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In a recent rebuttal to my last article, Jeremy R. Hammond begins by mischaracterizing my argument with a squalid, backward tautology, “So what Matt Johnson is really trying to say is that Ron Paul’s views and his positions are extreme, outside of the standard framework for discussion, and his arguments against the status quo and current political establishment outside of the limited range of acceptable criticism and dissent.” And, apparently, I “have a point there” (his complimentary appraisal of something I didn’t say). Hammond then asks, “But is that a bad thing? Isn’t that rather what the US needs? Shouldn’t dissent from the status quo be considered a good thing?” With a few disingenuous keystrokes, Hammond erects a fictitious argument to address, ascribes it to me, labels me a friend of the status quo and an enemy of dissent, and incredulously asks how I could be so one-dimensional.
This misleading verbosity can be condensed. “Reactionary,” in this context, means “ultraconservative in politics” (he kindly notes this before brushing it off as a definition which “hardly applies”). This is the core of the argument, then – it does apply (Hammond simply couldn’t imagine such a critique being leveled against his savior, so he made up a different one to argue against).
Conveniently, Hammond sums up Congressman Paul’s ultraconservatism in one sentence, “Among Ron Paul’s most heinous sins is his agreement with the foreign policy prescription [of] our nation’s first president, George Washington….” (Brackets added). Congressman Paul would like to take the United States back to a time before the concept of an “international community” existed.
Hammond is, of course, happy to regurgitate a litany of myths gobbled up by a vast swathe of the Ron Paul “revolutionaries.” I’ll list them for convenience.
1) Terrorism must be “dealt with through law enforcement.”
2) 9/11 wouldn’t have happened if the United States hadn’t supported the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
3) 9/11 was principally caused by American foreign policy.
4) NATO is not a “positive force in the world.”
5) Intervening in civil wars invariably prolongs them.
6) American membership in the United Nations should be rescinded.
7) Support for federal foreign aid entails support for autocracy and oppression.
8) “There isn’t any evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program.”
9) Past American failures in Iraq were reasons to stay out in 2003.
Hammond’s argument about the efficacy of law enforcement in counterterrorism is bewildering because Ron Paul doesn’t believe terrorism to be within the exclusive ambit of law. I didn’t list a theocratic, terrorized Afghanistan as a possibility under President Paul because he supported the invasion in 2001. However, upon reflection, I see I was far too lenient. On May 21, 2002, in a testimony before the House of Representatives, Congressman Paul said, “the occupation of Afghanistan is unnecessary.” This trapped him in a nasty moral quagmire: in his mind, it was right to pry Afghanistan from Taliban rule only to hand the resulting power vacuum to the most ruthless and persistent leftovers (which may have included the Taliban, effectively negating the intervention altogether). Had his worst-of-both-worlds council been heeded, we would be forced to confront an imploded Afghan state with al-Qaeda welcome mats on its borders. If Hammond has a “law enforcement” solution to the problem of state-sponsored succor for al-Qaeda, he failed to mention it.
Hammond is exactly wrong on the origin and survival of al-Qaeda. For example, he argues, “if Ron Paul had been president, 9/11 wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If Ron Paul had been president in place of Carter and Reagan, the U.S. wouldn’t have funded, trained, and armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and encouraged the creation of al-Qaeda in the first place.” He seems to think American support for the mujahedeen was either a) a necessary precondition for the existence of al-Qaeda, or b) a prerequisite for the radical nature of al-Qaeda. However, these arguments have been discredited by Osama bin Laden himself, “For us, the idea was not to get involved more than necessary in the fight against the Russians, which was the business of the Americans, but rather to show our solidarity with our Islamist brothers. I discovered that it was not enough to fight in Afghanistan, but that we had to fight on all fronts against communist or Western oppression. The urgent thing was communism, but the next target was America…this is an open war up to the end, until victory.” Hammond yearns to blame the United States for the atrocious existence of al-Qaeda, but history disagrees with him. Osama bin Laden is responsible for the creation of al-Qaeda and its vicious attacks on international civil society – not the United States – and he’s always had Western civilization in his crosshairs. But Hammond prefers to exculpate the murderers and sadists with a crooked, inculpating finger pointed in the wrong direction – a masochistic illusion that only serves the enemy.
