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Presidential candidate Ron Paul is an ardent defender of liberty and thoroughly consistent when it comes to individual freedom. That wins him lots of support among libertarians, but it doesn’t make him right on all the issues. In fact, the positions he has taken in recent debates on a range of issues related to defense and national security sound jarringly similar to the blame-America nonsense of the left-wing fringe. Here are just a few examples.
Asked in an August debate about Iran going nuclear, the congressman challenged us to put ourselves in Iran’s shoes: “Think of how many nuclear weapons surround Iran. The Chinese are there. The Indians are there. The Pakistanis are there. The Israelis are there. The United States is there…Why wouldn’t it be natural that they might want a weapon? Internationally, they’d be given more respect.”
When former senator Rick Santorum pushed back, citing Iran’s 1979 assault on the U.S. embassy, Paul went even further, seemingly channeling some left-wing poli-sci professor: “We’ve been at war in Iran for a lot longer than ‘79. We started it in 1953 when we sent in a coup, installed the shah, and the reaction, the blowback came in 1979. It’s been going on and on because we just plain don’t mind our own business. That’s our problem.”
There it is. It all comes back to us. We’re to blame for Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Iran’s radicalism.
Asked in a June debate about the Afghanistan mission, Paul said he would bring the troops “home as quickly as possible. And I would get them out of Iraq as well. And I wouldn’t start a war in Libya. I’d quit bombing Yemen. And I’d quit bombing Pakistan…Our national security is not enhanced by our presence over there. We have no purpose there. We should learn the lessons of history.”
History is full of lessons, of course. One lesson, as Paul suggests, is that foreign intervention is fraught with risks and can have unintended consequences for the intervening country. But another lesson of history is that there are unintended consequences and risks to isolation.
American presidents and the American people have rejected the siren song of isolation since World War II because of, well, World War II. A consensus emerged after the war that the world could do more harm to America if America remained uninvolved and uninterested, that America could do more good in the world as a leader than as a passive observer, and that engagement in the world benefited America.
To be sure, there have been mistakes and missteps, costs and consequences, to American engagement in the world. But by and large, engagement has served American interests.
The “bring the troops home” trope always sounds appealing. But we’ve put it into practice before, and the results are often disastrous: We brought the troops home in 1919, focused on ourselves, took care of America and assiduously tried to stay out of the world’s way. Then Chamberlain gave us Munich; Hitler gave us another European war; and Japan gave us Pearl Harbor. We began bringing the troops home in 1945. Then Stalin gobbled up half of Europe, destabilized Turkey and Greece, and armed Kim Il-Sung in preparation for his invasion of South Korea.
By the way, the United States didn’t start the war in Libya. And whether or not the critics like it, America does have a purpose in the Middle East: fighting people, organizations and states that want to kill Americans. The targets of U.S. strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia are people plotting to kill Americans in Detroit and Dallas and D.C.
It’s worth noting here that the notion that we lived in blissful, peaceful isolation before the 20th century—implicit in Paul’s foreign-policy vision—does not jibe with American history. Jefferson, after all, raised a fleet and sent it halfway around the world to wage war on America’s enemies—in the first decade of the 1800s. The Congressional Research Service lists more than 100 instances of U.S. military intervention overseas before the 20th century. “Between 1800 and 1934,” as Max Boot observes, “U.S. Marines staged 180 landings abroad.”
But back to Rep. Paul: When asked in the September 7 debate about privatization, Paul started back down the blame-America path. “Just remember, 9/11 came about because there was too much government. Government was more or less in charge. They told the pilots they couldn’t have guns, and they were told never to resist. They set up the stage for all this.”
It gets better—or worse.
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