Ron Paul is not an isolationist

Rarely do I defend politicians.  I’m not sure this is a defense.

It’s more of a correction, or maybe clarification on one distinction between conservative and libertarian thinking.

I’ve often heard Ron Paul’s “foreign policy” referred to by conservatives as “isolationist“.   My local conservative talk show hosts are guilty of this charge.  I’ve heard Dennis Miller do it repeatedly — even though he often interviews Ron and Rand Paul on his show and each time Miller calls Paul an isolationist, they correct him.

I’ve heard that exchange now three or four times in the past year, with the latest being Miller’s interview with Rand just before the Iowa debates (I believe it was around August 10, available on iTunes).  I listened to it today.

Miller said:

He’s a little isolationist for me, but on everything else he makes a lot of sense.

Rand Paul replied:

The foreign policy isn’t isolationism, it’s just that we should not go to war without declaring it formally, you know, like the Constitution intended.

I’ve also heard Ron tell Miller that he is not isolationist.  He said he support individuals trading with other individuals in other countries.  He just doesn’t think we ought to use our military beyond what it was meant to do — defend us.

I’m waiting for Miller to stop the flow of the show for a minute or two and ask one of them, Okay, maybe I have it wrong.  Can you explain to me how it is that you are not isolationist?  I’m not sure that has occurred to him to do that yet.  I’m also not sure it has occurred to Miller that perhaps he doesn’t know what isolationism is.

I’ve heard others do it. (Full disclosure: I might have done it a few years ago).

I think part of it is the conservative way to discount Paul and distance themselves from appearing to agree with a fringe candidate (we had this same struggle with identity when we went from liberal to conservative).

I think another part of it is, like Miller, conservatives don’t know what isolationism is and they haven’t thought much about when we should use our military and what the Constitution says about that.

Miller, and other conservatives, would do themselves a big favor if they read a blog post from George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux entitled, A Conflict of Visions Different than the one Sowell Identified, from March of this year.    The post is a copy of a letter Boudreaux sent to the Washington Post in response to George Will’s Column, Is it America’s duty to intervene wherever regime change is needed?

Here are Boudreaux’s key paragraphs:

Most modern “liberals” believe that domestic economic problems are caused chiefly by unsavory characters – “business people” – who impose their destructive rule on masses of innocent workers and consumers yearning for more prosperity, and that the best solution to these problems is government force deployed using armies of regulators to subdue these bad guys and to keep close watch over them and their successors.  Failure to intervene is immoral.  These same “liberals,” though, believe that foreign problems are typically the result of complex forces that can be understood only poorly by American-government officials; it is naïve to suppose that even well-intentioned foreign intervention by Uncle Sam will not have regrettable unintended consequences.

Most modern conservatives believe that domestic economic problems are typically the result of complex forces that can be understood only poorly by government officials; it is naïve to suppose that even well-intentioned economic intervention by Uncle Sam will not have regrettable unintended consequences.  These same conservatives, though, believe that problems in foreign countries are caused chiefly by unsavory characters – “dictators” or “tyrants” – who impose their destructive rule on masses of innocent people yearning for more democracy, and that the best solution to these problems is government force deployed with armies of soldiers to subdue these bad guys and to keep close watch over them and their successors.  Failure to intervene is immoral.

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Activity based costing for the military

Mallory Factor makes a great point about military spending in his latest Forbes article, What’s the Real Defense Budget?

The purpose of a large standing army is to provide for our national defense. But in recent years a growing percentage of that budget has been spent on activities that don’t involve traditional national defense. These include nation-building, policing foreign nations, humanitarian missions and ferrying executive- and legislative-branch leaders and their attendants around the globe. While these activities may be tangentially related to our standing in the world, they do not enhance our war-fighting capabilities; rather they relate more to the success of our foreign policy than to our national defense.

Rightly or wrongly, we give our military these various assignments because we don’t want to pay someone else to do them, and other government entities currently can’t. Yet just because our military can do these jobs doesn’t mean that it should. Indeed, these assignments shift focus away from the military’s core missions: keeping America safe and winning wars.

Right now it is difficult for Congress to determine how much money is spent on protecting the U.S. The “military” budget gives an exaggerated impression of the cost of our national defense.

The military’s nondefense activities may or may not be warranted, but their total costs must be transparent. If Congress does not consider these costs separately, traditional defense missions and essential equipment upgrades will be crowded out.

In accounting parlance, this is known as activity based costing, or evaluating your costs in a way that better lines up with the activities those costs are supporting.  The advantage to this approach is that it gives a much better way to prioritize activities and make good decisions about should and should not be cut.

So instead of trying to cut the big bucket of military spending, we can properly look at the costs generated from the multiple activities like providing defense services for other countries, or providing protection for humanitarian missions and we may have a better idea of the consequences of cutting those respective activities.

Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

President Obama missed a chance to lead this week, as did many others who issued unilateral rebuking of Pastor Terry Jones highly publicized (thank you Main Stream Media) plans to burn a copy of the Quran.  All, including Obama buckled to threats against troops.  For example, Obama said this:

And as a very practical matter, I just want him [Pastor Terry Jones] to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform.

