During Monday’s GOP presidential debate in Tampa, candidates were peppered with woefully few foreign policy questions for a nation engaged in multiple wars abroad. But Texas Rep. Ron Paul was given enough rope to hang himself, proving once again he doesn’t understand the war in which America is engaged against Islamist radicals.
Here are the four biggest foreign policy errors Paul made Monday night:
#1: “We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.”
America is in trouble financially, but not because of our defense budget. It is our entitlement programs that put us in fiscal peril. As Robert Kagan correctly noted in an extensive article on the matter in The Weekly Standard:
“The simple fact is, as my Brookings colleague and former budget czar Alice Rivlin recently observed, the scary projections of future deficits are not ‘caused by rising defense spending,’ and even if one assumes that defense spending continues to increase with the rate of inflation, this is ‘not what’s driving the future spending.’ The engine of our growing debt is entitlements.”
This is really beyond serious dispute.
#2: “The purpose of al-Qaida was to attack us, invite us over there where they can target us.”
Many people make this claim, but it’s far from clear whether it is true. In fact, one well-respected terrorism expert I talked to, who preferred to be quoted on background instead of diving into a political dispute, said he has not seen any evidence that suggests al-Qaida was making this argument before 9/11. As far as he has seen, the argument that the attack was meant to draw the U.S. into a larger Afghan war was only made by al-Qaida members, including Osama bin Laden, after 9/11.
This allegation also ignores an important story from former Libyan jihadist and Osama bin Laden associate Noman Benotman, which has never been disputed.
According to Benotman, he was at a “jihadist” conference in Afghanistan convened by bin Laden in the summer of 2000. As terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank reported in the New Republic, Benotman says he had a conversation with bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders there about an attack al-Qaida was planning:
“We made a clear-cut request for him to stop his campaign against the United States because it was going to lead to nowhere,” Benotman recalls, “but they laughed when I told them that America would attack the whole region if they launched another attack against it.”
This seems to suggest that bin Laden doubted the U.S. would respond forcefully to any planned attack he had in mind, including 9/11.
In the years before the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden had called America a “paper tiger,” suggesting that the U.S. could be hit without serious consequence because it wasn’t willing to take major casualties. Considering past responses and non-responses to his attacks, he may very well have believed the U.S. would just launch random cruise missiles at him in retaliation.
At the very least, sufficient evidence certainly hasn’t been produced to prove bin Laden was trying to lure America into a trap in Afghanistan. And serious evidence exists to suggest otherwise.