Ron Paul’s foreign-policy views have long kept him exiled from the mainstream of the Republican party, but his rhetoric has also contributed to his pariah status.
On Friday’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul responded to a question about Michele Bachmann by saying, “She doesn’t like Muslims. She hates Muslims. She wants to go get ’em.” This wasn’t the first time Paul has accused another conservative of Islamophobia — over the years he has repeatedly maligned Republicans for their views on Muslims, suggesting that bigotry is either a natural motivation or a necessary justification for the U.S.’s interventionist foreign policy.
When asked about conservative opposition to the “Ground Zero mosque,” Paul suggested
Islamophobia was at the root of the controversy: “They never miss a chance to use hatred toward Muslims to rally support for the ill-conceived preventative wars. . . . This is all about hate and Islamophobia.”
Paul defended the mosque project with a libertarian appeal to property rights and religious tolerance — principles that some opponents of the mosque indeed may have trampled in their protestations that the placement of a “Cordoba House” next to Ground Zero should be prevented. But Representative Paul wasn’t making a point about offensive language or religious freedom, he was arguing that anti-Muslim sentiments delegitimize interventionist foreign policy. “I believe the [mosque opponents’] goal was not only to peddle the hate but to justify the war,” he said in another defense of the mosque. “Of course, we have to have an enemy, and the people have to be hateful of the enemy.”
In one of his recent columns on Lew Rockwell’s website, Paul called for a doctrine of “mutually assured respect,” a new foreign policy that “requires simply tolerance of others’ cultures and their social and religious values, and the giving up of all use of force to occupy or control other countries and their national resources.” That is, if Americans could shed their antipathy toward Islam, we might be less interested in interventionism.
Considering the last ten years of American foreign policy, Representative Paul suggests Islamophobia is both constitutive of and instrumental to interventionism.
But going further back, Paul’s Islamophobia arguments do not apply to a number of the American interventions he has also opposed. For one, the first Gulf War saved an Islamic monarchy from a more secular Baathist regime, for which Paul offered a paranoid explanation: The Gulf War was part of George H. W. Bush’s “New World Order,” “clearly a U.N., political war fought within U.N. guidelines, not for U.S. security.” He also inveighed against the NATO mission to Serbia, which protected Muslim Bosnians from Orthodox Christian Serbs. Paul believed the Serbian intervention would obviously fail to “stop the spread of war throughout the Balkans,” but the large-scale air war would “certainly help the military-industrial complex.”
The United States pursues an aggressive foreign policy to promote its interests and ideals around the globe. This desire, not hatred for Muslims, is why conservatives such as Michele Bachmann advocate a military presence in the Middle East, and take action (in cooperation with Jordan and Saudi Arabia, of all nations) to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
Ron Paul believes that American interests and ideals are best served by keeping our troops at home, and is entitled to that argument. Today’s conservative foreign-policy consensus happens to disagree, and holds American interests are best protected by aggressive policies. Paul is often principled and informed when he takes the other side of this dispute — for instance, in debates, he raises the issue of the “blowback,” i.e. retaliation including terrorist attacks, that results from American invasions and occupations.
Paul’s flaws, however, show through when he is tempted to accuse his opponents of something other than having a different foreign-policy calculus. The substance of Ron Paul’s foreign-policy opinions may cause him to be ostracized from the Republican mainstream anyway, fairly or unfairly, but his disrespect for others’ views ensures that he will remain marginal.
— Patrick Brennan is the 2011 William F. Buckley Fellow at National Review.