Where Ron Paul Meets Barack Obama

They look like political opposites: Ron Paul is a traditional isolationist; Barack Obama sees himself comfortable with many cultures and religions.  But they share an odd understanding that the United States is, by nature and by history, a cause of tension in the world, and that others need reassurance that the U.S. means no harm.  Whether the subject is Iran, Iraq, 9-11, or China, President Obama would reassure by engaging and Rep. Paul by withdrawing.

Both have demonstrated a willingness to leave friends to the machinations of their own adversaries and ours.  Of course, President Obama has the ability to effect the change he seeks, while Rep. Paul is just asking for the opportunity, but Israel, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq have felt the chill, while China, Iran, and Russia received reassurance and "reset."

They don't always agree, of course.  President Obama's announced a rotation of Marines to Australia as a statement of engagement in Asia was predictably denounced by Rep. Paul as "mischief."  "The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken," said Mr. Obama, trying to reassure China.  "Why do we have to occupy Australia?  I mean what's going on?  [Obama] said, well, maybe the Chinese will attack us.  The Chinese are our banker; they're not going to attack us -- you know it's not going to happen," said Rep. Paul.

While both would likely be uncomfortable with a comparison, Rep. Paul often sounds President Obama's themes, beginning with our responsibility for international hostility toward the United States.

"Troops stationed overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies. I think it's a danger to our national defense," Paul told an interviewer last week.

"You talk to the people who committed [9-11] and those individuals who would like to do us harm, they say, 'Yes, we don't like American bombs to be falling on our country. We don't like the intervention that we [sic] do in their nations ... America is you and I ... We didn't cause it. The average American didn't cause it ... I'm saying the policy-makers' fault contributed to it." (source)

President Obama in Cairo in 2009 said:

"The fear and anger that [9-11] provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals ... Tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations ... the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam."

On Iran, they sound similar themes with heavy emphasis on the need for American outreach.  In 2009, President Obama, in his opening to Iran, harked back to the 1953 CIA-engineered coup in Tehran as background to Iran's hostage-taking and terrorism, but said:

I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward ... It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve.

He has since taken a politically harder line against the Islamic Republic and has promoted U.N. sanctions aimed at Iran's nuclear capabilities.  But the administration also declined take up the stronger sanctions promoted in the U.S. Congress and last week issued a strong warning against a military attack on Iran, reassuring the Iranians by slapping at Israel.

Rep. Paul said:

We have 12,000 diplomats. I'm suggesting that maybe we ought to use some of them. I think the greatest danger now is for us to overreact. This is what I'm fearful of. Iran doesn't have a bomb. There's no proof. There's no new information, regardless of this recent report. For us to overreact and talk about bombing Iran, that's much more dangerous.

On Iraq, they appear to have had the same speechwriter.

President Obama:

Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.

Rep. Paul:

The Iraqi people would no doubt be better off without [Saddam] and his despotic rule. But the call in some quarters for the United States to intervene to change Iraq's government is a voice that offers little in the way of a real solution to our problems in the Middle East - many of which were caused by our interventionism in the first place.

Agreeing that American foreign policy in general and American military policy in particular are a source of international friction, Rep. Paul and Mr. Obama relate to the rest of the world differently, but with much the same prescription.  Since there is nothing inherently better about the "American way," other countries should choose their path largely without our interference.

In 2009, Mr. Obama endorsed the rule of law and "equal administration of justice" as international aspirations.

But the administration has included the Muslim Brotherhood among groups receiving training in preparation for the Egyptian election.  The president's special coordinator for Middle East transitions said that the U.S. wouldn't choose between the Brotherhood and the liberal reformers.  "I think we will be satisfied, if it is a free and fair election ... As long as parties, entities do not espouse or conduct violence, we'll work with them... [We] should not be afraid of [them]. We should deal with them."  Rep. Paul is the author of a congressional amendment to eliminate all U.S. foreign aid.  "I would cut all foreign aid. I would treat everybody equally ... foreign aid makes Israel dependent on us ... They should have their sovereignty back."

The 2012 presidential election will likely be decided primarily on economic issues because that's how Americans vote, but friends and adversaries abroad watch us at least as much for our defense and foreign policy.  President Obama and Rep. Paul, coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, share themes that should worry the former and comfort the latter.

Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years' experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.  She was previously senior director for security policy at JINSA.

