A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship by Ron Paul (Lake Jackson, Texas: Foundation for Rational Economics and Education, 2007); 372 pages; $19.95.
“Mr. Speaker, peace is always superior to war,” said Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) on the House floor on September 18, 2002, six months before President Bush took America to war with Iraq. This viewpoint comes through consistently in his foreign-policy speeches to Congress, spanning the years 1976 to 2006, now collected together in his book A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship.
Whereas Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, often derive their hawkish and dovish positions from partisan calculation, the winds of political opinion, or the urgings of special interests and domestic constituencies, and not by a set of coherent principles or deep understanding of the economics and history of American foreign policy, Ron Paul is different. From the Reagan years through the Clinton years and past the aftermath of 9/11, Paul has consistently upheld the Jeffersonian principles of nonintervention, peace, honest diplomacy, and free trade as the path to American security, freedom, and more harmonious relations with the rest of the world.
One theme he has often stressed is the irrationality of U.S. policy abroad, most clearly demonstrated by America’s shifting alliances and commitments to both sides of various squabbles. The United States has had commitments to both Britain and Argentina, both Israel and the Arab states, both Greece and Turkey, and so on, regardless of any conflicts that may arise between the two allied interests. One decade, the U.S. government will be supporting the Taliban or Saddam Hussein and the next decade it will be at all-out war with the former ally.
Given that Ron Paul’s audience has been his fellow members of Congress as well as the general American population, his speeches do not always rise to the level of detail of academic foreign-policy books. But this is only fitting, and the speeches still make an extraordinarily inspiring and interesting read.
We see here a man doing all he can to reverse the tide of American interventionism, against the warmongering inertia of both parties, and if his words at times become somewhat repetitive it is only because he is tirelessly repeating the neglected truths and wisdom of the noninterventionist strain traditional to America. These truths need to be heard, and although his 30 years’ worth of speeches may at times become frustrating to read, in light of how much his words have been ignored, we can only be enthralled by how boldly and heroically he has persisted in his mission to educate his compatriots.
Although Paul presents his message in clear, accessible language, he demonstrates a level of sophisticated understanding of foreign policy that is hard to imagine any other federal legislator remotely approaching. This knowledge and his willingness to share it have allowed him to serve as a sort of oracle, warning his fellow members in Congress of the trouble yet to come if the foolish policy of perpetual intervention isn’t reversed. In this light, A Foreign Policy of Freedom is a great resource for the historian, compiling the primary-source documentation of the one American congressman who saw the full danger of U.S. intervention far before 9/11.
One of the best examples of this comes in his dissent from Reagan’s policy toward Lebanon. In voting against one of those many seemingly innocuous congressional resolutions condemning foreign violence, Paul warned on June 17, 1981,
Since when have the people of the United States become the guarantor of Lebanon? Such a promise could require the use of troops…. [This] resolution could be used to justify who-knows-what use of dollars and lives in a future conflict or peacekeeping operation.
On September 28, 1982, Paul continued his warnings when civilian massacres in Lebanon inspired Congress to draft more resolutions, which Paul saw as potentially very dangerous:
Condemning the killing is fine. But the fact that our policies can lead to and even promote the killing is a more crucial issue than any public pronouncement of this kind…. Congressional resolutions — House Concurrent Resolution 409 and House Resolution 159 — are actually congressional stamps of approval for extensive presidential decisions to intervene with the use of troops, the use of dollars, the use of weapons. And once we are bogged down in a crisis like this one, it is difficult to withdraw gracefully.
Seven months later, the American embassy in Lebanon was bombed, and Paul accordingly intoned,
What do we do? I believe that with this attack on U.S. territory, and the death of American citizens, the time to answer that question has arrived…. [We] must remove our troops from the region immediately.
Throughout September of 1983, Paul repeated his words of caution several times, prophetically warning,
It is with great risk that we remain in Lebanon and with the chance that significant escalation of the conflict will come on the heels of some unforeseen incident.
His warnings were ignored and a month later Hezbollah bombed U.S. Marine barracks, killing 241 American servicemen. Finally, Reagan did what Paul had long suggested and pulled out of Lebanon.
steadfast opposition to intervention
Paul has embraced a philosophy of no entangling alliances; no foreign aid; no involvement in such international bodies as the UN, NATO, IMF, or the World Bank; and no unprovoked intervention; and has applied it to all regional squabbles. In this book we see his principled opposition to U.S. meddling in Grenada, in El Salvador, in Turkey, and in the Balkans. As the Cold War was in its final stages, we see the congressman repeatedly pointing out the irony of U.S. foreign aid and funding to communist regimes that American politicians complain about when they harass American allies. In 1999, during the Bosnia interventions under Clinton, Paul repeated his warning that “too often our support finds its way into the hands of both warring factions.” By the time of the Kosovo war, this seemed especially fitting as the United States had once again switched sides, backing the Kosovars, against whom the United States had in 1992 “supported an arms embargo … essentially making it impossible for [them] to defend themselves against Serbia.” In that same speech, Paul predicted, in his warnings about assisting Muslim fundamentalists,
When a foreign war comes to our shores in the form of terrorism, we can be sure that our government will explain the need for further sacrifice of personal liberties to win this war against terrorism as well.
