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An Intelligent Conversation on Paul’s Foreign Policy

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Within the comments on a Vox Popoli post about Santorum comes a reasoned and reasonable discussion of Ron Paul’s foreign policy. At last!

Following are excerpts which I think flow together well enough. I would normally put this in “blockquote” style, but it is long so I am not quoting in favor of readability.


I think you're essentially correct, that the foreign policy is an obstacle for many. It doesn't help that the media mostly distorts his position and attempts to box him in with gotcha questions. All in all, I think he handles it quite well.

But let me ask you, or anyone, how would you articulate the non-interventionist position any better, so that it wasn't automatically disregarded as crazy.

In my opinion, most people think that while our government is corrupt in many ways, it wouldn't purposely send our kids needlessly to die, because, well, "there really are bad guys out there!". It is the default position for most people. My observation is that as people come over to Ron Paul's positions, in many areas, not just foreign policy, there is an "aha!" experience, where they say "I get it!". Sound bites don't work to convince people to think through these issues. I think that's why generally Ron doesn't lose support, once someone "convert". It's a transformation of the mind.

So I ask those who criticize RP for poorly articulating his position, apart from avoiding the issue or trying to sugarcoat it and be a stealth candidate, how would you articulate it better? He's said numerous times that he doesn't consider himself the best messenger, but to be honest, I haven't seen anyone come forth and do better. His consistency and integrity in saying the same thing for so many years makes his positions worth considering for those willing to think...

As for understanding Ron Paul's foreign policy, I know many intelligent adults who reject his or Buchanan's form of isolationism out of hand. He seems to fit in neither the Neo-Liberal (of which the Neo-Cons are a violent subset) nor the Real Politik school of thought and those are the two, main schools of thought.

I believe he looks towards a sort of armed isolationism in which the US maintains sufficient force to defend itself, deter aggression against itself and secures its own borders. To those who have been in the Neo-Lib or Real Politik tradition, they see this as a retreat from the US international involvement and project that other, powerful nations will rush in to fill the power void. They would argue that war in Korea or Taiwan would break out, millions could die, etc.

I can accept the reduction of US military force overseas but maintain that our withdrawal from our current role as a guardian of other nation's liberty should be more gradual... giving South Korea and Taiwan time to arm up or negotiate themselves into a new position. Russia is no longer what it was so the EU doesn't need us, France and England have their own nukes so we could withdraw from Europe/NATO fairly rapidly. The Afghan drawdown could be completed in a year, as long as you don't care what happens to the nation.

When they ask about Iran, he should be saying something like this (he already says some of this): If we need to go to war with Iran, I will ask Congress for a declaration of war. I will order the military to destroy the Iranian threat. And then I will bring the troops home. If you vote for these other candidates, they will not bring the troops home. They will stay, they will turn military action into political action, waste our money on nation building, run up the deficit and weaken this nation. If you want a strong national defense, I am the only candidate in this race, in either party, who will deliver it.

He should take it to them. They always bring up Iran's nuke because it is Paul's weak point, he is put on the defensive rather than the offense. He needs to attack their weak points and hammer away at it. He needs to play the hawk and make them appear incompetent and weak on national defense. He needs to break their frame. He needs to be more Alpha.

farmer Tom
As far back as the Barbary pirates, the US was struggling with how to protect our interests in trade when we were no longer protected by the British Navy.

To suggest that it is in our national interest to simply abandon all of our sea ports, naval bases and military bases all over the world is naive at best, and utterly stupid at the worst.

Now, I totally agree that we ought not to be the worlds policeman. But, if we really believe that access to free and open trade (the free market) is the tide that lifts all boats, then we must maintain the ability to protect our national interests here and abroad.

That means maintaining a Naval Base in the Philippines, keeping a military base on Diego Garcia, on Guam and other places around the world.

I would be willing to bet that Ron Paul actually agrees with that, but his inability to say it that way, instead saying he will bring all US military assets back to the US, flat out scares people .

I want to end the empire building, but I sure as hell don't want to totally disarm the entire US military.

farmer Tom
Listen carefully, if you are a big fan of free trade, Ron Paul's foreign policy sounds crazy, because there is now no military presence worldwide to protect the "free" flow of crappy goods to the US.

Like it or not,(I don't) we currently have a system based on free trade, and these people not being as stupid as you think, understand that they can not have free trade without a strong military presence overseas to protect the crappy goods coming here.

Now what makes Ron Paul appear even more crazy is that he claims to be in favor of free trade. If he were consistent, then he would be opposed to free trade as well as wanting to bring the military home. Thus they see his policies as "crazy." And they have half a point.

