Non-aggression is not pacifism

Tom Mullen Author, A Return to Common Sense
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Heading into “Super Tuesday,” many conservatives are lamenting that they do not like any of the remaining Republican candidates for president. Mitt Romney is too moderate, Newt Gingrich is too much of a “Washington insider” and Rick Santorum is both an insider and a guaranteed loser against Obama thanks to his willingness to bare his soul about some of his more outlandish socially conservative views.

That leaves Ron Paul, who would seem to be the ideal conservative candidate. Paul’s Plan to Restore America would cut $1 trillion from the federal budget in his first year as president.

Paul is the only candidate who actually disagrees with President Obama in principle on “spreading the wealth around.” Paul wouldn’t just nibble a few pennies away from financially insignificant welfare programs. He actually has a funded plan to let young people opt out of Medicare and Social Security. This is really a plan to responsibly end these programs. Government-mandated programs only survive because people are forced to participate. If conservatives really do oppose socialism, they should agree with Paul on this. Where do they think Social Security got its name?

A large number of conservatives are with Paul right up until he explains his foreign policy. Suddenly, not only does the courtship end, they stop taking calls and change their phone numbers. That’s unfortunate because most conservatives make this decision upon a completely distorted view of Paul’s foreign policy.

All of Ron Paul’s policy decisions are based upon the same underlying principle: the libertarian principle of non-aggression. As he stated during my interview with him last year (at about the 7:30 mark), “That’s the moral principle. The legislative principle is really in the Constitution.” Based upon this principle, the government is never allowed to initiate force against the innocent. That means that it cannot redistribute wealth, it cannot stop you from harming yourself with drugs or other vices and it cannot start a war with another nation.

This is not some new-age idea. This is the foundation of the Founders’ philosophy of government. Thomas Jefferson made it explicit when he said, “No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”

Jefferson’s first order of business upon reaching the White House was to cut military spending dramatically. His goal was a military establishment adequate to defend the nation but inadequate to the imperial designs of Federalists like Alexander Hamilton. However, when the Pasha of Tripoli declared war upon the United States, Jefferson did not hesitate to send in the Marines for a quick and decisive win.

The confusion starts when Paul’s policies are described as “dovish” or “soft” on Iran or other supposedly belligerent nations. People unfamiliar with libertarian ideas may honestly misunderstand them. Others deliberately distort them. Let there be no confusion. Non-aggression is not pacifism. Libertarians hit back.

Indeed, Paul has said that if he were president and the people really did want to go to war, he would ask the Congress for a declaration of war. He rarely gets time to explain why this is important. A declaration of war involves a debate about whether a state of war already exists. That’s why it’s so important. A declaration of war power doesn’t authorize Congress to start a war. It allows Congress to direct the president to end it. Check the language of every declaration of war that Congress has ever made. They all support this interpretation.

Active-duty military personnel seem to understand this implicitly, which is why Ron Paul has received more donations from them than all of the other GOP candidates combined. Our troops are ready to risk their lives for their country, but only when their country is truly in danger. Why don’t most conservative voters agree with them? Conservatives decorate their vehicles with stickers saying “Support Our Troops” but do not support the candidate that many of the troops want to be president.

It is no accident that the United States has never really won a war since Congress stopped declaring them. Instead, we send our troops into far-off lands for decades at a time with no clear definition of victory. Our troops’ hands are tied with confusing rules of engagement that keep them from winning and prolong the war. This is good for those who profit from war but bad for the troops who risk or lose their lives.

None of this would happen in a Ron Paul presidency. In fact, war would be far less likely to come at all, which is a good thing. If it were forced upon us, Ron Paul would have it properly declared by Congress and then would fight it to win. Make no mistake: Of all of the Republican candidates for president, only Ron Paul will win the next war.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.