“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 Iran, just 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”?
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”.
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.
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