Last Wednesday, my editor published a disheartening reminder on this website: Ron Paul isn’t going away.
After I choked down some aspirin and gathered my wits, I realized there were two ways to look at the matter. In one sense, it’s a dismal reminder of how frivolous American politics can be. Though some of his supporters fancy themselves “revolutionaries,” Ron Paul is one of the most reactionary candidates in recent history, and he should be consigned to obscurity as soon as possible. On the other hand, his continued relevance has gifted me with the opportunity to write this article without being impertinent. Ron Paul’s legions of defenders may regret their inflexibility in the coming years, but it’s starting to seem unlikely. Self-satisfaction and wishful thinking are stubborn bedfellows.
Apparently, just the idea of even thinking about Ron Paul gives Matt Johnson a headache. What could cause such vitriolic enmity towards Ron Paul? Well, he is “reactionary”, for starters. What does Matt mean by that? The word is defined “relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially: ultraconservative in politics”. Well, the first part of that hardly applies, inasmuch as it has become almost cliché by now to point out the fact that he has been unusually and remarkably consistent in his positions on the issues for his decades of public service. But what about “ultraconservative”? Does that word apply to Dr. Paul? It means “beyond in space: on the other side”, “beyond the range or limits of: transcending”, “beyond what is ordinary, proper, or moderate: excessively: extremely”. 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 he has a point there. But is that a bad thing? Isn’t that rather what the U.S. needs? Shouldn’t dissent from the status quo be considered a good thing? Matt Johnson doesn’t think so. He thinks if Ron Paul had been president instead of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama that the world would be much worse off for it. To prove what a horrible president Ron Paul would have been, he simply invents a hypothetical alternative reality based on his own simple perceptions of what Ron Paul’s political views are and what U.S. foreign policy is:
Here’s a glimpse of Congressman Paul’s ideal world: Osama Bin Laden would still be alive and the CIA would be dead. The United States would no longer be a member of NATO or the United Nations. Federal foreign aid for the victims of disasters such as the Asian, Haitian and Japanese earthquakes would be rescinded (even AIDS prevention programs in Africa would get the doctor’s axe). The Iranian nuclear weapons program would be given an idiotic American blessing. Iraq would still be privately held by a band of murders and sadists known as the Ba’ath Party, and they’d have Kuwait under their bloody thumbs. Yugoslavia would have been ethnically “cleansed” and absorbed by Greater Serbia. American aircraft would not have protected innocent civilians in Libya. And our present conversation about Syria would be reduced to a series of sighs and shoulder shrugs.
It’s very possibly true that if a Ron Paul had been president all these years that Osama bin Laden might still be alive. Ron Paul certainly would not violate international law and the sovereignty of other nations by sending combat helicopters into their airspace and putting a team of commandos on their soil. Ron Paul recognizes that acts of terrorism are crimes to be properly dealt with through law enforcement, such as the cooperative efforts with the Pakistani government that led to the arrest of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But this all misses the point, because 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 (bin Laden’s Maktab al-Khidamat, the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, operated alongside the CIA out of Peshawar, Pakistan). The U.S. wouldn’t have had military bases on Saudi soil. The U.S. wouldn’t have been supporting Israel’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians for all these years. The U.S. would not have had a policy of criminal sanctions against Iraq that killed over a million Iraqis, including half a million children. So, yeah, Osama bin Laden might still be alive, it is true—but so would the 3,000 Americans who died on September 11, 2001.
It’s possible that if a Ron Paul had been president for all these decades that the U.S. would no longer be a member of NATO. But why should we presume that would be a negative thing? Matt Johnson doesn’t bother to actually present an argument for why we need NATO or for why NATO is a positive force in the world, what with its frequent wars and illegal bombing campaigns, such as in Libya (more on that momentarily). Or 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, when the “humanitarian catastrophe” had occurred that had served as a pretext for the bombing. U.S.-NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark afterward announced that it had been “entirely predictable” that the bombing had resulted in an escalation of violence on the ground. This action also led to the formation of a new doctrine of “illegal but legitimate” warfare—“illegal” because it was neither an act of self-defense against armed aggression by the U.S. or its NATO allies nor authorized by the U.N. Security Council (the only two conditions under which the use of force is permissible under international law), but nevertheless “legitimate”, by definition, since Washington makes its own rules and holds itself to a different standard than the rest of the world.
