As the race to win the Iowa caucus comes down to the wire, Rep. Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy have rightfully come under attack. Paul, who proudly touts his willingness to slash the defense budget, end the war in Afghanistan, and bring U.S. troops home from Europe and Asia, does have a group of hardcore supporters, but is he fit to be commander-in-chief?
Paul is often described as an “isolationist,” but he and other libertarians resist that label. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Saturday, Blitzer asked Paul about his objection to the term. Paul responded:
An isolationist is a protectionist that builds walls around the country. They don’t like to trade. They don’t like to travel about the world. And they like to put sanctions on different countries. . . . Nonintervention is quite a bit different. It’s what the Founders advised to get along with people, trade with people, and to have — practice diplomacy, rather than getting — having this militancy of telling people what to do and how to run the world, and building walls around our own country. That is — that is isolationism. It’s a far cry from what we believe in.
Libertarians like Paul who run away from the isolationist label do so because they realize that it is an unpopular position not shared by most Americans. After ten years of the War on Terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy for politicians to rail against overseas commitments. But Paul’s “nonintervention” is no more within the American mainstream than isolationism is.
As Robert Kagan wrote in The Weekly Standard a year ago, the United States has undertaken 25 overseas interventions since 1898 (now 26, if Libya is counted). Kagan noted:
That is one intervention every 4.5 years on average. Overall, the United States has intervened or been engaged in combat somewhere in 52 out of the last 112 years, or roughly 47 percent of the time. Since the end of the Cold War, it is true, the rate of U.S. interventions has increased, with an intervention roughly once every 2.5 years and American troops intervening or engaged in combat in 16 out of 22 years, or over 70 percent of the time, since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
American administrations of both parties end up intervening in foreign conflicts and supporting our allies with overseas deployments because doing so is in our interest and because it embodies the values upon which our nation was founded.
If Paul and his fellow libertarians want to be viewed not as isolationists but as prudent noninterventionists, what are the instances in which they would use American military power? Paul often says that he supports a strong national defense, but who does Ron Paul think the American people need to be defended from? It isn’t al-Qaeda or fundamentalist Islam, since he wants to end our engagements in the War on Terror and has expressed concern about acts that don’t even involve significant troop deployments, like the targeted killing of U.S. citizen (and terrorist) Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.
He told Wolf Blitzer that the real protectionists are those who “don’t want to trade with Cuba and they want to put sanctions on anybody who blinks their eye at them.” This is a telling statement about how high Paul sets the bar for designating a country an enemy of the United States. He has previously expressed his opposition to U.S. sanctions on Iran, which has killed Americans, as well as the citizens of allies such as Israel, for decades. To Paul, though, the mullahs have only been “blinking their eyes at us.”
His son, Sen. Rand Paul, defeated Trey Grayson in the 2010 Republican primary in Kentucky, in part by trying to differentiate his foreign policy views from those of his father. Rand Paul is now a lead surrogate for his father’s presidential campaign and as senator over the last year, he has hewed to the family line. He’s proposed massive cuts to the defense budget, called for significant cuts to foreign aid, including to Israel, and blocked routine Senate resolutions condemning brutal crackdowns in countries such as Syria as well as statements of support for key allies, such as the Republic of Georgia.
So who do Ron and Rand Paul think threatens the United States? If not Iran, Syria, Russia, or even China, then who? Or is their plan to reduce American military capabilities to the point where the American people can only be defended from an invasion by Mexico or Canada?
Also troubling is the fact that people who call themselves constitutionalists, such as the Pauls, argue that their foreign policy would be the type of foreign policy espoused by the Founders. #more#They are obviously overlooking the inconvenient fact that there is no way that those men gathered in Philadelphia in 1776, who faced death if captured by the British, meant the words of the Declaration — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — to apply to just those thirteen colonies at only that time. Anyone who doubts this should look no further than Thomas Paine’s comment at the time that “the cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”
That’s actually the greatest problem with Representative Paul’s views. He doesn’t grasp what America is, what we have always stood for, and what our global responsibilities are as the world’s sole superpower, and he clearly has no sense of who actually threatens our way of life. A country governed by a Paul administration would lead to a much more dangerous world, embolden our enemies, and likely result in significant American casualties.
As Ronald Reagan eloquently put it in his speech at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-Day:
We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
Ron Paul has not learned that lesson. Lucky for the country, he’s unlikely to become president, but it’s heartening to see his rivals have begun to point out, as Newt Gingrich recently did, that “Ron Paul’s views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American.”
The same should be said of those who support him, regardless of what happens in Iowa. The Republican party does not need these voters, many of whom are independents or Democrats unlikely to support the eventual nominee. The libertarian policies they advocate, whether isolationist or noninterventionist, only serve to undermine the party of Reagan’s tradition of peace through strength. This is a tradition which, thankfully, all of Paul’s competitors have embraced, and it is the tradition that will guide the foreign policy of the next Republican occupant of the White House, whoever that may be.
— Jamie Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.