NR Digital

Happy Warrior

Paul the Parochial

by Mark Steyn

Uncle Sam has now spent a decade running around the Hindu Kush building grade schools and shoveling taxpayer-funded Viagra to every elderly village headman with one too many child brides. According to the World Bank, the Western military/aid presence accounts for 97 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP. And, within a week of the West’s departure, it will be as if that 97 percent had never been there, and all that remains will be the same old 3 percent tribal dump of mullahs, warlords, poppy barons, and pederasts, all as charmingly unspoiled as if the U.S. and its allies had quit 48 hours after toppling the Taliban in 2001.

It is two-thirds of a century since the alleged hyperpower last unambiguously won a war, and that ought to prompt a little serious consideration of the matter. Instead, we have Ron Paul, who says all would be well if we stopped “endlessly bombing” “these countries.” To which penetrating insight his fans respond with: “Bring them home! Bring them home!” For some reason, I attract a lot of correspondence from Paulites arguing that, if I truly mean what I wrote in the paragraph above, then Ron’s my man. A retired U.S. Army officer writes from South Carolina:

The US Military is a Peace-Making force, not a Peace-keeping Nation Building one. I am sure Dr. Paul would cut out the district military pork of Congress (whom 80% have NEVER served unlike him!), the $600 toilet seats, and $80 hammers, etc ad infinitum, ad nauseam. . . . Quit playing whack a mole and other stupid social games, either utterly vanquish like against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan or DO NOT GO IN! They are for MacArthur: nuke the Chicoms if needed. . . . Send in Seal Team 6 to take out Bin Ladens, etc. None of this PC stuff, otherwise we would not have won WW1 and WW2!

A Ron Paul man in Indianapolis agrees: “Playing Global Cop for the UN has done nothing for the US or creating allies. . . . We attack when attacked and we attack with vengence [sic], I mean nuclear vengence.”

Ron Paul supporters may support such appealingly muscular policies, but Ron Paul doesn’t. “Nuclear vengeance”? Include Ron out. He opposed Seal Team Six taking out bin Laden. Or as he put it in the Myrtle Beach debate: “I’m just trying to suggest that respect for other nations’ sovereignty — and look at the chaos in Pakistan now. We are at war in Pakistan, but to say that I didn’t want him killed. . . . I’m just suggesting that there are processes that if you could follow and that you should do it. There is [sic] proper procedures rather than digging bigger holes for ourselves.”

Does that sound like a president who’d drop the big one on Kandahar, never mind Beijing? Surely nuking the ChiComs would fall afoul of those “proper procedures”? As for all the savings from those $600 toilet seats, some 80 percent of the military budget goes to the training and salaries of the soldiery, and, as Doctor Paul was at pains to assure his audience, he has no plans to demob any of our boys in uniform. All he wants to do is eliminate their travel budget. If you want a massive military that stays in its barracks, you’re surely going to need more Osama-like missions — small, focused raids of elite commandos rappelling into compounds hither and yon. So, if the rubble-doesn’t-cause-trouble crowd are betting on Ron, they’ve got the wrong guy.

I was surprised in New Hampshire and South Carolina that the alleged “non-interventionist” didn’t have a more coherent answer to hand. But saying endlessly that we “endlessly bomb” “these countries” is about as specific as he wants to get, and all his fans need. Paul is offering Americans a libertarian version of the same pitch as Obama four years ago: End Bush’s wars, and we can get the good times back, with no pain. Once we slough off that pesky part of the map marked “Rest of the World,” we can live the socialist/libertarian dream (delete according to taste).

His fans dislike the designation “isolationist,” so how about parochial? Greta Garbo can say “I vont to be alone”; great powers don’t get the option. Even in steep, irreversible global retreat, America would remain for the rest of our lives the biggest, fattest, most inviting target on the planet. Ask the British: Speaking at Friday prayers during the 2009 uprising in Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei blamed it on foreign interference fomented by “bad British radio”: “The most evil of them all is the British government.” Her Majesty’s Government hasn’t meddled in Iran for half a century, but it’s still their fault. Likewise, Osama blamed Britain for the deaths of “two million Muslims” in Bosnia, from which cheerless hellhole London had kept its distance and been impeccable Ron Paul non-interventionists. Luxembourg can vote for a quiet life, but not a nation of 300 million people whose cultural influence, for good or ill, is everywhere. To modify Trotsky, you may not be interested in the world, but the world is interested in you. And “America: Love us or leave us be” is especially unpersuasive when your future’s mortgaged to foreigners, and everything in your house is made overseas.

I wish I could like Ron Paul more, really I do. But libertarian narcissism is as banal as any other strain. Ten years of desultory, inconclusive, transnationally constrained warmongering is certainly a problem. But know-nothing parochial delusion is not the solution.

– Mr. Steyn blogs at SteynOnline (

Send a letter to the editor.

Get the NR Magazine App
iPad/iPhone   |   Android