The problem, as I see it, is that the condemnation was one-sided.  Obama, and everyone else, was correct in condemning the plans to burn the Quran.  There’s no doubt about that.  Any attempt to spin this blog post into some sort of support for Jones’ plan would be a lie.

However, as a leader, Obama missed a prime opportunity to condemn the other wrong here.

While everybody agreed that Jones was a “nutcase”, including me, only two people I know of expressed any concern about the other wrong here: about a group of people threatening violence against U.S. troops in retaliation for Jones’ actions.  That would be myself and Tawfik Hamid writing in yesterday’s Wall Street Opinion Journal, A Muslim Response to Quran Burning and referring to the Quran.  Hamid’s first two paragraphs:

It’s unclear whether or not the Rev. Terry Jones will go ahead with his highly publicized Quran burning this evening in Florida. But Muslims can play a major role in preventing a violent response to any burnings of their holy book.

Islamic scholars can emphasize that the Quran clearly teaches that no one can be punished on account of the actions of others (surra 6, verse 164). In other words, it is against the value system of the Quran to punish Americans or Christians because of the acts of a small minority.

If I were President, I might have been inclined to say something like:

I, along with most Americans, condemn what one pastor in Florida plans to do.  It’s disgraceful.  However, we will hold the appropriate parties accountable for acts of violence against our troops or citizens.  To be clear, the appropriate parties will be those who commit such violence.  We encourage you to protest the pastor’s actions peacefully.

Instead, Obama continued his enlightened rationalization (from the same news story as the first Obama quote):

Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan.” The president also said Jones’ plan, if carried out, could serve as an incentive for terrorist-minded individuals “to blow themselves up” to kill others.

For those threatening violence, this is a victory.  They pushed and we folded.  Lesson learned.  Already the tactic is being employed to justify keeping the plans to build the mosque near Ground Zero.  From this story, three days ago:

The imam behind a proposed Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero cautioned Wednesday that moving the facility could cause a violent backlash from Muslim extremists and endanger national security.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told CNN that the discourse surrounding the center has become so politicized that moving it could strengthen the ability of extremists abroad to recruit and wage attacks against Americans, including troops fighting in the Middle East.

I find the similarities between Obama’s second quote and Imam Rauf’s message striking.  It’s as if Imam Rauf had just read Obama’s remarks and they were still fresh in his mind.

A couple more nuggets from Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn on gun control, from America Alone:

New Hampshire has a high rate of firearms possession, which is why it has a low crime rate.  You don’t have to own a gun, and there are plenty of sissy arms-are-for-hugging granola-crunchers who don’t.  But they benefit from the fact that their crazy stump-toothed knuckle-dragging neighbors do.  If you want to burgle a home in the Granite State, you’d have to be awfully certain it was the one-in-a-hundred we-are-the-world panty-waist’s pad and not some plaid-clad gun nut who’ll blow your head off before you lay a hand on his seventy dollar TV.  A North Country non-gun owner might tire of all the Second Amendment kooks with the gun racks in the pickups and move somewhere where everyone is, at least officially, a non-gun owner just like him: Washington D.C., say, or London.  And suddenly he finds that, in a wholly disarmed society, his house requires burglar alarms and window locks and security cameras.

And, finally, a last bit about war:

“…as the great strategist of armored warfare Basil Liddell Hart wrote: “The destruction of the enemy’s armed forces is but a means – and not necessarily an inevitable or infallible one – to attainment of the real objective.”

The object of war is not to destroy the enemy’s tanks but to destroy his will. 

America is extremely good at destroying tanks.  If you make the mistake of luring the United States into a hot war – i.e. tanks, bombers, ships, etc. – you’ll lose very quickly. 

Wars fought under absurd degrees of self-imposed etiquette are the most difficult to win – see Korea and Vietnam – and one lesson of Germany and Japan is that it’s easier to rebuild totalitarian states if they’ve first been completely smashed. 

So, in the last passage he’s saying that the U.S. is great at destroying the enemy’s armed forces, but not so great at destroying the enemy’s will.  In fact, the U.S. has been very good at bolstering the enemy’s will. 

Military Welfare

Here’s another gem from Mark Steyn’s book America Alone:

The United States has the most powerful armed forces on the planet.  The fact that Washington’s responsible for 40 percent of the planet’s military spending pales in comparison to the really critical statistic: it’s responsible for almost 80 percent of military research-and-development spending, which means the capability gap between it and everyone else widens every day.

As for America’s “friends,” there’s another paradox of the non-imperial hyperpower: the United States garrisons…its wealthiest allies, thereby freeing them to spend their tax revenues on luxuriant welfare programs rather than on tanks and aircraft carriers…  Like any other welfare, defense welfare is a hard habit to break and damaging to the recipient.  The peculiarly obnoxious character of modern Europe is a logical consequence of America’s willingness to absolve it of responsibility for its own security.