And this is perhaps where Paul shines brightest. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he had warned about the Middle Eastern interventions, support of bin Laden, and especially the horribly brutal treatment of Iraq, including the sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians. He warned of the hatred this would cause. Starting in 1998, he began speaking strongly against a forthcoming second war with Iraq — five years before the war began, and seven or eight years before most Democrats began seeing the folly of the war. Thus, when 9/11 hit, he was prepared to speak forcibly and intelligently on the ways intervention leads to blowback, and was willing to do so despite the incredible unpopularity of his position.
Paul explained that a full-blown invasion and occupation of Afghanistan would fail to achieve much of value and would only incite further anti-American hatred. But his admonitions soon after 9/11 about war with Iraq are perhaps most profound to read in retrospect. By September 2002, he was asking very politically incorrect questions:
Is it not … true that we are willing to bomb Iraq now because we know it cannot retaliate, which just confirms that there is no real threat? … Is it not true that the intelligence community has been unable to develop a case tying Iraq to global terrorism at all, much less the attacks on the United States last year? … Would an attack on Iraq not just confirm the Arab world’s worst suspicions about the U.S., and isn’t this what bin Laden wanted? … Are we prepared for possibly thousands of American casualties in a war against a country that does not have the capacity to attack the United States? … Is it not true that preventive war is synonymous with an act of aggression, and has never been considered a moral or legitimate U.S. policy?
In another speech, Paul seemed to foresee the next several years precisely:
The euphoria associated with the dreams of grandiose and painless victories [will be] replaced by the stark reality of death, destruction, and economic pain.
During all the warmongering before Shock and Awe, Paul had expressed his worries about the moral and legal implications of preemptive, undeclared war; the hypocrisy of waging war for a United Nations that didn’t back the war; and the popularly underestimated costs in lives, liberties, and wealth. As the war began and the occupation commenced, he continued his important role in exposing the reality of the phony elections, the corporate and economic motivations behind the war, the neoconservative ideology as it related to post—9/11 policy, the lies of progress, and assorted wartime propaganda. Whether the war was popular or not at any given time, he continued to speak the truth for all who would listen. By the end of the book, we see him giving similar warnings about Iran, against which the propaganda is now leveled to drum up support for yet another poorly conceived and aggressive war.
War and the
decline of liberty
Congressman Paul deeply laments the decline of liberty at home, as the war on terror is waged. He speaks almost alone against the USA PATRIOT Act, military tribunals, violations of habeas corpus, and consolidation of bureaucratic power. He makes the unpopular point that, had the pilots been armed on 9/11, the terror attack would have probably been a failure. He defends constitutional limits on power when they are most important and most in peril. In watching the nation he loves relinquish its liberty, he says, “It’s frightening to see us doing to ourselves what even bin Laden never dreamed he could accomplish with his suicide bombers.”
Some of his most passionate talk is in regard to conscription, which we have been lucky enough not to see reemerge. “Justifying conscription to promote the cause of liberty is one of the most bizarre notions ever conceived by man!” he exclaims.
It’s said that the 18-year-old owes it to his country. Hogwash! It just as easily could be argued that a 50-year-old chicken-hawk, who promotes war and places the danger on innocent young people owes a heck of a lot more to the country than the 18-year-old being denied his liberty for a cause that has no justification.
Paul explains, over and over, how foreign policy relates to domestic policy, and so we see his consistent advocacy of free markets, sound money, small government, and personal freedom. He particularly takes aim at the regressive effects of inflation, which redistributes money from poor to rich, most commonly at wartime. He also shows time and again his commitment to liberty in areas not appreciated by nearly anyone of either party. As early as 1984, he was attacking the drug war as a brutal and counterproductive policy advanced hypocritically by politicians “legally hooked on alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, aspirin, and valium” and taking particular offense that “harmless elderly women, having committed no act of violence,” had been arrested for “raising marijuana in the yard to use for relief of severe arthritic pain.”
Prescient, patient, and patriotic, Ron Paul, with his love of liberty, comes through wonderfully in his speeches, but perhaps best of all in his firm dedication to restoring the sane, noninterventionist foreign policy that is the bulwark of any constitutional republic worthy of the name. Capturing the sophistication, consistency, and wisdom of his views, A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship is a great book on the foreign policy of a free society, explained by a humble and venerable American statesman commenting on three decades of unfolding history, not just from the sidelines but in the chambers of policymaking, somehow not letting such influence taint his profound devotion to liberty and peace.
Anthony Gregory [send him mail] is a writer and musician who lives in Berkeley, California. He is a research analyst at the Independent Institute. See his webpage for more articles and personal information.