Ron Paul vs. foreign policy partisanship

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This may sound harsh, but current U.S. foreign policy is a disaster. Most Americans will admit as much if they examine our most significant foreign interventions individually.

Our least disastrous recent foreign intervention occurred in Libya, where aiding rebel forces did help depose dictator Moammar Gadhafi. Yet, we now learn a radical Islamic regime is taking his place. Mission accomplished?

There is Iraq, where President Obama is crowing about bringing the troops home while downplaying the fact that this was an exit process President Bush started and the even more glaring fact that the Iraqis are essentially kicking us out. The Iraq war cost $4 trillion, took more than 4,000 American lives and lasted nearly nine years. And we’re leaving behind a resentful and divided Iraqi people, an America-weary Iraqi government and an empowered Iran.

Then there is the Afghanistan war, the longest war in U.S. history. Trillions of dollars have been spent, almost 2,000 American soldiers have been killed and nearly 15,000 American soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan over the past decade. And yet our goal there remains unclear. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was practically installed by the U.S., said last week that if America went to war with Pakistan, his country would side with Pakistan.

Strangely enough, the only one of these wars that receives relatively high marks from the American public is Libya, where a majority of conservatives don’t think President Obama should have intervened in the first place. Conservatives believe that despite Gadhafi’s demise, intervening in Libya was still not worth the risk or cost, insisting that the decision to intervene abroad should require a high threshold which this instance did not meet. These conservatives are correct. Still, the Libyan intervention remains popular with a plurality of Americans precisely because Gadhafi was killed at minimal cost.

On Iraq and Afghanistan, most conservatives find themselves on the complete opposite side of the same cost/benefit argument they make concerning Libya, and also against the overwhelming sentiment of the American people. In most polls, upwards of 60% and even 70% of Americans call the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan mistakes, say they were not worth the cost and believe it is time to bring our troops home. Many American soldiers feel the same way. As CBS News reported this month: “One in three U.S. veterans of the post-Sept. 11 military believes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting, and a majority think that after 10 years of combat America should be focusing less on foreign affairs and more on its own problems.” Perhaps even more interesting, a Pew Research Poll of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans published this month revealed: “About half (51 percent) of post-9/11 veterans say that the use of military force to fight terrorism creates hatred that breeds more terrorism.”

Many conservatives say, “I like Ron Paul, except on foreign policy.” Perhaps thinking they’re going for the jugular, Paul’s critics like to first cite his contention that our foreign interventions breed more Islamic terrorism than they quell, often saying the congressman somehow “blames America” for our troubles. Yet, according to the Pew poll, a majority of our soldiers — who you might think know a thing or two about what causes Islamic terrorism — actually agree with Paul on this point. More significantly, Paul’s overall foreign policy of avoiding going to war where there is no clear national interest is where the congressman is most in line with public sentiment. The only exception is Libya, where ironically most Republicans side with Paul and against public opinion.

Perhaps Sarah Palin said it best last week on Sean Hannity’s Fox program: “You’ve got to give it to Ron Paul … [who] I think hit the nail on the head, when he came out and said Obama had better be careful when he interjects himself and our country in other nations’ business.”

Palin was, of course, talking about Libya. Hannity agreed with her.

So what does saying, “I like Ron Paul, except on foreign policy” really mean?

A crass but not untrue answer would be that Republicans don’t mind Republican wars, despite the reasons, results or costs, and Democrats don’t mind Democrat wars, despite the reasons, results or costs. And the American people in general don’t mind wars as long as the results are good and the costs are low.

Paul believes that any war under any president will come with a significant cost, which is why our reasons for going to war should be ultra-strong and the desired results, ultra-clear. What threat does a country actually pose? If we go in, what is victory? What is our exit strategy?

Palin summed up Paul’s defense philosophy well when she pointed out that being extremely “careful” about “interjecting our country in other nations’ business” is precisely Paul’s foreign policy. For someone to say, “I like Ron Paul, except on foreign policy” is really to say that Paul’s consistent reluctance to go to war can be quite annoying when it clashes with partisan attachment or popular opinion.

But such is contemporary American politics, however unfair to our soldiers, harmful to our children’s financial futures and dangerous to our actual security the foreign policy status quo may be. And to like Ron Paul “except on foreign policy” at this juncture — given what we now know about these wars — is to continue embracing these troubling contradictions.

Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “almost 3,000 American soldiers” have been killed in the Afghanistan war. The actual number of American troops killed in Afghanistan (as of Oct. 28) is 1,822.

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