By Jerome Slater
Katha Pollitt of The Nation has the best anti-Ron Paul commentary I’ve yet seen: “Ron Paul’s strange bedfellows.” Here are a couple of other points that Pollitt didn’t address:
There’s a fundamental problem with Paul’s foreign policy positions. Yes, he opposed the war in Iraq, Israel’s wars against the Palestinians, and any attack on Iran–excellent. Most liberals also did so. You didn’t have to be a rightwing nut to do so. But it is not the case that an indiscriminate “antiwar” position is always the wisest and most moral posture. Other than fascists, everyone is “antiwar”–until, that is, they get down to cases. Here’s a few:
WWII. Everyone thinks WWII was a just war. But since Paul, as Pollitt puts it, is against everything the U.S. government does, domestically or internationally, there is every reason to think he would have opposed FDR’s decision that we had to join in the fight both for moral and strategic reasons.
Afghanistan after 9/11. Not quite as unanimous as in the case of WWII, an overwhelming majority of Americans (including me) thought that 9/11 made it was necessary to go after both the Taliban and, in particular, Osama bin Laden. Indeed, when you remember what the Taliban did to Afghanistan, there was also a moral case for doing so–though obviously we would not have gone to war in the absence of 9/11. Here I distinguish between the initial intervention and the endless war we are still mired in, the latter being both morally and strategically unwise and unnecessary. We should have gotten out within months of the initial attack.
Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s: a closer case, and strategically irrelevant. Still, I’m hardly alone in believing that it was a moral imperative–not to mention a general success–in saving the Muslims of Bosnia and Kosovo–yes, the Muslims, often overlooked–and getting rid of another monster, Milosevic.
The Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in the early 1990s, after he attacked Kuwait and there was every reason to believe Saudi Arabia, at the least, was next. The first George Bush did exactly the right thing: stopped the aggression, and ended the war when that had been accomplished. As a matter of fact, he stopped too soon, not because he didn’t send troops into Baghdad and overthrow Saddam–that was the right decision–but by allowing Saddam to use his helicopters and his thugs to brutally crush the Iraqi resistance in the south that we had actively encouraged.
Libya: Still more controversial, but looking reasonably good. This one split both liberals and conservatives, I leaned towards thinking that Obama did the right thing for the right reasons.
Final comment: all wars cause civilian casualties, which by themselves is not enough to condemn them; it is ridiculous to argue that they must invariably be unjustified if you “ask the family of the victims what they think.” No doubt the families of the Nazis or even just ordinary German soldiers killed in the war were despondent; where does that take you? Or, how about France in WWII? The noncombatant French casualties that were a consequence of the war to liberate them were orders of magnitude greater than all recent wars. Does anyone believe that the overwhelming majority of the people of France would have preferred a thousand year Reich?
There are two thousand years of serious religious and philosophical thought on the problem of war, when it is just and when it is unjust. Other than true pacifists– of whom there are hardly any, and most of whom changed their minds when faced with Hitler–no one really believes that all wars are unjust. I can’t go into all these issues here, but to examine this question fuly you need to ask if the overall war is justified, if every effort is made to minimize civilian casualties, if the people in the country suffering the casualties are nonetheless willing to accept them, and if there is every reason to believe the war saves far many more people than it kills. And there are many more criteria for thinking about this terribly serious issue than I’ve mentioned here.
Libya is an interesting case in point. Obama–together with France, Italy, Britain, and some others–calculated that far many more Libyans would have been killed by Quaddafi than were lost in the war to free them–and not only free them from death, but also from continued tyranny, no small matter. I’ve seen no evidence at all that this calculation of where the moral balance lay has been proven wrong. The overwhelming bulk of the evidence is that a vast majority of the Libyan people enthusiastically welcomed the military intervention–even as they, probably unavoidably or nearly so, suffered civilian casualties.
In short, Ron Paul is a simpleminded fool on 90% (at least) of the issues, domestic and foreign. There have been no good consequences or byproducts of his candidacy, he has worsened the already abysmal US political discourse, he has not forced any candidate of any party to move to the left, even on the handful of issues on which he is correct. Re Phil Weiss’s argument that Paul could force the other Republican candidates, and maybe even Obama, to the left and adopt his anti-war agenda, this overlooks a much more likely consequence of Paul’s views: they will force the other Republican candidates to move further to the RIGHT, adopting his domestic agenda while ignoring his foreign “policies,” if they can be so described. In fact, this is precisely what is happening now: cf. Romney and even Huntsman.
If his appeal continues among Republican voters, it is more likely that Romney, by far the most likely Republican nominee, will move even further to the right. And that could even force Obama to move to the “center,” which has already moved way to the right. Of course, that won’t bother those who think that Obama is already a rightwinger, but it sure as hell bothers me and other liberals, who recognize Obama’s disappointing first term but also understand that he has to deal with an increasingly rightwing Congress and, more broadly, rightwing country.
Jerome Slater is a professor (emeritus) of political science and now a University Research Scholar at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has taught and written about U.S. foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly 50 years, both for professional journals (such as International Security, Security Studies, and Political Science Quarterly) and for many general periodicals. He writes foreign policy columns for the Sunday Viewpoints section of the Buffalo News. And his website it www.jeromeslater.com.
This article was published at Mondoweiss.net here: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/01/ron-pauls-antiwar-position-is-simpleminded.html