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.
#3: “They have more attacks against us and the American interests per month than occurred in all the years before 9/11, but we’re there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?”
Let’s pretend for a moment this explains the current threat against us now. How does this explain the 9/11 attacks? What Muslim lands was America forcibly occupying before 9/11?
Sure, the U.S. had military bases in Saudi Arabia, and this infuriated bin Laden. But we were no more occupying Saudi Arabia than we are occupying Germany, where we also have military bases. And the reason we set up bases in Saudi Arabia in the first place was, at least in part, to protect the Saudis from possible aggression from Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. (They were removed, by the way, post-9/11.)
Moreover, before 9/11, America had put its sons and daughters at risk at least three times to protect Muslims — to push Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, to bring food and humanitarian aid to the Muslims of Somalia, and to protect Kosovar Muslims from Slobodan Milosevic.
So I ask again, which Muslim countries were we forcibly occupying before 9/11 which helps explain why al-Qaida attacked us on 9/11?
#4: “Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that ‘we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment…’”
Osama bin Laden wasn’t upset because the Palestinians were given poor treatment: He was upset that Israel exists at all.
Frankly, al-Qaida doesn’t care too much about Muslim suffering. Just look at some of the horrific attacks al-Qaida has perpetrated against fellow Muslims. What they care about is creating a worldwide caliphate under strict Sharia law. (And for all their talk about the Palestinians, they certainly haven’t done much to help them or to even target Israel.)
It also should be noted that al-Qaida considers al-Andulus — or Spain as it is known in the modern world — to be occupied territory. Does Ron Paul believe our relationship with Spain is unnecessarily provocative to al-Qaida?
It is right to say that al-Qaida blames America for propping up corrupt Middle East dictatorships, which they see as apostate regimes. But their grievance is that we have propped them up and prevented them from becoming Islamist states. I would give this argument credence if it came from a liberal reformer who sought freedom for his country, but not when it comes from medieval ideologues who seek to replace one form of tyranny with an even crueler one.
So, yes, al-Qaida has grievances. And I can see, if not understand, where the mindset comes from that compels people like Paul to blame terrorists’ violent acts on others. It is a little like those who say a girl in a short skirt and a low-cut top deserved what she got.
Ron Paul may be comfortable with that line of reasoning. I’m not. And I’m pretty sure the Republican Party isn’t either.