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Ron Paul the Internationalist: An Open Letter to Iowa Republicans

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As an American living abroad, I am acutely aware of global interdependence, something of which I hardly need to remind Iowans. This January, the eyes of the whole world will be on Iowa, to see if America chooses internationalism, or if it continues to dig itself into an isolationist pit. Perhaps you will be surprised if I told you there was only one truly internationalist candidate running for president, and that his name was Dr. Ron Paul.

This may seem like a paradox to those of you who have been told that Dr. Paul is the isolationist, and the other candidates are upholders of internationalism. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say this was a disagreement over methods, and that while Ron Paul thinks that peace and free trade promote internationalism, his opponents think the same end can be attained by saber-rattling and coercion. Viewed this way, perhaps it would take a degree in diplomacy or a crystal ball to tell which of the two positions was the more expedient.

Not being prescient, I am forced to rely on my moral intuitions and what I know about human nature. I know that people react negatively to foreign domination, even when that domination is arguably in their own best interests. If left to their own devices, the people of any given country are likely to experiment with error before they make their own way to a free and just society, but such a process of trial and error cannot be short-circuited by imposition from the outside, for the painful process by which freedom is attained is the prerequisite for building up a culture of moral and political responsibility.

In the view of Dr. Ron Paul we have squandered our own moral capital in fruitless attempts to build up bogus democracies (and even bare-faced dictatorships) abroad. This is a great tragedy, for while the maintenance of our own free institutions requires a constant replenishing of our national and spiritual resources, we have been bled dry, morally, fiscally, and in the literal toll of American men and women who have perished in dubious conflicts abroad.

Throughout our national history Iowa has contributed more than its share to America’s campaigns overseas. My own grandfather was a lifelong Republican who always voted the straight party ticket. He also was a commander of the Iowa National Guard and saw service in both world wars. In these he was unflinchingly loyal, and proud to lead the first Expeditionary Force to the relief of the British Isles upon America’s entry into that second world-wide conflict.

Yet he was never a boastful soldier, and preferred not to speak about what he had been through. However he did keep, in a place where he thought nobody would discover it, a scrapbook of pictures from the trenches of France. He, or somebody he knew, had gone to the trouble of documenting the terrible effects of poison gas on the human body. These were the images which my grandfather sought to preserve, as testimony to the terrors of total war. Since they were from the first war I can only imagine what was going through his mind as he marched into the second!

Yet he went, for though he despised the man in the White House, he respected the democratic process by which Congress had declared war against Germany. Hitler was conquering Europe and dropping bombs on London, and it was no time to be arguing the finer points of pacifism or just war theory. Yet he was never happier than when he returned to his home in Waterloo Iowa at the end of the conflict.

Almost everyone is familiar with the parable of beating swords into pruning forks. At the end of World War II this meant that the veterans of Iowa could put down their arms, return to their families, and start manufacturing agricultural implements and other useful tools of peace. However dreams of a demobilized world were soon squashed by a new globalist doctrine of national security, and a continuing Democratic administration, which now claimed the right of the executive power to commit troops abroad unilaterally, even in the absence of a declaration of war.

Against this new doctrine of false, unilateralist “internationalism” stood the policies advocated by the Republican leader, Senator Robert Taft. It was a philosophy which Iowa Republicans could understand and support, and it had nothing to do with isolationism or pacifism. How could it have been? After all, Midwesterners had just welcomed soldiers from a global conflict back to what was from that time called “the breadbasket of the world.” Taft’s voluntarist internationalism insisted only that American policy abroad should be constitutional and conducted with the consent of, and in the general interests of, the American people. It was a policy formulated in the same spirit that animates what people are calling “the Ron Paul Revolution” today. In truth, this “revolution” consists in nothing more than calling the Republican Party back to its roots.

Unfortunately, after Taft the party gradually adopted the Democrats’ doctrine of unilateral interventionism. A policy of “bipartisanship” evolved which said that trivial issues such as budgetary details were proper items of debate, but major issues such as war and peace were too delicate to be trusted to democratic process. This would have greatly surprised the founders of the Anglo-American tradition of free government. 19th-century Iowans, with the words of the Lincoln-Douglass debates still ringing in their ears could never have imagined such a tame and, as it were, “unpolitical” future. Moreover, in the course of events Congress has even surrendered its authority over the minutiae of policy and expenditure, viewing with contempt the “green eye-shade” preoccupation with details. Again, Congressman Ron Paul (affectionately known as “Dr. No” for his persistent governmental skepticism) is the exception who proves the rule.

Surely there is a time for peace and a time for war, a time to say “no” to tyrants like Hitler when they actually threaten the security of the United States, but also a time to say “no” to those who create bogeymen, attempting to suborn the generous internationalist instincts of Americans by pressing the buttons of past traumas. Yes, the world is full of criminals, troglodytes, and wild-eyed fanatics, but surely these are better dealt with by the attention of a few well-placed Sherlock Holmes than by the maintenance of a ruinously expensive military-industrial establishment.

Internationalism, peace, and prosperity: these three goals stand in no logical contradiction, although they have suffered a great deal of political obfuscation. America needs all three, but before it gets them there must be a return to genuine debate over fundamental principles. The Republican Party must, to borrow a famous slogan, offer “a choice not an echo.” Between the social collectivism of the Democratic Party and the traditional civil society of the Republican Party there may some day be the possibility of rational choice. Today there is no choice whatsoever.

All the other Republican candidates are running for office; Ron Paul is running with an idea. It’s the idea without which there can be no internationalism, no peace, and no prosperity. It’s called freedom. Please consider that when you caucus this January and give Ron Paul your hearty support.

December 28, 2007