They look like political opposites: Ron Paul is a traditional isolationist; Barack Obama sees himself comfortable with many cultures and religions.  But they share an odd understanding that the United States is, by nature and by history, a cause of tension in the world, and that others need reassurance that the U.S. means no harm.  Whether the subject is Iran, Iraq, 9-11, or China, President Obama would reassure by engaging and Rep. Paul by withdrawing.

Both have demonstrated a willingness to leave friends to the machinations of their own adversaries and ours.  Of course, President Obama has the ability to effect the change he seeks, while Rep. Paul is just asking for the opportunity, but Israel, Japan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq have felt the chill, while China, Iran, and Russia received reassurance and "reset."

They don't always agree, of course.  President Obama's announced a rotation of Marines to Australia as a statement of engagement in Asia was predictably denounced by Rep. Paul as "mischief."  "The notion that we fear China is mistaken. The notion that we are looking to exclude China is mistaken," said Mr. Obama, trying to reassure China.  "Why do we have to occupy Australia?  I mean what's going on?  [Obama] said, well, maybe the Chinese will attack us.  The Chinese are our banker; they're not going to attack us -- you know it's not going to happen," said Rep. Paul.

While both would likely be uncomfortable with a comparison, Rep. Paul often sounds President Obama's themes, beginning with our responsibility for international hostility toward the United States.

"Troops stationed overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies. I think it's a danger to our national defense," Paul told an interviewer last week.

"You talk to the people who committed [9-11] and those individuals who would like to do us harm, they say, 'Yes, we don't like American bombs to be falling on our country. We don't like the intervention that we [sic] do in their nations ... America is you and I ... We didn't cause it. The average American didn't cause it ... I'm saying the policy-makers' fault contributed to it." (source)

President Obama in Cairo in 2009 said:

"The fear and anger that [9-11] provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our ideals ... Tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations ... the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam."

On Iran, they sound similar themes with heavy emphasis on the need for American outreach.  In 2009, President Obama, in his opening to Iran, harked back to the 1953 CIA-engineered coup in Tehran as background to Iran's hostage-taking and terrorism, but said:

I have made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward ... It will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude and resolve.

He has since taken a politically harder line against the Islamic Republic and has promoted U.N. sanctions aimed at Iran's nuclear capabilities.  But the administration also declined take up the stronger sanctions promoted in the U.S. Congress and last week issued a strong warning against a military attack on Iran, reassuring the Iranians by slapping at Israel.

Rep. Paul said:

We have 12,000 diplomats. I'm suggesting that maybe we ought to use some of them. I think the greatest danger now is for us to overreact. This is what I'm fearful of. Iran doesn't have a bomb. There's no proof. There's no new information, regardless of this recent report. For us to overreact and talk about bombing Iran, that's much more dangerous.

On Iraq, they appear to have had the same speechwriter.

President Obama:

Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.

Rep. Paul:

The Iraqi people would no doubt be better off without [Saddam] and his despotic rule. But the call in some quarters for the United States to intervene to change Iraq's government is a voice that offers little in the way of a real solution to our problems in the Middle East - many of which were caused by our interventionism in the first place.

Agreeing that American foreign policy in general and American military policy in particular are a source of international friction, Rep. Paul and Mr. Obama relate to the rest of the world differently, but with much the same prescription.  Since there is nothing inherently better about the "American way," other countries should choose their path largely without our interference.

In 2009, Mr. Obama endorsed the rule of law and "equal administration of justice" as international aspirations.

But the administration has included the Muslim Brotherhood among groups receiving training in preparation for the Egyptian election.  The president's special coordinator for Middle East transitions said that the U.S. wouldn't choose between the Brotherhood and the liberal reformers.  "I think we will be satisfied, if it is a free and fair election ... As long as parties, entities do not espouse or conduct violence, we'll work with them... [We] should not be afraid of [them]. We should deal with them."  Rep. Paul is the author of a congressional amendment to eliminate all U.S. foreign aid.  "I would cut all foreign aid. I would treat everybody equally ... foreign aid makes Israel dependent on us ... They should have their sovereignty back."

The 2012 presidential election will likely be decided primarily on economic issues because that's how Americans vote, but friends and adversaries abroad watch us at least as much for our defense and foreign policy.  President Obama and Rep. Paul, coming from opposite ends of the political spectrum, share themes that should worry the former and comfort the latter.

Shoshana Bryen has more than 30 years' experience as a defense policy analyst and has been taking American military officers and defense professionals to Israel since 1982.  She was previously senior director for security policy at JINSA.

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