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6) American membership in the United Nations should be rescinded.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.
Now for one of Congressman Paul’s favorite talking points: the toxic influence of the United Nations. As one might expect, Hammond has a mouthful of complaints about Israel, American unilateralism, and unobserved U.N. resolutions. First, a note on Israel: the problem of undue Israeli influence on American foreign policy can be handled without a full withdrawal from the U.N. Second, the United States couldn’t “bully” the Security Council into supporting a “second resolution” on Iraq (thus, the war had to be carried out without explicit U.N. authorization). And third, a general observation about international law: it’s a budding enterprise. Hammond is correct in saying that “contrary to some attempts to claim such, Resolution 1441 did not authorize the use of force” in Iraq. However, as I’ve observed in an earlier article, the United Nations has had a terrible time enforcing its own resolutions over the past 25 years. Although the U.N. authorized the defense of Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1990, Resolution 687 disallowed Coalition forces from removing Saddam Hussein. This disgraceful capitulation violated Resolution 260 (the Convention on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) which mandates signatories to prevent or punish genocide (Saddam Hussein’s wicked, genocidal al-Anfal Campaign left over 180,000 civilians dead). And by failing to authorize the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the U.N. chose not to enforce Resolution 1373 (which requires all states to “prevent and suppress the financing of terrorism”). Saddam Hussein frequently granted the families of Palestinian suicide bombers cash rewards. However, these shortfalls can and should be remedied by a process of scrupulous reform – not the abandonment of the most ambitious project of international cooperation in history. International law may be in its infancy, but it can already boast of a few staggering successes. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has indicted a host of ghoulish slaughterers, including Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic, and Slobodan Milosevic. The no-fly-zone over Libya (the merits of which I’ve already discussed) were sanctioned by the U.N. and the Arab League. The establishment of the International Criminal Court has led to the arrest and trial of a host of war criminals. These are unambiguous victories for universal justice.
My naïve perception of federal foreign aid must also be addressed, “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.” If Hammond would take the time to do a little digging, he’d find that I wrote about the “$1.3 billion given to the military establishment in Egypt” just over a month ago (it should be withheld until the military surrenders its political power) and I discussed “…the people who suffer at the hands of their own brutal governments, autocracies propped up by the U.S. government” last April. Hammond feels confident he can pinpoint every one of my political positions after reading a 798-word article. But I digress – he’s kindly given me a lot more to work with.
First, it must be mentioned that there are times when the United States wants a return on its investment, and times when it doesn’t. What “strings” were attached to the naval fleet sent to help the Japanese after they were hit by a devastating tsunami? What’s wrong with the United States expecting Pakistan and Afghanistan to purge their lands of al-Qaeda and the Taliban? They want the aid and we want the assurance. And the article I provided from Medical News Today clearly wasn’t taken seriously. So, I’ll list a few of the “people in Africa” who Hammond scoffs at. To “prevent mother-to-baby HIV transmission,” 16 million pregnancies were monitored, 1.2 million were found to be HIV-positive and given antiretroviral prophylaxis, and 240,000 babies were born without HIV. Care was provided for 10.1 million people affected by HIV/AIDS (4 million of which were children), 2.1 million people received treatment, and 58.3 million people were informed about HIV/AIDS via community programs. This sort of thing is worth your tax dollars.
And it goes on – the above example is merely a sliver of the work done by federal aid agencies. USAID posts its annual performance reports online, and I urge you to read through them. For example, in the 2010 report, the following accomplishments were noted: 157 trainings, conferences, projects, and grants, with the participation of 1,000 scientists from 36 countries, improved pathogen security, laboratory biosafety, and bio-surveillance worldwide, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), protected 30 million people with malaria prevention measures, 1 million more people now receive HIV/AIDS care (bringing the total to11 million), and 68,392 people were trained to work in their respective judicial systems. Again, Congressman Paul’s ugly word creeps into my head – “worthless.”
Beyond the immediate effects of these and other programs, federal foreign aid makes strategic sense. In a recent US News article, “Foreign Aid Programs Are Important for National Security,” Professor Andrew Natsios makes the case for foreign aid from a more pragmatic perspective, “Policymakers in Washington must be able to use aid resources to address global and national problems which affect America’s vital interests – such as efforts to stop disease pandemics, to respond after a tsunami or other natural disaster, to implement agricultural programs to combat destabilizing food price increases, or to help new emerging, but unstable democracies to build competent institutions.” The United States has a wealth of auxiliary interests around the world. When states collapse, they become vulnerable to infiltration by terrorist organizations (we can see this happening now in Nigeria) and can become direct threats to American national security. Economic aid can open up new possibilities for trade and reduce the likelihood of cross-border conflict. And a steady flow of aid can lend the United States moral authority. I agree with Hammond that some aid should be reconsidered, but his cutthroat argument is in keeping with Congressman Paul’s hack-and-slash agenda – forget about reform, just keep getting rid of things. Oh, and yes, people in Africa wouldn’t get medical care. I don’t think this is a fact that deserves a sneer.
