FrontPage | 9.21.11
By Alan Dowd
Presidential candidate Ron Paul is an ardent defender of liberty and thoroughly consistent when it comes to individual freedom. That wins him lots of support among libertarians, but it doesn’t make him right on all the issues. In fact, the positions he has taken in recent debates on a range of issues related to defense and national security sound jarringly similar to the blame-America nonsense of the left-wing fringe. Here are just a few examples.
Asked in an August debate about Iran going nuclear, the congressman challenged us to put ourselves in Iran’s shoes: “Think of how many nuclear weapons surround Iran. The Chinese are there. The Indians are there. The Pakistanis are there. The Israelis are there. The United States is there...Why wouldn’t it be natural that they might want a weapon? Internationally, they’d be given more respect.”
When former senator Rick Santorum pushed back, citing Iran’s 1979 assault on the U.S. embassy, Paul went even further, seemingly channeling some left-wing poli-sci professor: “We’ve been at war in Iran for a lot longer than ‘79. We started it in 1953 when we sent in a coup, installed the shah, and the reaction, the blowback came in 1979. It’s been going on and on because we just plain don’t mind our own business. That’s our problem.”
There it is. It all comes back to us. We’re to blame for Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iran’s radicalism.
Asked in a June debate about the Afghanistan mission, Paul said he would bring the troops “home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan…Our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there. We have no purpose there. We should learn the lessons of history.”
History is full of lessons, of course. One lesson, as Paul suggests, is that foreign intervention is fraught with risks and can have unintended consequences for the intervening country. But another lesson of history is that there are unintended consequences and risks to isolation.
American presidents and the American people have rejected the siren song of isolation since World War II because of, well, World War II. A consensus emerged after the war that the world could do more harm to America if America remained uninvolved and uninterested, that America could do more good in the world as a leader than as a passive observer, and that engagement in the world benefitted America.
To be sure, there have been mistakes and missteps, costs and consequences, to American engagement in the world. But by and large, engagement has served American interests.
The “bring the troops home” trope always sounds appealing. But we’ve put it into practice before, and the results are often disastrous: We brought the troops home in 1919, focused on ourselves, took care of America and assiduously tried to stay out of the world’s way. Then Chamberlain gave us Munich; Hitler gave us another European war; and Japan gave us Pearl Harbor. We began bringing the troops home in 1945. Then Stalin gobbled up half of Europe, destabilized Turkey and Greece, and armed Kim Il-Sung in preparation for his invasion of South Korea.
By the way, the United States didn’t start the war in Libya. And whether or not the critics like it, America does have a purpose in the Middle East: fighting people, organizations and states that want to kill Americans. The targets of U.S. strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia are people plotting to kill Americans in Detroit and Dallas and D.C.
It’s worth noting here that the notion that we lived in blissful, peaceful isolation before the 20th century—implicit in Paul’s foreign-policy vision—does not jibe with American history. Jefferson, after all, raised a fleet and sent it halfway around the world to wage war on America’s enemies—in the first decade of the 1800s. The Congressional Research Service lists more than 100 instances of U.S. military intervention overseas before the 20th century. “Between 1800 and 1934,” as Max Boot observes, “U.S. Marines staged 180 landings abroad.”
But back to Rep. Paul: When asked in the September 7 debate about privatization, Paul started back down the blame-America path. “Just remember, 9/11 came about because there was too much government. Government was more or less in charge. They told the pilots they couldn’t have guns, and they were told never to resist. They set up the stage for all this.”
It gets better—or worse.
Asked about immigration and border issues, Paul veered into conspiracy-land. After dismissing “the people who want big fences,” Paul explained that “this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in. In economic turmoil, the people want to leave with their capital. And there’s capital controls and there’s people control. So, every time you think of a fence keeping all those bad people out, think about those fences maybe being used against us, keeping us in.”
During the September 12 debate, Paul informed us that “we’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries.”
In truth, the U.S. occupies no countries. U.S. forces are welcomed by host governments in every instance, their presence approved by status-of-forces agreements or decade-old treaties. Afghanistan wants U.S. forces to excise Taliban scar tissue. Kosovo, Korea and Kuwait want U.S. troops to maintain regional stability. From Germany to Georgia, those who remember a Europe of concrete walls and iron curtains want U.S. forces on their soil as a hedge against a revisionist Russia. And across the Pacific, those who worry about a rising China are strengthening their ties with America. Australia just inked a deal with Washington to allow U.S. forces full use of Australian naval and air bases. In fact, several countries that once kicked American troops out—the Philippines and Vietnam, for example—are today eagerly seeking security partnerships with America.
Whether these global commitments are “overstretching” America is open to debate. But whether U.S. forces are welcomed by host countries, whether the United States is “occupying” any country, is not.
Speaking of “occupying” other countries, look at Paul’s comments on al Qaeda. “The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us…We’re there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?”
When Paul made a similar argument in the 2008 election cycle, Rudy Giuliani dismissed him as “absurd.”
Giuliani was right.
It’s too bad the debate moderator didn’t have the presence of mind to ask Paul the following: “Which part of Iraq, which part of Afghanistan, is ‘al Qaeda’s land’?”
In fact, the Afghan people derisively called their unwelcomed al Qaeda guests “The Arabs” precisely because Afghanistan wasn’t bin Laden’s land. Aside from the Taliban government, the Afghan people hated al Qaeda. Likewise, Iraqis rejected al Qaeda fighters, who came from Libya, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, as foreigners who tried to destroy Iraq. That’s why Iraqis worked with Americans to defeat al Qaeda in Iraq.
As with Giuliani, Paul’s comments on al Qaeda incensed Santorum. “On your Web site,” he said to Paul, “you had a blog post that basically blamed the United States for 9/11. On your Web site, yesterday, you said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11. Now, Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible. The president of the United States—someone who is running for the president of the United States in the Republican Party should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11.”
That’s the crux of the issue with Rep. Paul’s candidacy. It’s not that he can’t have such views. He can blame America for whatever he wants. It’s not that he shouldn’t run for president. There are parties and places that embrace these views. But the party of Lincoln and TR, Ike and Reagan, is not one of those places.