Days after the fateful South Carolina debate in which Ron Paul refused to flatter and patronize the American people, instead explaining to them the concept of "blowback" (that foreign intervention can lead to unintended, undesirable consequences), the Texas congressman held a special press conference with Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer, incidentally, is a conservative who has never voted for a non-Republican candidate.
The event should have received more attention than it did — since Scheuer was there to say that Dr. Paul had been exactly right in his exchange with Rudy Giuliani:
There are now ten Republican candidates in the field and there are eight Democrats. Seventeen of them are not at all a worry to Osama bin Laden and what he represents…. Dr. Paul has hit on exactly the only indispensable ally that al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and their allies have, and that’s U.S. foreign policy.
It is a patent absurdity on the part of the governing establishment in the United States to believe that the war we are engaged in at the moment has anything to do with our freedoms, our democracy, gender equality, or my having a Budweiser after work…. This war has to do with our foreign policy and its impact in the Islamic world. That has nothing to do with judging the moral or monetary or political worth of our policies. It’s simply to understand what motivates our enemy.
Scheuer went on to recount the Ayatollah Khomeini’s abject failure over the course of a decade to instigate a jihad against America on account of our debauchery, our entertainment, our women in the workplace, and the like. It was a complete flop. No one blew himself up because of R-rated movies.
What made Osama bin Laden’s message attractive, on the other hand, was precisely that it was defensive in nature, focusing on specific grievances that resonated with his Muslim audience. (Scheuer discusses all six of them in his interview, which I urge people to listen to.) That, and not a war against the West over its decadence, is what won recruits. In other words, we may in fact be dealing not with comic-book villains but with actual human beings.
"It’s very common for the slurs to be thrown when you say something like this," Scheuer hastened to add. "You’re an appeaser, you’re an anti-American. I think it’s a shame, but the governing establishment wants to protect itself. It does not want to talk about these issues…. I think Dr. Paul has done a tremendous service to the American people." It is important to debate American foreign policy for a change, he said. "At the end of the debate, Americans may decide that the foreign policy status quo that exists at the moment is what they want. But if they do, they will at least go into it with their eyes open, and know that they are in for an extended period of war, a tremendously bloody and costly war."
In an interview with Antiwar Radio several days before the press conference, Scheuer said: "I thought Mr. Paul captured it the other night exactly correctly. This war is dangerous to America because it’s based, not on gender equality, as Mr. Giuliani suggested, or any other kind of freedom, but simply because of what we do in the Islamic world — because u2018we’re over there,’ basically, as Mr. Paul said in the debate."
To be sure, Scheuer observed, Muhammad described the end state of Islam on earth as a caliphate in which the whole world would be Muslim. But "there’s as much chance of that happening in any kind of foreseeable future as the application of the Golden Rule, and u2018turn the other cheek’ and u2018love thy neighbor’ in the Christian world. There’s no chance. Bin Laden is popular and his message resonates because it is a defensive message. It is very much a message of u2018get out and leave us to our own problems.’"
About the only thing that can hold together the very loose coalition that Osama bin Laden has assembled is a common Muslim hatred for the impact of U.S. foreign policy…. They all agree they hate U.S. foreign policy. To the degree we change that policy in the interests of the United States, they become more and more focused on their local problems: attacking the Philippine government, attacking the Saudi government or the Egyptian government….
Mr. Paul spoke not only the truth, but he spoke in the interests of the American people. And from the right and from the left he got chopped up. And at the end of the day you admire Mr. Paul’s courage but what you fear for is the security of America, because the people who attacked Mr. Paul are much more concerned with staying in power than they are with protecting my family and yours.
Unfortunately, what Mr. Paul is saying…will become so clear to the American people the next time Osama bin Laden attacks inside the United States and we have a disaster bigger than 9/11. And then the talk of "they hate us for primary elections" and "they hate us for gender equality" — that will go out the window, and maybe we can get down to brass tacks after we have multiple tens of thousands of dead Americans.
Antiwar Radio’s Scott Horton also interviewed former CIA counter-terrorism officer Philip Giraldi, who largely shared Scheuer’s assessment:
I think anybody who knows anything about what’s been going on for the last ten years would realize that cause and effect are operating here — that, essentially, al Qaeda has an agenda which very specifically says what its grievances are. And its grievances are basically that "we’re over there."
So all Ron Paul was basically saying was that — even as the 9/11 commission report indicated — there were consequences for our presence in the Middle East and if we seriously want to address the terrorism problem we have to be serious about that issue.
Giuliani indicated that he was not only not serious about that issue, but seemed to be ignorant of both the 9/11 [Commission] report and political realities in the Middle East.
Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA, said largely the same thing, telling Horton: "I’m really edified by Ron Paul stepping up and stating what he believes to be the case. If you believe that they hate us for our democracy or for our freedoms, well I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d really like to sell you at a cut rate. They hate us for our policies and that’s what Ron Paul was saying…. Giuliani…really showed his true colors there as a demagogue."
All three interviews are well worth listening to — as is everything Scott Horton has ever put on the radio, in my opinion. (These interviews and more are linked here.)
If you want to be talked down to and spoken to in slogans, there is no shortage of opportunities in today’s America. Ron Paul, on the other hand, on this as on everything else, refuses to pander to anyone, and tells the truth as he sees it. (He once told an audience filled with NASA employees that he had consistently voted against their programs — a typical and unremarkable episode for an honest man like Paul.)
Which kind of candidate we wind up with will tell us a lot about the state of our country.
Thomas E. Woods, Jr. [view his website; send him mail] is senior fellow in American history at the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the author, most recently, of 33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask. His other books include How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization (get a free chapter here), The Church and the Market: A Catholic Defense of the Free Economy (first-place winner in the 2006 Templeton Enterprise Awards), and the New York Times bestseller The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History.