Ron Paul's Foreign Policy Exposed
Much has been said against Ron Paul's foreign policy. He has been accused of anti-Semitism, of living in a pre-technological past, and of using moral equivalency arguments to critique America's unwillingness to "mind its own business," in effect blaming the U.S. for September 11th. Whatever truth there may be in some of these criticisms of Paul's position -- and I have previously expressed sympathy with one or two of them (though not the anti-Semitism) -- the December 15 debate in Iowa exposed a deeper concern with Paul's foreign policy: an unbelievable ignorance.
Herman Cain took a lot of heat from conservatives who thought he showed too little knowledge of international issues for someone of his age and political aspirations. I thought this criticism unfair, in that it played into the hands of the politics-as-usual types, who think Romney and Gingrich sound strong on foreign policy because, over many years of campaigning, they have memorized a lot of names, facts, and figures. Cain did sometimes sound unprepared for broad questions of principle -- which are the important questions at this point -- but, to his credit, he usually came back sounding a little better the next time around. For all the impressive, ready answers offered by slicker, more experienced politicians, does anyone really believe there is a person in this nominating process, or on this planet, for that matter, who has all the necessary knowledge and facts at his disposal on any complicated foreign policy question? As many good minds have argued, men live in a fog on matters of world historical significance. That does not justify relativism in decision or action; rather, it reinforces the importance of finding a leader with strong principles, and a conscientious will to enact those principles to the best of his or her ability, according to the best information available at any given moment.
Which brings us back to Congressman Paul, and his performance on December 15. The moderator Bret Baier opened the topic of foreign policy by asking Paul whether he would still be calling for the removal of sanctions against Iran if, as President, he had solid intelligence that Iran had a nuclear weapon. Paul's answer, in a nutshell, was yes; Iran's desire for nukes, he argued, is understandable in light of its feeling "surrounded" in the region.
While it may be true as a psychological analysis, this answer was an example of Paul's moral equivalency. Everyone knows why the mullahs want a nuclear weapon, and that, in their minds, the desire is reasonable; the question is whether it ought to be acceptable to the so-called free world that a theocratic despotism harboring dreams of a global theocracy achieved by provoking a doomsday scenario should acquire nuclear weapons. Rick Santorum made this very point in a strong rebuttal to Paul's answer, highlighting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's claim that "martyrdom" is the chief Iranian virtue in opposition to Paul's suggestion that a Cold War threat of "mutual assured destruction" would be effective against Iran.
Michele Bachmann went further, declaring, "I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one we just heard from Ron Paul." Her argument was this:
Look no further than the Iranian constitution, which states unequivocally that their mission is to extend jihad across the world, and eventually to set up a world-wide caliphate. We would be fools and knaves to ignore their purpose and their plan.
And here is where a policy argument became a question of basic factual understanding. Paul, given the opportunity to answer Bachmann's criticism, began by saying that he would like to reduce nuclear weapons generally, followed by this:
But to declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims, and say all Muslims are the same -- this is dangerous talk. Yeah, there are some radicals. But they don't come here to kill us because we're free and prosperous. Do they go to Switzerland and Sweden? I mean, that's absurd. If you think that is the reason, we have no chance of winning this. They come here, and explicitly explain it to us, CIA has explained it to us -- it said they come here and they want to do us harm because we're bombing them....
First of all, who declared war on 1.2 billion Muslims? Who said they were all the same? Expressly singling out the regime in Tehran for harsh criticism seems to suggest a pretty clear desire not to say that all Muslims are the same -- as do attempts to support freedom-seeking opposition movements within Iran. (How would a "mind our own business" policy affect people within such movements?)
This equation of criticizing the Iranian despots with "declaring war on" all Muslims demonstrates Paul's facile outlook on the world. He is the one who views the various peoples of the world in monolithic terms. Consider the final sentence of the quotation above. Who are "they" in that sentence? The Iranian regime, to which all of the other candidates, as well as the moderator, were referring? No, because no one is "bombing them," as Paul says of "them." Presumably he means the radical Islamists. But if that is so, then he is implying either that the jihadists will, if America leaves them alone, simply leave America -- and, by extension, every other country that ignores them -- out of their global Islamist agenda, or that they are only radical because of unjust American policy, i.e. that their cause is essentially just and defensive. I don't believe he means to go that far.
In truth, I think he really doesn't know whom he means by "they" and "them." He is afflicted with foreign policy myopia: A disbelief in the complete and independent reality of a world outside of the United States, a world in which real people living entirely beyond the realm of our lives. To such thinking, the "outside world" is merely an undifferentiated repository of resentment against U.S. imperialism. Consider Paul's frequent implication that people everywhere view American forces on their soil as occupiers. As one who has lived in South Korea for almost five years, I can vouch for the fact that such a sentiment is uncommon here -- although it occasionally appears among leftists who sympathize with communist North Korea.
Paul's rebuttal to Bachmann on Iran goes from the straw-man to the ridiculous, however, in his central point, namely that "they don't come here to kill us because we're free and prosperous. Do they go to Switzerland and Sweden?"
Well, actually, yes "they" do (see here, here, and here). "They" also go to Denmark (here and here), The Netherlands (here), Germany (here), Spain (here), and so on. "They" go wherever "they" perceive an opportunity to gain a foothold for the goal "they" share with the Iranian regime: a world-wide caliphate.
"Yeah, there are some radicals." I nominate this for the 2011 Flippant-Dismissal-of-an-International-Threat of the Year Award. "Yeah, the Bolsheviks are a little militant about property owners." "Yeah, the Nazis are a little pushy about Poland."
Hide-from-reality isolationism vs. globalist interventionism is a false dichotomy. There are other options.
Yeah, Ron Paul has a foreign policy problem.