Back to Bush: How Iran hype threatens conservatism

Jack Hunter Contributing Editor, Rare
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“Running with scissors,” read the headline above a picture of Ron Paul at The Daily Caller last week. As Alex Pappas reported:

All Republicans running for president say they want to cut federal spending. But a study the libertarian Cato Institute conducted by analyzing the candidates’ websites showed that most of them are light on details about specific cuts they would insist on as president.

Pappas continues:

The study’s author, Tad DeHaven, wrote in his “Guide to the Presidential Candidates’ Proposals to Cut Spending” that Texas Rep. Ron Paul stands out the most. “When it comes to proposing specific spending cuts and identifying the dollars amounts, Paul’s website is unrivaled,” DeHaven explained. “He is the only candidate to put together an actual budget proposal,” he said. “Paul’s spending proposals would amount to the largest reduction in the size and scope of the federal government of any candidate.”

In a Republican Party where each candidate claims to be a conservative and sympathetic to the tea party, and during a time when a Democratic president has become the biggest spender in American history, only Paul amongst the GOP candidates is offering actual spending cuts.

Why haven’t the other candidates been able to arrive at the same cuts Paul has? How can Republican candidates offer no cuts and still claim to be conservative?

Pappas noted that most of the Republican candidates not only refuse to cut Pentagon spending but also plan to increase it. At a time when America spends more on its military than at any time since World War II and almost as much as every other nation on earth combined, most Republican candidates say we must still spend more.

Why? What enemies do we face on the horizon that merit the kind of military spending the United States found necessary during World War I, World War II and the Cold War?

Looking back at the George W. Bush era, many conservatives are left scratching their heads as to how a Republican president could have spent so much money. But the answer is easy — limited government took a backseat to the War on Terror. Much of this was understandable after 9/11. Much of it was not understandable the more we learned that our war in Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, or al Qaida, or WMDs or any other fear government leaders feverishly stoked. Yet when Paul suggested that the Bush administration was overreacting in its push for war with Iraq, the Texas congressman was seen as naïve or too timid in addressing this imminent “threat.” As it turns out, the most naïve were those who really thought Saddam Hussein had either the intention or means of seriously harming the U.S.

The same Republican presidential candidates today who call Paul too naïve or timid concerning Iran said the same about Paul concerning Iraq. But Paul was right. Most Americans in virtually every poll now agree. But who is right today? It is possible that Paul could be wrong in underestimating Iran. But it is just as possible, and perhaps even more so, that Paul’s critics are overreacting once again and that Iran doesn’t pose a credible threat to the United States.

Stephen Walt writes at Foreign Policy:

There is a simple and time-honored formula for making the case for war, especially preventive war. First, you portray the supposed threat as dire and growing, and then try to convince people that if we don’t act now, horrible things will happen down the road. (Remember Condi Rice’s infamous warnings about Saddam’s “mushroom cloud”?) …

Walt writes of the Iranian nuclear “threat”:

Iran has had a nuclear program for decades and still has no weapon … both the 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimates have concluded that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is pursuing an actual bomb.

Even so, of the notion that a nuclear Iran would be able to bully the United States, Walt notes:

If it would be that easy for a nuclear-armed Iran to coerce the United States into doing things it does not want to do, then why haven’t other nuclear powers been able to do that to us in the past? … The Soviet Union should have had a field day pushing us around during the Cold War. But that did not happen; in fact, the Soviets never even tried to use their huge nuclear arsenal to coerce us. The reason, of course, is that Soviet threats would not have been credible because any attempt to carry them out would have led to national suicide. The same logic applies to Iran. We know it, and so do they, which is why this familiar bogeyman should not be taken seriously.

What we are seeing with the current fear-mongering over the alleged threat of a nuclear Iran is two things. One, Republican candidates are returning to their most tried-and-true method of gaining voter support: scaring them and then pacifying them by being aggressively pro-war. This is what defined the GOP during the Bush era. Two, Republican candidates are using their support for war against Iran to gloss over the area where they are sorely lacking: actual limited-government conservatism.

Paul addresses what every other Republican candidate is afraid to — that it is impossible to maintain limited government domestically while pursuing what amounts to a big-government agenda abroad. This is why only Paul can offer spending cuts and the other candidates cannot. Every conservative believes in a strong national defense, including Ron Paul. What traditional conservatives have never believed in is an irrational offense in which the nation spends itself into bankruptcy by equating every foreign policy concern with the rise of Hitler.

If you truly think Paul’s more reasoned and prudent approach to foreign policy is “weak,” then you can kiss any hope of limited government goodbye — forever. Writes The National Post’s Jonathan Kay:

Ron Paul deserves credit for at least one very real and crucial insight. Of all the Republican candidates, he alone has called out the fundamental contradiction between the GOP’s two dominant obsessions: (a) small government; and (b) American “greatness” (or, as Mitt Romney recently put it, America’s status as “the greatest nation in the history of the Earth”). Critics dismiss Paul as an isolationist. But at least he understands that superpowers can’t maintain 11 carrier battle groups, win Afghanistan, protect Israel, take on Iran, out-educate China and run a humane society, all while disemboweling government …

[Ron Paul thinks] what makes America “great” isn’t its military or massive global footprint, but rather its foundational commitment to individual liberty and small government. But unlike Romney, he knows that the two definitions of “greatness” are in conflict: All told, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost U.S. taxpayers more than $4 trillion … at least (Paul) is doing something that neither Mitt Romney nor Newt Gingrich nor Rick Perry has the courage to do: Acknowledge that American global leadership carries a price tag that, ultimately, must be paid with higher taxes and bigger government.

The reason you don’t hear the Republican presidential candidates offering any spending cuts is because they can’t. They do not truly believe in limited government. Portraying Paul as “weak” on national defense is absurd not only because it’s not true, but particularly when you consider that every candidate except Paul is glaringly weak on limited-government conservatism.

What was more likely in 2003? That Saddam Hussein was the “next Hitler” who threatened the United States? Or that he was not — and that America would sacrifice thousands of lives and trillions of dollars based on a false premise? We know the answer.

What is more likely in 2012? That Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the “next Hitler” who threatens the United States? Or that this is all hyperbole once again? We do not yet know the answer.

What we do know is that Ron Paul was right the last time Republicans got excited about a potential war. And we know that if a new war becomes Republicans’ primary focus, limited government will remain impossible and conservatism will yet again become a moot point.

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