There are certain topics that tend to come up a lot here at TAC, and foreign policy is one of them. Often times the discussion breaks out on a comment thread of a post that has nothing to do with foreign policy whatsoever, and so those of us who want to continue the discussion either choose not to, or are politely advised by the moderators here to stay on-topic. This happens with a few other topics as well. So every now and again, I think it would be fun to do a post that addresses one of these topics so we can “have it out” without any hindrances or encumbrances. They’ll be called “Let’s Discuss!” and they’ll cover different topics that come up in the comment threads that don’t get finished. Hopefully they will be of interest to new readers as well.
I’d like to discuss these things charitably too, and I’ll do my best to start out on that foot. I’ll also do my best not to respond in kind if the first response is “you’re a moron who supports a lunatic and should be banned from participating in politics or having children.”
In the previous discussion, some of the regular contributors and I began discussing foreign policy. Here at TAC I understand and accept that as a Ron Paul supporter I am likely in a very small minority among my co-bloggers and regular comment contributors. I also understand that some of them deeply despise Ron Paul, and likely anyone who supports him. Well, I can’t change how people feel; there are certain public figures I despise myself. What I can do is explain why I believe as I do, and hopefully it will be seen that there is something rational behind it.
There are actually many conservatives today who like what Ron Paul has to say about the economy in general, and the Federal Reserve in particular. There are also those willing to acknowledge the political reality created by Paul’s campaign, such as Charles Krauthammer:
Put aside your own view of libertarianism or of Paul himself. I see libertarianism as an important critique of the Leviathan state, not a governing philosophy. As for Paul himself, I find him a principled, somewhat wacky, highly engaging eccentric. But regardless of my feelings or yours, the plain fact is that Paul is nurturing his movement toward visibility and legitimacy.
I actually agree with Krauthammer’s assessment of libertarianism. How could, after all, a philosophy that rejects most forms of government be a “governing philosophy”? Libertarian insights should play a role in setting the limits of government and exposing the utter folly of the managerial/nanny-state. And Ron Paul earned my respect when he was virtually the only voice of sanity in the years leading up to the housing bubble collapse. His (Austrian) explanation of the crisis was the only one that a) made sense, b) corresponded to reality, and c) proposed an actual solution (as opposed to throwing another few trillion at it).
I don’t support Ron Paul in the hopes that he will actually become president – that isn’t going to happen. I do believe that the GOP, which has been as terrible about spending and expanding government as the Democrats, not to mention as enraptured by ideology when it comes to foreign policy (we’ll get to that), needs an oppositional bloc. A political party in which there exist no factions and no contending points of view may have certain advantages, but whatever it gains by those advantages will be offset by what it looses when it becomes rigid, uniform, and sterile – when stagnation leads to inbreeding, when inbreeding leads to defects and deformities.
With all that said, lets look to the factional dispute itself. There are two main points of disagreement between Paul and “mainline” conservatives. The first is on social/moral issues. The second is foreign policy. The first issue isn’t that big of a problem, at least not in my experience. I don’t know anyone under the age of 60 who doesn’t believe that the “War on Drugs” has been a massive moral and fiscal failure, no matter what their views are on other issues. The idea that we need to spend tens of millions of dollars locking up non-violent drug offenders every year is no longer a mandatory conservative position, thank God. There are also the issues of abortion and gay marriage, and Paul’s positions have been pretty distorted on these topics as well.
We can discuss some of the social issues in the comment boxes below if readers prefer. I’ll move on to foreign policy though, because this is where most of the dislike for Paul from the right really comes from. I was actually pleasantly surprised to see that Ron Paul’s prudential critique of American foreign policy, especially when it comes to the fiscal sustainability of multiple wars, regularly received cheers from conservative audiences during the presidential debates. That the United States simply cannot afford to engage in every nook and cranny of the world where a Muslim with a bomb might do something to someone is a reality that is slowly but surely coming into acceptance. The idea isn’t that by doing nothing we approve; the idea is that people need to defend their own interests, and not expect a financially devastated nation to do it for them.
But there were also boos. And the boos came, and always come, when Paul suggests that American foreign policy was responsible (at least in part, if not directly) for the 9/11 attacks. I’ll probably be booed myself for writing that not only do I agree with Ron Paul on this point, but I find it absolutely amazing that people take such offense to it. To me it looks like mass-denial combined with a sort of self-insulating narcissism. “How dare you say that we could ever do anything to make anyone dislike us!” It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld’s mother. It seems emotional, not sober or honest.