It’s also true that Ron Paul doesn’t think the U.S. should be involved in the U.N. But, again, why should we assume that it would be a bad thing for the U.S. or the rest of the world if the U.S. was not there to use its veto power in the Security Council, for instance, to defend Israel from censure for its war crimes and other violations of international law (e.g., vetoing an uncontroversial resolution condemning Israel for its illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, blocking the implementation of the recommendations of the U.N. fact-finding mission into Israel’s 22-day full-scale military assault on the civilian infrastructure [an implementation of its “Dahiyah Doctrine”, so named after a Beirut neighborhood Israel flattened during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon] of the defenseless Gaza Strip in ’08-’09, etc.)? Why would it be a bad thing if the U.S. could no longer use its position at the U.N. to bully other nations into marching in step with orders from Washington? How would it not be a good thing if the U.S. could no longer cite U.N. resolutions interpreted unilaterally to justify its use of force, such as in the wars for regime change in Iraq (another “illegal but legitimate” war; contrary to some attempts to claim such, Resolution 1441 did not authorize the use of force) and in Libya (also “illegal but legitimate”; Resolution 1973 authorized a no-fly zone to protect civilians, a mandate that the U.S./NATO immediately announced it would exceed by supporting the rebels and to continue bombing until there was regime change, all in violation of the U.N. Charter and the very resolution under which its operations were ostensibly carried out). When the U.S. has a Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, who has taken an oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution, but who declares that the Executive branch doesn’t need Congressional authorization for war, that the president may get such authorization to order young American men and women into harm’s way from the U.N. (he told the Senate that in making the decision to go to war, the administration would first “seek international permission” and then “come to the Congress and inform you” and “determine whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress”; emphasis added), would it really be so bad to have a president who would immediately fire this person and replace him with someone who respected the Constitution and upheld his oath of office? The Obama administration, of course, did not get a Congressional declaration of war for its war on Libya, which action was thus also a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Matt Johnson talks about U.S. foreign aid and how horrible it would be to cut it. He certainly has an innocent understanding of what U.S. foreign aid is all about. He completely ignores the billions in military aid to countries that engage in violations of international law and human rights abuses, such as the $3 billion given annually to Israel, the $1.3 billion given to the military establishment in Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. He doesn’t want to talk about how U.S. aid and support for Israeli policies sustains the oppression and killing of Palestinians, or how all the people who suffer at the hands of their own brutal governments, autocracies propped up by the U.S. government, would benefit if the U.S. stopped supporting their oppression. He doesn’t want to talk about how foreign aid is given with strings attached requiring that money to be circulated right back to the U.S., such that it often serves effectively as a taxpayer subsidy for various U.S. industries, like the military/security industrial complex. He doesn’t want to talk about how this aid is effectively used to bribe nations to get in line, the money flowing to obedient client regimes and being instantly cut off to any foreign sovereign nation that dares to defy Washington, even to U.N. bodies like the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, which the U.S. cut funding to for voting to admit Palestine as a member). He doesn’t want to talk about how if Americans didn’t have their money taken from them by force by the government, they would be all that much more able to show the world how generous a people they are by making private, voluntary, tax-exempt donations to disaster relief programs. Nope, Matt Johnson doesn’t want to talk about any of these things. These are all “reactionary” observations to be made, well outside of the acceptable limits for debate. If the U.S. cut foreign aid, people in Africa wouldn’t get medical care. That’s all anyone needs to know about the matter, in Matt Johnson’s view.