Rep. Ron Paul on War, Peace, and the News Media
by Michael Shank
Ron Paul is a Republican from Texas. An obstetrician by profession,
Paul is noted for never voting for legislation unless it is authorized
by the U.S. Constitution. He is an advocate of limited government.
He has also opposed U.S. military interventions overseas, including
Shank: Youve said that Its nothing
more than a canard to claim that those of us who struggled to prevent
the bloodshed and now want it stopped are somehow less patriotic
and less concerned about the welfare of our military personnel.
During wartime this is often the case. How can one work to counter
this tendency to claim that those who question or work to stop a
war are unpatriotic?
Paul: Its very difficult because the executive branch,
and particularly the president, always has the bully pulpit. He
can say it over and over and over again, and its always heard:
If you dont vote for the money and you dont support
the policy, you dont support the troops. And thats
not true because if youre spending money to support a policy
that puts the troops in harms way, performing a task thats
unachievable, then youre doing everything in the world to
hurt the troops. Youre doing everything you can to undermine
the rule of law because its an undeclared illegal war and
its very detrimental economically. So to argue that youre
unpatriotic because you dont support the troops, because you
dont support the policy, is a canard, its just not true.
Even the strong
opponents to the war, in the Congress here, are intimidated by that.
Not so much that they believe it, but theyre intimidated,
they say when I go home the people are going to say that Im
unpatriotic and I dont support the troops and I dont
support national defense and I might lose my congressional seat.
As political pragmatists they back away from doing what Im
quite sure a lot of them would know would be the right thing to
do. And that is to change the policy and de-fund the war.
And what role does the media play in reinforcing the
idea that opposition to the war is unpatriotic?
They repeat everything the president says and they dont ask
tough questions. They would very rarely give those of us that have
opposed the war from the very beginning any credibility. For very
special reasons, I think, they arent interested in having
an anti-war policy. They have other reasons for wanting us to be
there and theyre not hesitant at all to continue that policy
and they dont want their policy undermined.
For political or economic reasons?
are a lot [of reasons]. There is something to the old saying about
the military industrial complex and the banking system and that
some countries in the Middle East like us to be there. Its
not only Israel. Saudi Arabia likes us to prop them up. Weve
been doing that for a long, long time. Theres a lot of special
interest there and a lot of people who are deceived into believing
that we couldnt drive our cars if we werent over there,
because we wouldnt have the oil supply protected. They dont
realize that since weve been there the price of oil has tripled.
It isnt very practical.
In a House floor speech you noted the misinformation
given the American people to justify our invasion in Iraq.
In perhaps the worlds most free democracy, where free speech
prevails, how does misinformation like this go unchallenged?
it always gets challenged; the unfortunate thing is that its
always very late. Were getting to the bottom of the truth.
People spoke out in elections. Now theres a different party
in charge. There are going to be more investigations. But the real
tragedy is that a lot of people die in the meantime. We finally
found out that the Gulf of Tonkin was all fudged, and yet we lost
60,000 men. Now we have the misinformation, thats a generous
term, about getting us involved in Iraq. Weve lost a lot of
people, and literally hundreds of thousands are applying for disability.
And it goes on and on.
To me, it is
a real tragedy. The media, if theyre not in conspiracy to
promote war, theyre not doing a very good job by asking questions.
And nobody knows what their intent really is. Sometimes the media
and big industry are very often the same company.
if you want to stay strictly on an intellectual level, our society
has been engrained with the attitude that we have a moral obligation
to intervene. Some people dont think in terms of non-intervention
versus intervention. The debate here in Washington is always: we
intervene this way, this way, or that way, with whom and how far
and how long. Its always the technicalities of intervention.
But were never taught in school what our traditions have been
and what the founders advised and what the constitution allows.
Even the UN charter talks more about peace; they dont even
authorize war in the UN charter. And we ignore that too.
a lot of ignorance out there, and a lot of it is perpetuated in
our universities. Except today were getting a broader education
through the Internet. More people are understanding some of our
views. So I think in spite of all the pessimism, were much
better off today than we were 20 years ago when our voices were
not heard at all. Today, our voices are being heard a lot easier
because of the Internet.
In one of your speeches, titled Dont Do It, Mr.
President, you urged the president to not bomb Iran. Why are
you so against a military invasion of Iran?
Because Im against military activity in almost every circumstance
when war isnt declared. I recognize there are a few times
our president could act but I think I pointed out in one of my speeches
that I cant remember a time that the president was required
to act, i.e. that it was so necessary: the tanks were landing, there
was a landing on our beach, the missiles were flying. Its
has the authority to repel an invasion or an attack. But going into
Iran doesnt make any sense whatsoever. Its going to
expand the war, spread the war, and probably close down the Straits
of Hormuz. We dont have the authority nationally or internationally.
Its just the most foolish thing I could conceive of. And yet
it looks like theres bipartisan consensus that we cant
take anything off the table. We cant even take off the table
that we might use a nuclear first strike to go after Iran. They
dont even have a weapon and our CIA says they probably cant
get one for 10 years. And even if they did have one, what are they
going to do with it? Are they going to attack us? They wouldnt
Yet at the
same time we stood up against the Soviet system. They probably had
30,000 nuclear warheads and they had the capability of launching
missiles at us. We didnt have to have a nuclear war to finally
win the cold war. We talked to them and there were negotiations.
was a failed system, and it failed. The Iranian [system] will fail
too if we just leave them alone. They can never become a power capable
of attacking us. They dont have an air force, they dont
have a navy. Its an unbelievable, hysterical reaction on our
part to become so frightened that we have to attack people like
Saddam Hussein. It just bewilders me how people can fall into a
trap of believing these stories that are put out and that the media
In your words, if you dont have a nuke, well threaten
to attack you, if you do have a nuke, well leave you alone.
