Unlike Dale Amon, one of this site’s editors, I am not much of a fan of Ron Paul, or at least, not a fan of some of the people who back and cheerlead for his campaign. I can respect, even admire, how he has been consistent in pointing to the folly of central bank financial manipulation, which is why his campaign against the Fed is something I admire. I can also appreciate how he has pushed some important libertarian ideas into the political culture. A lot of people whose views I respect say that he has done a tremendous amount of good. And they argue that yes, that whole business about the letters back in the late 80s and early 90s was poor and did not reflect well on his judgement – hardly a good thing in a potential POTUS – but hey, plenty of people make mistakes and Paul has disowned this stuff.
But one of the things about the Ron Paul campaign that has concerned me is his foreign policy stance. I am not complaining about his anti-interventionism. That’s entirely consistent with a libertarian point of view; it draws on the wisdom of realising that one intervention inevitably breeds another and and another and so on in endless, disastrous profusion. But where he seriously leaves me behind is when he starts to make excuses, or gives the impression of doing so, for lousy regimes and individuals. Case in point being a video arguing that there would be a parallel between how Americans might feel if foreign troops were based in say, Texas, and the situation regarding US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tim Sandefur, a long-time critic of Ron Paul (he has called RP a “conman” and not a libertarian), has a ferocious article about the video, and in particular, brings up the issue of the American Civil War to highlight what he thinks is wrong with the video’s underlying premises and arguments.
“The video starts out by inviting us to sympathize with the Islamofascists, who, we are told, are led to military “resistance” against a foreign occupier—that is, the United States. Imagine that, say, the Chinese or the Russians maintained a military base in Texas, and that thousands of armed troops from such a nation were patrolling American streets. Wouldn’t that be awful? So surely we can understand why al Quaeda in Mesopotamia plants roadside bombs to kill American soldiers, no?”
“One notices right away that this opening sentence demands that we ignore the differences between the American forces in Iraq or Afghanistan, and the forces of al Qaeda and its allies—or the relative characters of the nations or institutions on whose behalf they act. American troops, representing a democratic nation that liberated Iraq from the barbarism of Saddam Hussein and helped to institute the first-ever democratic governments there and in Afghanistan, are to be regarded as the moral equivalent of, say, the People’s Liberation Army patrolling the streets of Dallas. Of course, once one accepts this moral equivalence, one is prepared to accept anything.”
Then, several paras later, this is:
“The climax of this moral equivalency comes in the middle of the video, when we are explicitly invited to imagine ourselves joining with some Holy Army of Martyrdom to “defend our soil and our sovereignty” by fighting against this invading army—and to feel sorry for these freedom fighters who are (so sad) labeled by an unfeeling world as terrorists or insurgents. This absurdity mutates into a thinly veiled accusation that Americans are simply committing genocide. At this point, one loses any interest in watching further.”
“Soil and sovereignty” is a particularly interesting choice of phrase: note that even this video does not have the chutzpah to suggest that those who strap bombs to their chests or set IEDs by roadsides in the Middle East are doing so in defense of, say, justice, or individual rights. It is just a question of “soil and sovereignty.” Of course, “soil and sovereignty,” or “Blut und Boden,” has long been the favorite slogan of all fascists. What it really means is, “room to oppress with impunity.” It is the demand for the freedom to enslave. Failure to recognize this is what has so often led otherwise sensible and sensitive people to mistake despotic thuggery for wars of national liberation—often until it is too late, and the bell tolls for thee.”
A question, though, is that its defence of intervention into brutal regimes does beg the question of who gets to decide which regimes fail a test of decency and should therefore be dealt with? But it is a good article, and I recommend the whole of it. Here is the final paragraph:
“By ridiculing the notion of defending democracy and preserving the peace in the Middle East, by regarding the troops of a democratic coalition in a region pock-marked with totalitarian fascist states as equivalent to a communist military patrolling the towns of Texas, the video ignores the difference between justice and tyranny, between peace and desolation, between freedom and slavery. And one who chooses to blind himself to these differences has chosen to blind himself to everything of importance in the world.”
Exactly so. If one is serious about belief in expanding freedom, would one not, to take another example, want to do something about the guy down the street who is known to be torturing his wife and kids, even if his actions had no direct bearing on one’s own?
At the same time, this article, by constitutional scholar and classical liberal, Randy Barnett, is a thoughtful item about some of the possible contradictions and problems associated with issues of sovereignty, liberty, and war.
But the question remains: however powerful the sort of arguments that Sandefur presents – and they are very powerful – who gets to decide that it is okay to pull the trigger? That is what makes these debates so infernally difficult.