In other words his two policies, "free trade" and "close all the military bases around the world" are philosophically incoherent.

We are the policeman of the world. We can stop, we have that choice and it would be a good one. The question is, will we do it abruptly at the risk of the international order we have built or will we do it gracefully, over a three to seven year time period.

I think it should be done, and done gracefully. Leaving treaty partners and allies in a lurch is not a good way to do things in the long run.

Your "concerns" are incoherent and completely unfounded. The greatest threat to free trade in the world right now is the the United States. We've placed a virtual embargo on Iranian oil to the rest of the world. Even before we had military bases all over the word, was there ever a threat to trade routes? Where is this threat to "free-trade" coming from? The Middle East? Russia? Hardly.

So how does our involvement in Libya, for example, protect our interests? I don't think even RP advocates a nothing approach. Surely there's something between all and nothing. Just asking.

If Japan and China just made a trade agreement that will cut out the dollar, how is having a base in Japan protecting out interests? It just seems to me that military bases are not the best way to facilitate free trade.


That’s where it stands as I post to NRR.

Shortcomings are identified and explored. This is the kind of thing that Big Media cannot do. Nobody is shouting, and points are taken and countered, not merely dismissed. It’s what I imagine adults are supposed to sound like.

Rantor’s angle, of a gradual withdrawal back to the borders seems to be the method that would be followed, even if Paul wanted it to happen more quickly. I don’t know that Paul has articulated a strategy or timeline for repositioning of forces. My hope would be that he has not because he understands there are things he does not yet know since he is not privy to all the secrets. Somebody like Cain or Romney, if they shared the objective of non-intervention, would come up with a detailed plan. The plan may not work once those secrets are revealed, but we would have something to dig into.

Paul’s policy does call for a strong navy, and the bases which farmer Tom refers to are always “occupation”  or “land war” bases when Paul talks about it. If have characterized Paul’s vision as Porcupine America, but a porcupine with a long reach. I might be engaged in wishful thinking. Paul did support going after bin Laden. In order to do that, some global basing is necessary.

Now I have to find a similarly interesting and informed discussion of Paul’s policy in regard to sub-military and secret interventions in foreign lands. Can the United States survive an Islamic ascendancy? Can political Islam be stopped short of total war? What does the Constitution require and/or permit?


Somebody recently posted that Ron Paul's foreign policy is 'simplistic'.  Well, it's simple, but not simplistic.  Simplistic infers that there was little thought put into it.  If that were true, then an approach which employs "this is the way it's always been done" is simplistic, because it's frankly quite stupid.  Just because it's been done a certain way for so long is NO REASON to keep doing it.  I know.  I've had a hell of a time at various jobs trying to get people to change behaviors which were detrimental to business health.

Now I will accept that Paul's foreign policy is 'simple'.  Because it is.  Armed and protective engaged isolationism.  That is, we won't disarm, and we won't engage other nations diplomatically.  But we won't offer money or assistance without a significant quid pro quo.  And we won't go to 'war' in a 'police action' or any other kind of 'action' without a full declaration of war, as opposed to a "War Powers" activity.

So, let's just say Paul realizes the US was much more well-received prior to its post-WWII behaviors.  People still want to come here for opportunity, but many more wanted to come here then, and almost nobody disliked us.

I doubt Ron's policy will get the Islamofascists to love us any more.  But they certainly will not become emboldened.  Indeed, pulling back is the last thing the Islamofascists expect, and would completely undermine their raison d'etre.  Sure, they's proclaim "We Won, We did it!" - but this would be a short lived rally cry as the populations realized these terrorists are just terrorists and do not offer opportunity.  Pretty soon, they will say "hey, weren't things actually better before?" 

In a sense, Ron is crazy like a fox.  He's doing exactly what they want, because he knows it's actually the smartest thing to do.  Transparent, simple, policies have very complex results.

It’s foreign policy Jiu Jitsu! Use the opponnent’s momentum to take him off balance.

Pulling the US thumb out of their eye will lead the Islamic factions to focus their hatred on each other. They will still hate the United States, but have no urgent cause to take action against us. As the old quip goes, eliminating Israel would not lead to peace in the Middle East.

Those who are pointing at Iran as a threat are being simplistic. They’re applying a Cold War frame to a much more complex problem. I agree political Islam is a threat to Americans and the Constitution. Terrorist factions are only a minor component of the threat. Jihad is not necessarily violent.

Paul’s devotion to our Founding principles stakes out a front in an ideological battle. Political Islam may not be compatible with democracy and a republic. If the US returns to being the bastion of liberty, the land of opportunity, it can force Islam to resolve it’s own internal conflict.