How do you explain this policy?
The North Koreans exploded [weapons] minimally, and yet it seemed
to get respect. All of the sudden were talking to them and
offering them deals. We knew the Chinese had them. We knew the Russians
had them, and we treated them differently. We treat Pakistan differently,
we give them money. We treat India differently, and they got their
nuclear weapons outside international law. But if you dont
have a weapon we threaten you, as if you did, with the idea that
were going to go in and take over. And we do. We went into
Iraq, and were getting ready to do something with Iran.
We give them
a tremendous incentive to have a nuclear weapon and thats
why Saddam Hussein was betting on the fact that if I can convince
them I have a nuclear weapon they wont come in. But
we knew he didnt have one, thats why we went in.
Has the policy of intervention in the name of nation-building
in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly now Iran ultimately served
or undermined US interests?
It all undermines our interests. I dont see how anything weve
done in the last 50 years has served our interests. You can go back
longer than that. Id go back all the way to Wilson. The unnecessary
involvement in World War I gave us Hitler and World War II and on.
But if you want to start with more recent ones, I think Roosevelts
promise to protect Saudi Arabia and prop up secular governments
that offended and annoyed the more fundamentalist Arabs and Muslims
has been a real thorn in our side. Then with the Cold War going
on, there was a tremendous incentive for our government to use our
CIA and our funding to literally set these schools up, the Wahhabi
schools, to teach them to fight communism in the name of radical
I think the
term blowback is a very accurate term. Our policies are ill-advised,
maybe well intended. Some people think we need to do this to have
oil, I dont. Once we start to intervene it comes back to haunt
us. Osama bin Laden was an ally and now hes our enemy. Saddam
Hussein was an ally, now hes our enemy.
I think the
founders were right about minding our own business. Try to get along
with people, trade with them, talk to them. But I dont believe
in isolating ourselves. Its ironic that they accuse people
like me of being isolationist, but yet they have isolated us. Our
current administration has isolated us from the world. We have fewer
friends and more enemies than ever before. Its ironic.
How will the rising defense budget and Iraq war spending
undermine our economic and political security?
a major contributing factor to our deficit, and its going
to be a big factor in the dollar crisis that I anticipate is coming.
Were not talking about a few dollars; were talking about
hundreds of billions of dollars. In the pipeline this year theres
close to $700 billion dollars, supposedly in the defense of this
country. Yet if you talk to generals you find that the military
operation is in shambles, they dont have enough personnel,
the morale is low, and the equipment is in bad shape. All this money
is doing the opposite of what it should be doing: it hurts our defense,
antagonizes our allies, and creates new enemies. And its very,
very costly. We have to depend, literally, on borrowing from countries
like China and Japan. And thatll come to an end.
tax, borrow, and inflate forever. Thats what weve been
doing, and our obligations are overwhelming. Although most of the
military [spending] is more or less immediate, the policy is indefinite
and overwhelming. Weve committed ourselves to policing the
world. But if you combine this with the pressure of the entitlements,
were talking about $5060 trillion dollars that we dont
have enough wealth [to cover]. Were not producing enough wealth
to maintain our standard of living. We have to borrow almost $3
billon a day to keep this going.
I think financially
its going to lead to problems worse than the 1970s, coming
out of Vietnam. They pretended they had guns and butter, and its
the same story again. Even todays statistics show that inflation
is alive and well, probably much more alive than the government
will admit. So I think were going to have inflation, a weak
dollar, interest rates will eventually go up, the economy is going
to remain sluggish, and the only alternative here in Washington
is to spend more money. And I think its going to lead to a
Youve said the war on terrorism is deliberately
vague and non-definable to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere.
Why has the war on terrorism received so much traction
in Washington, and is this war any different from, for
example, our war on communism? Is it more dangerous
than any war weve concocted before?
war on terrorism is broader and more vague. Before, the war against
communism was a little more concrete. The Soviets were a powerhouse,
and they had missiles. But today, with the war on terrorism
always have to have a war to frighten the people, to get the people
to rally around the flag and sacrifice their liberties and allow
the state to do a lot more than they should be doing. Thats
why I would say that the war on terrorism looks like its going
to have a longer life unless somebody can point out the fallacies
of the [administrations] thinking.
To me the war
on terrorism is like saying the war on crime. Of course were
all against crime, were all against terrorists. But if you
have a literal war and you send troops all around the world and
since terrorism is not very often committed by the state itself,
its just thugs out there, bands of individuals who are killing
other people this justifies anything and everything forever.
That, I think,
is very dangerous. We have accepted this notion that you can make
this vague declaration. Its not a real declaration. You dont
know who the enemy is. For people who like the state to grow during
wartime, its easy just to declare a war. Whether its
a war on drugs, a war on illiteracy, or a war on whatever, people
say well, its a war; we have to be willing to sacrifice
our liberties and let the government take care of us. Its
a contest between those who want to or enjoy being dependent on
the government or are frightened into it both physically and
economically versus those who believe and understand how a free
society is safer and wealthier.
for most of my lifetime, those who want to be safe and secure and
believe government can provide have won out over those of us who
believe that we would be safer and we would be more economically
secure if we assumed responsibility for ourselves. Who is going
to win that debate? Were making inroads but were not
on the verge of victory.
Shank is the government relations officer at George Mason Universitys
Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution and a contributor
to Foreign Policy In Focus.
© 2007 Foreign Policy In Focus