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A Real Foreign Policy Debate


A recent poll has revealed a schism within the GOP over foreign policy. In a Washington Times and JZ Analytics survey, 48 percent of Republicans said the United States should maintain a policy of intervening where its interests are challenged. But 46 percent disagreed, saying the country is “in a new global era” where it can no longer take such an active role.

“That makes me say that the party is fundamentally fractured, and not only along the obvious lines of the social conservatives, the libertarian conservatives and the moderate conservatives,” said John Zogby, who conducted the poll.

This fracture is best represented in the presidential campaign of Ron Paul, who has criticized U.S. foreign policy as being too bellicose and interventionist. He has called for bringing troops home from Afghanistan immediately and ending many of the military commitments the U.S. government has around the globe.

Paul’s message of noninterventionism has gained traction in the polls and given voters something they have not had since 1952: a real debate over foreign policy.

Paul is not just taking on the GOP establishment, which favors lavish military budgets and foreign interventionism. Paul’s challenge is to a sixty-year-old bipartisan national-security doctrine which proclaims the necessity and benevolence of the American Empire.

Since World War Two, the U.S. government has told the American people that their country is menaced by Manichean devils. This “enemy-at-the-gates” narrative has justified a Wilsonian internationalism and brought into being a vast national-security apparatus that includes huge annual military expenditures, hundreds of overseas military bases, entangling alliances, more than a dozen intelligence agencies, and a domestic surveillance state.

Franklin D. Roosevelt grossly exaggerated the threat posed by Axis powers in order to maneuver the country into war in 1941. Harry Truman told Americans that Soviet Russia, which had been devastated during her war against Nazi Germany, was somehow on the verge of overrunning Western Europe, and that it represented a threat on par with the recently vanquished Third Reich. Such scaremongering was necessary in galvanizing public support for the National Security Act of 1947, which among other things created the Central Intelligence Agency and put the country on a permanent war footing.

The bipartisan acceptance of the permanent warfare state was best expressed in an article written by William F. Buckley for Commonweal in 1952, in which the then-young conservative declared that the “thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union imminently threatens U.S. security,” and therefore “we have got to accept Big Government for the duration — for neither an offensive nor a defensive war can be waged … except through the instrumentality of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores.” Buckley concluded that all Americans, Republicans and Democrats, must support “large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards and the attendant centralization of power in Washington — even with Truman at the reins of it all.”

Americans were told international communism was a monolithic force that threatened the very existence of their country. U.S. war planners and strategists glossed over the Sino-Soviet split, which by the 1960s had become a gaping chasm, in developing a theory of a global communist conspiracy to take over the entire world. It was this type of simplistic and paranoid thinking that led to America’s disastrous military intervention in Vietnam.

There is no doubt that the Soviet Union was a genuine military threat to the United States, but that threat came primarily from her vast nuclear arsenal and not the Red Army, which for all its girth was a paper Siberian tiger. Nevertheless, Soviet conventional military capabilities were exaggerated to justify the deployment of hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops in Europe and grease the legislative skids on Capitol Hill for the large military appropriation bills that became routine throughout the Cold War.

After the demise of the Soviet Union, the praetorian class went in search of a new justification for their national-security state. After several fitful attempts at demonizing China, they settled on the “war on terror,” a project made much easier by the tragic and catalytic events of September 11, 2001.

The war on terror has been ideal for the praetorians because, we are told, it must be waged in many countries (even America) and that it may continue for generations.

This war envisions a global threat on par with 20th-century totalitarianism. Government officials and media pundits foster an atmosphere of fear and menace by warning the American people of the ever-present peril of “Islamic terrorism” and “Islamic fundamentalism.”

Under this threat paradigm, the United States must intervene militarily in the Middle East and elsewhere to smite “evildoers” and spread democracy, yet must also never allow democratic elections to empower Islamist political parties. It also assumes that Islamic terrorists target America, not because of the U.S. government’s incessant meddling in their countries, but because they are crazed fanatics who hate America for its freedoms. This caricature plays well in the American news media, which is always hungry for sensationalism but has no appetite for complexity.

American political leaders ignore the manifold divisions within the Muslim world and conflate disparate groups in conjuring up the threat of “Islamofascism” to justify an interventionist foreign policy that may turn Samuel Huntington’s lurid prediction of a clash of civilizations into a self-fulfilling prophecy. By aggressively intervening in the Middle East, the United States is not only creating mayhem and unleashing uncontrollable forces; it is also becoming the common enemy that could one day actually unify the Islamic world against the West.

U.S. foreign policy has been shaped by what the sociologist C. Wright Mills characterized as “military metaphysics,” a vision among the power elite that considers the state of war as the norm and peace as the aberration. This state of affairs has given rise to a military-industrial-security complex dedicated to carrying out perpetual warfare on a global scale.

The United States’ military budget makes up nearly half of the entire world’s military spending, and the United States spends more on the military than the next nineteen nations put together. Despite an increasingly enfeebled economy, U.S. war planners still talk hubristically of “full-spectrum dominance” and place orders for anachronistic and outrageously expensive weapons systems that do nothing to secure the nation, but do fatten the profit margins of military contractors.

Ron Paul is proposing a classical-liberal, pre-World War I, noninterventionist foreign policy, which entails slashing the Pentagon’s budget, closing America’s 900 overseas military bases, and bringing U.S. troops home from 130 countries.

Paul also recognizes that the creation of a global military empire has coincided with the development of a domestic police state that has shredded the Bill of Rights. He has rightly called for the repeal of the Patriot Act and the abolishment of the Transportation Security Administration. He has also introduced legislation that would rescind the provisions of the recently passed 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that violate due process of law.

Contrary to the claims of critics who decry Paul as an “isolationist,” he has distinguished himself as the only true internationalist running for the presidency. He advocates unilateral free trade, an end to all economic sanctions and embargoes, and withdrawal from the various corrupt international organizations (World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, etc.) that actually disrupt trade and cater to the corporate and financial elite.

The United States would have been spared much grief in the last century if she had heeded George Washington’s admonition to avoid entangling alliances and minded her own business; but that would have denied the power elite their American Century. Ron Paul’s challenge is to advocate peace when so many among the political and corporate elite favor war and endless conflict.

Most Americans are probably not yet ready to fully embrace Ron Paul’s foreign policy of “peace, commerce, and honest friendship.” But every day, more people are becoming weary of Washington’s endless wars and realize that the continuation of the status quo risks not only economic ruin but the destruction of the republic.

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    Tim Kelly is a columnist and policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia, a correspondent for Radio America’s Special Investigator, and a political cartoonist.