Hot off an impressive third-place finish in Iowa, a second-place finish in New Hampshire, and boasting a growing national following, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) has surged from a semi-known libertarian ideologue to a national political celebrity, even if his electoral prospects still remain slim. Indeed, such Republican luminaries as Donald Trump and even Paul himself have essentially written off chances at the presidency. Yet there is no denying Paul’s libertarian platform has generated interest nationwide.
But a theoretical shift in national political ethos towards libertarianism would portend significant danger for the United States. Although the fundamental tenets of the ideology – individual liberty, protection of private property, governmental non-intervention – are broadly attractive across a wide swath of political perspectives, the actual implementation of libertarian policies is ineffectual at best and hazardous at worst.
There are many Paul opinions available to critique: The incompatibility of his right-to-control-one’s-own-body rhetoric, up to and including drug use, with a rigid anti-abortion stance; his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and his bombastic diatribes against the Federal Reserve, to name a few. But the aspect simultaneously most appealing to Paul supporters and dangerous to national interest is his foreign policy platform.
Paul has distinguished himself from Democrats and his Republican counterparts, both neocons and Tea Partiers, in this regard. He has asserted his intention to close foreign military bases, recall American soldiers, curtail foreign aid, and remove the U.S. from international organizations/agreements like the UN and the WTO, essentially assuming an unprecedented policy of isolationism. Domestic war weariness makes non-intervention appealing, particularly among younger voters, but modern verities undermine the ostensible value of Paul’s foreign policy.
First, Paul’s isolationist conception is the most extreme version in the history of the U.S. Even during America’s earliest years its leaders pursued a robust foreign policy, although one that admittedly pales in comparison to the ideological crusading of the mid-to-late-20th century. Nevertheless, America has always been a presence to a certain degree on the world stage, as evidenced by Walter Russell Mead in “The American Foreign Policy Legacy”, and Paul would return America to an isolationist stance that never really existed.
Also troubling is Paul’s intention to cut foreign aid. This issue is one that has exploded in recent weeks and has been manipulated to the point that foreign aid now seems like the secret bogeyman preventing America from balancing its budget and achieving elusive internal prosperity. On the contrary, foreign aid is a paltry 1% of the U.S. budget, hardly enough to make a significant dent in the deficit. Yet this 1% represents funds that essentially buy America friends and protect its allies. For example, aid to Egypt during the recently concluded Mubarak years effectively bought its acquiescence to our international designs and assuaged Israeli fears of Egyptian reprisal following the Six-Day War. Curtailing foreign aid would create enemies and destroy allies, figuratively and perhaps literally.
This is not to say that America’s foreign policy has always been monolithically good. Even a casual student of history is cognizant of some of the iniquities perpetuated by certain American regimes over the years. But it cannot be discounted that America currently has numerous commitments abroad, commitments that cannot be as easily swept away as Paul would have his supporters believe and commitments that realistically will only be compounded as more issues materialize in the future.
Can American foreign policy be improved? Yes. Can America’s image in the world be remedied? Yes. But improving and remedying are far cries from abandoning. Ron Paul and his libertarian supporters would do well to understand this.
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