Dying on That Hillock
“In normal times, evil would be fought by good. But in times like these, it must be fought by a different kind of evil.” — Aereon, The Chronicles of Riddick
It seems Ron Paul’s moment has passed here at the League, and we’ve implicitly chosen instead to support some other Republican contender. I find myself perhaps the only one here who still supports Ron Paul for the Republican nomination. (Please correct me if I’m wrong). In a field full of turds, pursuing a maximin strategy is the only way to avoid getting your shoes dirty (consider this vis-a-vis Paul’s defense of earmarking), and Paul is the maximin.
Let’s imagine: we’re all professors and the various Republican candidates for President are our students. The final exam for my class (your class may be different of course) covers material from non-interventionism to peaceful cosmopolitanism and is worth 40% of a candidate’s grade. The midterm – worth 30% – covers opposition to expensive and counterproductive domestic “wars” on substances or abstract ideas (See my last post for why I value these issues over others – essentially, it’s because they’re bigger issues no matter which way you look at it). Every Republican but Paul and Huntsman (who seems to be out of the race at this point) fails the final exam. Paul is the only candidate who passes the midterm.
Outside of this, Paul had a mediocre performance in lab, nor did he turn in any problem sets: he gets a C in my course. But all the other candidates failed. If there was ever a right-in-front-of-your-nose, how-could-you-miss-it, blatantly-obvious application of the phrase we love so much around here “perfect is the enemy of the good” (or even “good is the enemy of the mediocre”) Ron Paul being a viable candidate for the Republican nomination is it.
There’s a certain between people who claim that present US foreign policy is “indiscriminate and random” and the endorsement of a candidate’s foreign policy angle which while not fitting the definition of “random” certainly qualifies as indiscriminate. Blanket disengagement and non-intervention, with an emphasis toward trade liberalization and withdrawal of the US from IGOs qualifies as without discrimination.
Look, there are many areas in which US foreign policy is far from ideal. The current policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan show a decision making apparatus that is often overly concerned with a myopic definition of security interests (ie the elimination of Al Qaeda). That doesn’t mean that US foreign policy as a WHOLE is as myopic or disastrous as you (or really in general commentators on this site) claim. Indeed US foreign policy TRIES (whether it succeeds or not is a different claim) to discriminate in its use of force, with a substantial amount of manpower going into the identification of targets, the acceptable amount of collateral damage and intelligence gathering. Whether the standards are acceptable ones is a different debate, but there’s a framework here to try to be discriminate and ordered.
Certainly when removed from the context of Af-Pak, the trajectory of US foreign policy decision making has been markedly more nuanced and careful than non-interventionists give it credit for. Whether it’s the emphasis on engaging Turkey for regional policy in the near east, the pivot towards engaging and establishing a closer working relationship with countries in the Pacific Rim through FTAs and TPP (conversely, both things that Paul has suggested he is against), or an attempt to place greater respect and emphasis on European foreign policy’s reach, there’s been an acceptance that US power isn’t infinite, but that there are vital interests to be served by staying engaged.
Further we can see through the wikileaks cables that a lot of the US foreign policy making apparatus (state department) is staffed by extremely competent experts who make substantive critiques of US policy and try to implement what they see as good policy on the ground. In addition it’s worth noting that some of the departments that Paul wants to abolish, such as DOE have substantial foreign policy engagement angles as well. US participation in the physics research conducted at CERN for example is largely funded out of DOE or run by DOE funded lab efforts.
We can disagree about whether or not these things are desirable from your own political philosophy’s point of view. And I’m welcome to hear what you think of some of the above. But on the whole I think there’s a substantial glibness to your assertion of an indiscriminate, random bombing US foreign policy.
Nob makes some excellent points despite his mis-characterization of Paul’s peaceful cosmopolitanism as “disengagement”. Present U.S. foreign policy is certainly more nuanced and complex than my use of the term “indiscriminate” implies. In light of this, “indiscriminate” is probably not the best word to describe the intentions of the experts.
But still, there’s something fundamentally inconsistent and incoherent (and yes, indiscriminate) about bombing Iraq from bases in Saudi Arabia while ignoring Iran, promising Kim Jong-Il light water reactors and then cutting him off completely for domestic, partisan reasons, installing a dictator only to depose him ten years later, decrying human rights abuses in one country while ignoring the exact same human rights abuses in another, arming and supporting a nationalist group of guerrillas because we don’t like the results of a democratic election, establishing bases in over 150 countries the soldiers of which go around assaulting and raping locals and yet are not held accountable to local law; not to mention that the analysts at the DoD seem to still miss the concept of “blowback” entirely, nor do they seem to care about any long-term repercussions. (This seems very consistent with our economic and environmental policies in fact, and there are probably very clear structural reasons why politicians don’t care at all about the distant future).
Despite the best intentions of the mice and men at the DoD and in the military, and despite the DOE’s contributions to physics research, what comes out of the system is often nothing but arbitrary despotism. Take the Iraq War for instance. The war was originally envisioned as a quick operation costing 50 billion dollars. I have no doubt that “Operation Iraqi Freedom” was not an Orwellian name. Of course, the Rube Goldberg machine that was GWB’s plan for Iraq never came to fruition, costs swelled to almost 100 times the initial projection, and the rest as they say is history.
President Obama took office with promises of change: an end to the quagmire in Iraq and a new pragmatic, post-partisan refocus on just bringing to justice the perpetrators of the September 11th attacks. He even won the Nobel Peace Prize for his rhetoric (perhaps because he made Europe feel relevant again). Now, three years later, we’re leaving Iraq with the blood of hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis (plus millions of refugees) on our hands; the President of peace still has us in Afghanistan (now casually referred to as “Af-Pak”), plus, we’re robot-bombing or have recently robot-bombed Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and two other countries, and we’ve “sent advisers” into Nigeria and Uganda. Does anyone know whether or not we’re still in Somalia? Does anyone care?
Oh, and the Nobel Peace Prize winner also assassinated an American citizen in a foreign sovereign state by executive order. That is some frightening shit right there.
Anyways, more than feeling bad about some sketchball who may or may not be a few degrees and twenty some-odd years removed from candidate Paul and who wrote that Bobby Fischer got a bad rap for taking an unpopular position on “the Jewish question” or that the white male is really the most persecuted minority despite illusions to the contrary, I prefer to focus on policy: empirically speaking, what I feel far worse about are the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and millions of refugees who continue to suffer today right in front of our unblinking eyes.
I don’t want to live in the country that caused that, I don’t want to live in the country that just declared victory and left that to fend for itself, and I don’t want to live in the country that will continue to cause those sorts of things until there is a massive and radical course correction and not just a different, better country to bomb and a different political party to blame and a different dangerous idea to spend trillions of dollars protecting us from. Currently, Ron Paul is the only candidate that is offering such a course correction. How long will we have to wait for the next?