Here’s a handy example to consider in this exchange. Hammond cites “military bases on Saudi soil, Israel’s violations of international law” and “criminal sanctions against Iraq that killed over a million Iraqis, including half a million children” as reasons for al-Qaeda’s attacks on September 11. Let’s look at another “reason” for the indiscriminate murder of civilians. When East Timor was finally granted its independence from Indonesia in 2002, al-Qaeda responded with a bomb that killed 202 people in Bali. In other words, to avoid upsetting al-Qaeda, we’d have to leave East Timor shackled to its brutal Indonesian masters. If Hammond and others believe al-Qaeda will recede after its initial demands are met, they’re entitled to their ignorance.
On the question of NATO, I’m happy to disagree with Hammond and Congressman Paul from the outset. Both look at the successful interventions in Libya and Kosovo and see unmitigated failures. Hammond asks us to “take the illegal bombing of Kosovo in 1999, which was characterized in the West as a ‘humanitarian intervention’, despite the fact that it resulted in an escalation of the ‘cleansing’ and other atrocities on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and a higher civilian death toll in its first three weeks than had occurred during the three months prior….” Yes, over 500 civilian deaths were recorded from the NATO bombing campaign – never mind the 13,000 Kosovar Albanians who were killed by other elements (thousands of whom were the victims of ethnic cleansing and mass murder, and who had to be exhumed from mass graves). Hammond, you’ll notice, tries to maneuver away from these disgusting facts by falsely accusing NATO of causing more problems than it was solving.
For a more thoughtful analysis of NATO’s involvement in Kosovo, I recommend Javier Solana’s 1999 Foreign Affairs piece, NATO’S Success in Kosovo. He rightly scoffs at the lazy, inaccurate claims being peddled by Hammond and Congressman Paul, “Contrary to widespread criticism, the air campaign achieved every one of its goals. Having seriously underestimated allied resolve, Milosevic accepted the alliance’s demands on June 3. After 77 days, with no casualties of its own, NATO had prevailed. A humanitarian disaster had been averted. About one million refugees could now return in safety. Ethnic cleansing had been reversed.” If this is Hammond’s idea of a botched intervention, it’s hard to imagine what he would consider successful.
The air campaign in Libya certainly doesn’t fall under the “success” heading, either. In a strong field, one of Hammond’s most ridiculous assertions was about Libya, “the U.S./NATO killed innocent civilians in Libya, both directly, by dropping bombs on them, and indirectly, by prolonging and escalating the conflict that analysts agree would otherwise have been over in a matter of weeks, rather than months, and by backing armed rebels including Islamic jihadists…” (second emphasis added). As you’ll no doubt have noticed, Hammond mentions an imaginary consensus among “analysts,” but doesn’t bother to note which ones. The reality, of course, is completely unaligned with Hammond’s rambling contention. Citizens of Benghazi were being shredded by machine gun fire, blown up by indiscriminate mortars, shot at by rooftop snipers, and targeted by other forms of heavy weaponry. Hammond also insists on mentioning the jihadists being “backed” by NATO forces. It’s true that al-Qaeda elements are at work in Libya and Syria, but a cost-benefit calculus must come into play – the cost of denying support to the opposition is higher than the risk of such support being utilized by unsavory actors. As of right now, the CIA is trying to vet the Syrian recipients of outside weaponry to minimize this risk (of course, if President Paul had his way, the CIA wouldn’t even exist to execute such missions). Hammond also states Congressman Paul is “Insisting that the U.S. should stop interfering in the affairs of other nations such as by intervening to prolong conflicts and escalate violence and siding with terrorist groups like al Qaeda.” Again, Hammond demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of warfare (and this time, he brazenly accuses the United States of “siding” with al-Qaeda – a shameful, inane comment). In Stephen Pinker’s recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, he redresses the common assumption that Hammond is making: that outside interference in civil strife can only prolong the fighting. As it turns out, in the vast majority of cases, the opposite is true.