I mean, it would make sense if people’s reaction were perhaps to say, “ok, so they attacked us because of our policy – but our policy is a good one, it is a justifiable one, and we are willing to have people hate us in order to pursue this policy.” That’s a rational and defensible position. To react, however, with utter shock to the notion that actions have reactions is something I really can’t understand. Moreover, Ron Paul really was simply repeating what both the CIA and the 9/11 Commission reported on the role of “blowback” in the attacks. Are they all insane traitors to America? Why only Ron Paul?
No, I will not abandon the truth that actions have consequences in the world, and that there will invariably be certain policies that cause people to hate us. Nor will I acquiesce to the patently absurd notion that even the radical Muslims, who immigrate to the West and fully partake of all the sinful pleasures made available to them “hate us for our freedom.” It’s an idea beneath my intellect and yours. The simple and plain truth is that there are millions of people, not only in the Islamic world, but in Russia, in China, in Latin America, in Europe – all over the world – who resent the involvement of the United States in their affairs.
I’m not even arguing that this involvement is always unjustified. I would probably support a little bit more of it than Ron Paul does and a lot less than Dick Cheney might. But there are always hidden and secondary costs, whether it is foreign policy or domestic policy. And this brings me to the most serious problem I have with modern GOP foreign policy: it is blinded by ideology. The GOP has done with foreign policy what the Democrats did with domestic policy; it has developed a rigid ideological line that stifles not only debate, but even a rational consideration of the potential and actual costs involved. We have all experienced debates with left-wingers, especially Catholic “social justice” types, who act as if any mention at all of costs is evidence of moral callousness.
I have seen the exact same attitude play itself out on the right over and over again. I’ve been told that we shouldn’t count the cost at all when it comes to “liberating” people who are oppressed. Aside from the fact that these narratives are often simplistic and inconsiderate of the actual desires and wishes of the supposedly “oppressed” people, we have not been appointed by God to wage war with every tinpot dictator in the world, nor could we afford to do so even if we were. Nor is it the destiny or desire of people everywhere to have a Western-style democracy and secular liberal society. These assumptions are delusions when sincerely believed and cynical ploys when they are not.
Finally I don’t believe the narrative about the suicidal irrationality of entire nation-states. An individual may be willing to strap a bomb to himself and explode for fanatical reasons – though more often than not, what happens is that they are promised thousands of dollars for their impoverished families and figure they are worth more dead than alive. But I do not believe for a second that the leadership of Iran would launch a nuclear missile at Israel, knowing that Israel already possess several hundred nuclear warheads of its own and that the United States could wipe Tehran off the map at a moment’s notice.
Please don’t bother bringing up the mistranslated quotes of Ahmadinejad either. I don’t believe they were mistranslated because I like the man; I believe they were mistranslated because they were in fact mistranslated, and have been used in a way I find highly reckless and irresponsible. Iran wants a nuclear weapon for the same reason every other nation wants a nuclear weapon: deterrence. It was invaded by Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, and chemical weapons were used against its civilians. Iran is a sovereign state; if it wants a nuclear weapon, it can have one, and if it uses it offensively, it can expect to be totally destroyed. I certainly wouldn’t oppose such a retaliation. I also think Ron Paul is right to point out that all of the hyper-aggressive bellicosity towards Iran only serves to strengthen the ruling regime and weaken the position of the internal opposition.
So, in conclusion, I think Ron Paul brings a much needed alternative point of view to the table. I think he articulates what a growing number of Americans feel – that our government is far too involved in too many aspects of our lives, and in the lives of those around the globe. We reject what we see as a great deal of arrogance and presumption about situations domestically and globally that serve to justify government intervention. We have faith in the ability of people – not just individuals, but organic institutions such as family and churches – to look to their own affairs for the most part and only rely on government for those things we truly cannot do for ourselves. I also believe in a strong national defense, but we need it more on our Southern border than we do in Afghanistan (why are we there, again, over 10 years later?). I have no problem telling the rest of the world what the Emperor Honorius told the Romans in Britain in the year 410: look to your own defenses.
So, there it is. Reasonable discourse, or rant of an anti-American nutjob lunatic? We’ll find out.