Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ron Paul's good question

Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican congressman from Texas, drew contemptuous sneers from members of the media Wednesday following his performance at Tuesday night's GOP presidential debate in South Carolina.

NBC News' State Department correspondent Andrea Mitchell told David Gregory, on his inaugural show as Don Imus' replacement, that Ron Paul had really hurt himself with his comments and ought to be dropped from the next debate.

CNN commentator Donna Brazile made the same point to Wolf Blitzer.

Fox News contributor Nina Easton made the same point to Brit Hume.

What did Ron Paul say that so disgusted these eminent and distinguished women?

"I think the party has lost its way," Congressman Paul said, "because the conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a noninterventionist foreign policy.

"Senator Robert Taft didn't even want to be in NATO. George Bush won the election in the year 2000 campaigning on a humble foreign policy -- no nation-building, no policing of the world. Republicans were elected to end the Korean War. The Republicans were elected to end the Vietnam War. There's a strong tradition of being anti-war in the Republican party. It is the constitutional position. It is the advice of the Founders to follow a non-interventionist foreign policy, stay out of entangling alliances, be friends with countries, negotiate and talk with them and trade with them.

"Just think of the tremendous improvement -- relationships with Vietnam. We lost 60,000 men. We came home in defeat. Now we go over there and invest in Vietnam. So there's a lot of merit to the advice of the Founders and following the Constitution.

"And my argument is that we shouldn't go to war so carelessly. When we do, the wars don't end."

Fox News correspondent Wendell Goler, who was questioning the candidates, asked Rep. Paul if he thought the 9/11 attacks had altered the party's support for a non-interventionist foreign policy.

"No," the congressman answered. "Non-intervention was a major contributing factor. Have you ever read the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We've been in the Middle East -- I think Reagan was right.

"We don't understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. So right now we're building an embassy in Iraq that's bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. We need to look at what we do from the perspective of what would happen if somebody else did it to us."

At this point some members of the audience broke into applause.

In South Carolina. In the Republican party in South Carolina.

You can imagine what the audience was thinking in New York and California. And Michigan. And Ohio. And Illinois.

As a matter of fact, Rep. Paul led the Fox News viewer poll ("Who won the debate?") with thirty percent of the vote for most of the evening, just barely losing his first place spot to Mitt Romney at the very end of Fox's post-debate coverage. Rudy Giuliani was far behind with sixteen percent of the vote.

It wasn't a scientific poll, of course, but it's hard to escape the conclusion that somebody out there is listening to the questions Rep. Paul is raising.

Fox News, however, is not listening. Moderator Brit Hume decided it would not be appropriate to allow each of the candidates thirty seconds to weigh in on whether U.S. policy is inciting suicide bombers, or whether it is a good idea for the United States to be building fourteen permanent bases in Iraq.

"I don't think we're going to solve this tonight, gentlemen," Wendell Goler said with a chuckle.

If he thought that was funny, he should have seen Sean Hannity's face as he reported all night long that Ron Paul was leading the viewer poll.

The American people have never really had the opportunity to hear a full debate over the scope of the U.S. policy now being pursued in Iraq. President Bush decided sometime after the September 11th, 2001, attacks that containment of Saddam Hussein was no longer sufficient to protect the national security of the United States, and he began to speak in grander and grander terms about remaking the dictatorships of the Middle East into free, democratic, Western-style countries.

By the time President Bush gave his State of the Union address in February, 2006, he was describing U.S. foreign policy in these terms: "Abroad, our nation is committed to an historic, long-term goal -- we seek the end of tyranny in our world."

"We do?" no one asked, "How are we supposed to do that?"

Congressman Ron Paul's comments on Tuesday raised that question in, of all places, the Republican party's presidential race.

It's a question that needs an answer.

Even if you accept the premise that fighting terrorists in Iraq makes it less likely that suicide bombers will attack shopping centers in the U.S., it's hard to argue that the war in Iraq is saving lives. Thousands and thousands of U.S. service men and women have lost their lives or their limbs, the National Guard and Reserves are under severe and perhaps fatal strain, and the volunteer military itself could be a casualty of this war.

As if that wasn't enough, there's the financial cost, the abrasive effect on relations with U.S. allies, and the growing risk that trouble elsewhere in the world may find the United States unprepared in both manpower and equipment.

With all that in mind, consider this: What if the Iraq war doesn't make it less likely that suicide bombers will attack shopping centers in the U.S.? What if the Iraq war makes it more likely that suicide bombers will attack shopping centers in the U.S.?

Congressman Ron Paul has now asked that question.

This is no time to throw him out of the debates.

Copyright 2007

Editor's note: You might be interested to read "The Motive for War: How to End the Violence in Iraq" and "A Plan to Get Out of Iraq: Blackstone's Fundamental Rights and the Power of Property" at