If you walk away from this article with nothing, save for my next point, I’ll be satisfied. This is where Jeremy R. Hammond really comes up short, “…there isn’t any evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program…” In early November of last year, the IAEA published an extremely disconcerting report entitled, “Implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement and relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions in the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Within this report, there is a section entitled, “Possible Military Dimensions.” This section discusses a) “…activities related to the development of a nuclear payload for a missile,” b) “Efforts, some successful, to procure nuclear related and dual use equipment and materials by military related individuals and entities,” c) “Efforts to develop undeclared pathways for the production of nuclear material,” d) “The acquisition of nuclear weapons development information and documentation from a clandestine nuclear supply network,” and e) “Work on the development of an indigenous design of a nuclear weapon including the testing of components.” The most recent IAEA report on Iran was released on May 25, and it restated the suspicions in the November report. Congressman Paul and Jeremy Hammond are enthusiastically ignoring the plain facts surrounding the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
Furthermore, Hammond argues that I’m “stupidly suggesting that Ron Paul would give Iran an American ‘blessing’ to develop nuclear weapons, a ridiculous strawman argument which just goes to show that either he has never actually listened to what Ron Paul has had to say about the matter or he just doesn’t care to be honest with his readers (take your pick).” I’ll appeal to the readers directly: this is the video I posted to back up my argument. Please try to actually watch it this time. Congressman Paul has promised to remain neutral whether or not Iran gets a nuclear weapon. He can understand why they want it and he’s prepared to let them have it (“blessing” simply means “approval” in this case). Hammond continues to misrepresent the truth even in the face Congressman Paul’s own words.
On the subject of Iraq, Hammond lists a series of American blunders and crimes over the past 30 years. For example, the United States gave Saddam Hussein funds, equipment, and logistical support during the Iran-Iraq war – a substantial portion of which was later used to conduct a nauseating campaign of genocide and plunder against the Kurds. President George H.W. Bush promised to abandon Kuwait to Saddam Hussein in 1990 (not President Bill Clinton, as Hammond erroneously states). The blackened hillsides of northern Iraq and sprawling wetlands of southern Iraq were the sites of mass carnage at the end of the Gulf War – after the peace treaty had been signed. American forces held back as Iraqi army helicopters sprayed opposition forces with lead and kerosene. And after Saddam Hussein blackened the sky with oil fires in Kuwait and mercilessly committed an entire catalogue of the most heinous crimes imaginable, he was left in power and the Iraqi people were punished with the slow, cruel decay of sanctions.
And this is the status quo Jeremy Hammond and Congressman Paul would have adhered to.
The decision to reverse the madness of this policy was considered in 1998 and finally made in 2003. It was a weighty responsibility and it’s been ineptly managed, but it was the only decent course. American complicity with Saddam Hussein’s crimes coupled with its willingness to leave him alone and punish the Iraqi population with sanctions made for an immoral, unsustainable jumble. Saddam Hussein and his loyalists flagrantly and repeatedly violated the NPT, aided terrorists (Abu Nidal, Abu Abbas, and Palestinian suicide bombers), invaded two neighboring states, and committed genocide, mass murder, and incalculable crimes against humanity on Iraqi soil. Before the invasion in 2003, there were already large no-fly-zones scattered across Iraq and the religious factions were hurtling toward a civil war. This is the folly of Congressman Paul’s thinking – not only is he indifferent to the plight of the most threatened people on earth; he can’t even support the rectification of past American injustices. The Iraq war, for all its flaws, was an attempt to claim responsibility for our actions and correct them. Congressman Paul trumpeted the line of stubborn self-interest and reaction on Iraq.
So, Mr. Hammond, you intentionally misrepresented my argument, neglected the facts about Congressman Paul’s support for the war in Afghanistan, blamed the United States for the crimes of al-Qaeda, trivialized the successful NATO campaign in Kosovo, made wildly unsubstantiated remarks about the civil wars in Libya and Syria, falsely accused the United States of “siding” with al-Qaeda, offered rash, nonsensical courses of action for handling the United Nations and federal foreign aid, lied about the Iranian nuclear weapons program, failed to watch an enlightening two-and-a-half-minute video on your hero’s position (or misunderstood plain English), and equated the American follies in Iraq with the American-led liberation of Iraq. But I must thank you. You’re the vicar of the venomous, illogical, and overconfident Ron Paul revolutionaries – and it shows.
Read Foreign Policy Journal editor Jeremy R. Hammond’s reply to Matt Johnson here.