberty is impossible where abortion is condoned. This is most notable in his book Abortion and Liberty (available free online here), published way back in 1983, and in this 1981 short essay entitled “Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty”. His strong (yet unheralded) Christian faith and track record on abortion, combined with his pragmatic, Constitutional plan to restrain violence against the unborn ought to give every lover of life and liberty cause to rally behind him.

Where Should We Go From Here?

There is no doubt in my mind that abortion is the greatest moral failure of our time. It is to our generation what slavery was to William Wilberforce’s. It is our culture’s ethical blind spot. If we hope to see the practice end in our lifetime, we must have men like Wilberforce. Principled, charismatic men with unwavering focus, willing to stand up for what they believe in the face of constant ridicule and scorn, able to recruit political allies while rallying passionate grassroots support, understanding that laws are useless to restrain evil that is not recognized as such by the people.

Sound like anyone we know?

Like Wilberforce’s struggle against the slave trade, it may take decades to win the philosophical battle. In the meantime, there are some  practical matters which do fall under the Constitutional authority of the President and Congress which have a much better chance of reducing the actual number of abortions than the GOP’s standard operating procedure. Here are a few bullet points that I think may be within reach in the next few years:

  • A majority vote in Congress combined with the President’s signature can remove the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court from ruling on something Constitutionally delegated to the States, which is much simpler than repealing Roe v. Wade or passing a constitutional amendment. Abortion would still be legal in some states, initially, but this is a good first step.
  • Legislation that would define “life” as beginning at conception and the term “person” as including all human life (such as the Sanctity of Life Act introduced by Congressman Paul in 2011200920072005, etc.) would provide immediate protection for the unborn under the Constitution without requiring an Amendment.
  • Deregulate the adoption market, making it easier to provide options to mothers with unwanted pregnancies.

For further reading, I highly recommend reading Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul, and Ron Paul’s chapter on abortion from Liberty Defined. This chapter is available for free online here, and I have summarized it here. It’s only a few pages, but is perhaps the most articulate, succinct moral defense of the sanctity of life beginning at conception I have ever read.

The tenth amendment is the foundation of the Constitution.”
~ Thomas Jefferson