Tea party favorite and libertarian stalwart Congressman Ron Paul fanned the flames of controversy last week, stating to WHO radio's Simon Conway that he in fact would not have ordered the Osama bin Laden kill, preferring, rather, an arrest and civilian-court trial for the 9-11 mastermind. Paul's statement was met with full-throated derision in GOP circles as the "crazy uncle in the attic" became all-the-crazier with his simple admission.
Pulling the curtain away from the issue, did Ron Paul simply expose a giant chasm between two foreign policy trains of thought in the conservative movement?
I'm not as anti-war as Ron Paul and neither are most conservatives. For instance, the Congressman's stance against waterboarding Gitmo detainees will never be viable in mainstream Republican opinion. His shocking statement on the bin Laden kill mission's legality is another. Regardless, strains of Paul's foreign policy libertarianism are being discussed in circles that up until recently might not have been.
On radical Islam, many conservatives find themselves in-between libertarians and strong defense, Goldwater conservatives: those who want a strong defense yet find themselves leery of the "any war, any time, anywhere" neo-conservative credo that has dominated recent American foreign policy.
More and more conservatives today favor a formal congressional declaration of war (as required by Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution) and are also overwhelmingly leery of the perpetual nation-building limbo that the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq have become. A telling moment exemplifying this theme took place when Obama's recent engagement in Libya found more opposition on the conservative side than the anti-war left. Some of the reaction was partisan, certainly, but fatigue with myriad wars -- sans discernible timetables -- is palpable in pro-defense circles.
Libertarian-leaning conservatives often find themselves closer to Ayn Rand's views of a strong military and defense guided by American exceptionalism and rational, effective self-defense. Rand offered no tolerance for anti-war libertarians, unendearlingly calling them the "hippies of the right," but that doesn't mean that a coming together of the two sides is a non-starter in confronting the excess of the Pentagon's sub-trillion-dollar budget.
For instance, departments in the Pentagon overlap, often serving no higher purpose than oversight of lower tier departments. Calling for the elimination of this kind of redundancy is immediately palatable. Another option is found in eliminating the practice of departmental spending based on the previous year's allocated budget. Many departments engage in a mad rush at the end of the budget year in order to match spending numbers and avoid cutbacks. Departments and managers should be rewarded for saving taxpayer dollars, not the opposite. Confronting this largess is also immediately achievable.
Freshly minted Kentucky Senator Rand Paul also notes the unnecessary cost of myriad Cold-War-era military bases across the world. U.S. garrisons in wealthy nations over sixty years after the resolution of World War II, the senator from Kentucky argues, are simply unnecessary and unaffordable. A rational discussion on closing these bases could find much-needed common ground.
The most important approach -- or whole enchilada, if you will -- is policy-driven and philosophical. As our nation teeters on the edge of the bankruptcy, we can no longer afford the decades-past vision of government both domestic and military. Instituting reliable withdrawal timetables for both Iraq and Afghanistan -- withdrawal that serves both the respective missions in those theaters of war as well as the blood, sweat, and tears of the troops that served there -- would signal a monumental start in setting boundaries for our government. Beyond these steps, nothing short of a complete reevaluation of the mission and purpose of the United States military is needed today.
Because the Republican chasm on spending does not stop at the doorstep of foreign policy, many of the Herculean decisions before us will be all the more difficult. All of the top-tier GOP presidential candidates in the 2012 race have big-government skeletons in their respective closets. Candidates like former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, and former Utah Governor and Chinese Ambassador Huntsman do not hold consistent views or track records on the proper, limited role of government. The two libertarian-conservative candidates in the field are the only ones that hold such a distinction both domestically and in the realm of foreign affairs.
Given the dire financial position that this nation finds itself in and the tough leadership and consistent Reagan-esque vision required to confront it, trustworthiness on the issue of cutting government spending is vital. A rethinking of our nation's foreign policy and overall role of government -- or in the least, spirited discussion -- may just reconcile the divide taking place among fiscal conservatives, defense hawks, social conservatives and libertarians that find their home in the GOP.
Our financial future and status as a free nation depends upon the success of the discussion.
A resident of California and small business owner, Tim Daniel blogs daily at leftcoastrebel.com.