Congressman Ron Paul has a moving tribute to our Founding Fathers in today’s New Hampshire Union Leader. Unfortunately, the same piece is Dr. Paul’s modern foreign policy prescription. And so we must fisk.
Any response to this paper’s Friday editorial on my foreign policy position must rest on two fundamental assertions: first, that the Founding Fathers were not isolationists; and second, that their political philosophy — the wisdom of the Constitution, the Declaration, and our Revolution itself — is not just a primitive cultural relic…
The first part is true enough, but in the second half, Paul is wrestling with a straw man. Just because I might find that what worked for three million Atlantic Coast farmers might not apply fully to modern America, doesn’t mean I find them “primitive.” Hardly. The Founders were men of the Enlightenment — Renaissance men in a very real sense of the phrase. They gave us the institutions we still use today. And in their wisdom, they made those institutions flexible and amendable enough that we can still use them today in much-changed circumstances — even if Paul is too much of a “relic” to be so wise.
But let’s get to the meat. Paul continues:
…A non-interventionist foreign policy is not an isolationist foreign policy. It is quite the opposite. Under a Paul administration, the United States would trade freely with any nation that seeks to engage with us. American citizens would be encouraged to visit other countries and interact with other peoples rather than be told by their own government that certain countries are off limits to them.
Paul is being a little disingenuous here, and more than a little dangerous. A nation can be isolationist while allowing its citizens to travel freely (which the US does, except to Cuba, although even that’s allowed behind a wink and a smile). A nation can also be isolationist while sealing its borders, ala the old East Germany. What Paul has done here is to conflate private actions (like tourism) with the public foreign policy of the government of the United States.
And under a Paul administration, the US would trade freely with any nation he could negotiate a free-trade treaty with, then push that treaty through two-thirds of the Senate. That little stumbling block rather reduces Paul’s chances of getting all the free trade he can eat.
Now here’s where Paul gets dangerous:
American citizens would be allowed to spend their hard-earned money wherever they wish across the globe, not told that certain countries are under embargo and thus off limits.
Me, I’m all for free trade — with our European partners, with Japan and our Australian friends in the Pacific, with India and even China, and someday soon I hope with the entire Western Hemisphere. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea for American companies to be competing with the Russian government over who can supply Tehran with the lowest-cost nuclear materials. Paul, on the other hand, wouldn’t have it any other way:
An American trade policy would encourage private American businesses to seek partners overseas and engage them in trade. The hostility toward American citizens overseas in the wake of our current foreign policy has actually made it difficult if not dangerous for Americans to travel abroad. Is this not an isolationist consequence from a policy of aggressive foreign interventionism?
Yes, that’s right — a half-century of anti-American sentiment will be wiped clean if we’d just sell spare fighter parts to Iran and Palestine! We’ll be safe again to go to those places we’re just dying (maybe literally) to visit, like downtown Pyongyang and the bleaker bits of Mindanao. In the meantime, just how many American civilians have been kidnapped overseas by terrorists since we invaded Iraq? Five? Ten? The Lebanese used to take that many at a time, back when we were busy retreating from Beirut. And Libya used to kill American civilians by the planeload, before Baghdad fell. Fly safe now, kids, and don’t forget to write.
It is not we non-interventionists who are isolationsists [sic]. The real isolationists are those who impose sanctions and embargoes on countries and peoples across the globe because they disagree with the internal and foreign policies of their leaders.
In 1940, The Imperial Japanese Navy was made from American scrap metal, and powered by American oil — as it shelled Chinese coastal cities. We should be proud that in 1941, we stopped selling oil and scrap iron to Japan. And we should be prouder still, that by 1945 the US Navy had reduced the Japanese fleet back into scrap. And we should be just as proud today that we’re using our strength and influence to prevent rogue regimes from gaining access to nuclear materials.
Free trade is a good thing, and a natural right. But it isn’t always desirable, and like all rights, it isn’t absolute.
The real isolationists are those who choose to use force overseas to promote democracy, rather than seek change through diplomacy, engagement, and by setting a positive example.
Well, first Paul would emasculate our diplomacy by sacrificing out biggest carrot (trade) and our second-biggest stick (denial of trade) on the altar of free trade. After that work is done, engagement becomes moot, and as an example we become laughing-stocks.
And people wonder why I left the Libertarian Party?
I do not believe that ideas have an expiration date, or that their value can be gauged by their novelty. The test for new and old is that of wisdom and experience, or as the editors wrote “historical reality,” which argues passionately now against the course of anti-Constitutional interventionism.
What is anti-Constitutional about waging war against this nation’s enemies? Al Qaeda and their Taliban enablers struck at the heart of this nation six years ago. Congress granted the President the authority to strike back at them, and continued to provide money and supplies to continue actions in Afghanistan. Is that unconstitutional?
Iraq defied every UN requirement that it open up to inspectors. Baghdad flagrantly ignored the ceasefire agreement it signed with the US in 1991. Republican Guard units regularly fired on American aircraft. Saddam Hussein plotted to kill a former American President. Iraqi oil money went to terrorists in Palestine, and Iraqi shelter was given to others who killed Americans. As a result, Congress gave the President the authority to go to war, and continues to vote money and supplies for that war. Is that unconstitutional? Unwise? Maybe, although I wouldn’t agree. But clearly the Constitution hasn’t even been stretched here, much less broken.
A Paul administration would see Americans engaged overseas like never before, in business and cultural activities.
Translation: American firms could help prop up regimes in Cuba, North Korea, and Tehran, while those countries continue to block polluting American “cultural activities.”
Alternate translation: Every American should wage his or her very own foreign policy. Our actual government would be limited to holding feel-good photo-ops for free-trading tyrants, if only it could find any.
But a Paul administration would never attempt to export democracy or other values at the barrel of a gun, as we have seen over and over again that this is a counterproductive approach that actually leads the United States to be resented and more isolated in the world.
Translation: The Confederacy, Germany, Japan, Korea, Grenada, Afghanistan, etc., would all be better off today had they never felt the sting of American arms.
Let’s ask them about that, shall we? And while we’re at it, let’s ask Ron Paul to stay away from our foreign policy.
UPDATE: More here from Doug Mataconis.