One of the refreshing aspects of the Ron Paul revolution has been its willingness to re-examine America’s fractured foreign policy and return to the old principles of national interest and constitutionalism to serve as guidelines for how the nation should behave internationally. Paul has been bold enough to assert that foreign aid, which accomplishes little for the recipient and diminishes the donor, should be eliminated. This has offended constituencies that are major beneficiaries of the status quo, including the nation of Israel and its powerful lobby. Paul was also the only congressman to publicly condemn the excesses committed by Israel in its invasion of Gaza in 2009, even going so far as to describe the conditions in the enclave as a “concentration camp,” an extremely courageous act in a legislative body that is accustomed to support Israel, right or wrong, by unanimous voice votes.
Paul’s general contention that America should reduce its profile overseas, should stay out of other people’s quarrels, and should resort to war only when a vital interest is at stake are all sound advice. His demand that wars only be initiated constitutionally, after debate in Congress and a declaration of war, would put a brake on the unending series of little wars and police actions that the U.S. has been involved in since the Second World War.
Because Ron Paul has so often been right and sound in his thinking, it is disconcerting to note his most recent comments relating to Israel. It has been reliably reported that Ron Paul, in a private meeting with evangelicals on April 18 in Ft. Worth, Texas, joined fellow Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich in endorsing moving the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. If the comments attributed to him by a senior campaign adviser who was present at the meeting are indeed correct, Paul, using impeccable libertarian logic, argued that it is up to the host country for a diplomatic mission to decide where its capital should be. He asked rhetorically, by way of analogy, “How would we feel if some other nation told us that we would have to make our capital in New York and they refused to build their embassy in Washington, D.C.? It is none of our business.” Paul was, to his credit, unwilling to agree to suggestions from the evangelicals that he might, if president, issue an executive order to bring about the move.
The comments reportedly pleased the evangelical listeners, who will now pay more attention to the Paul campaign and will view it favorably vis-à-vis Mitt Romney, who has only pledged to move the embassy at some future point. Paul has been excoriated by pro-Israel groups and was even excluded from a December presidential candidate forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition because of his “misguided and extreme” views. It is consequently understandable that he should want the Israel issue to go away. He has previously sought to soften his message, sometimes citing his refusal to condemn Israel’s 1981 bombing of Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, which was precisely the type of “preventive” aggression that he otherwise abhors. Paul is rightly reluctant to interfere in any other country’s foreign affairs, but he might want to consider an alternative narrative, that the Osirak reactor was part of the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation program and was subject to regular inspection. It was only after it was bombed that Saddam Hussein initiated a secret program to construct a weapon, largely to defend himself from further attacks by Israel, thereby creating the threat that hitherto did not exist. This was not a good result for either Tel Aviv or Washington.
Paul has also endorsed the possible Israeli bombing of Iran by stating that Israel is responsible for its own security and can do whatever it needs to do to protect itself. He has noted carefully, however, that he is opposed to the United States getting drawn into such a venture, observing that the U.S. is not threatened by Iran and has no reason to go to war. If he had followed that line of reasoning a bit further, he might have had to concede that America under present circumstances could hardly avoid being drawn into such a war, a conclusion confirmed by recent Pentagon war games. Acceptance of an Israeli strike on Iran is not in our interest, no matter what Israel thinks it should do.
Ron Paul has been both a model of honesty and consistency in his views, as well as a politician who always puts America and the American people first, but his view of the proper place for the United States embassy in Israel, which he may have justified by reportedly saying that “The real issue here is not what America wants, but what does Israel want,” assumes that such a decision occurs in a vacuum without any political consequences. If Paul did indeed say that, it is not only morally indefensible but also dead wrong in terms of real U.S. interests. Paul would be, not unlike Mitt Romney and the other Republicans, allowing Israel to dictate actions by the United States that will have grave consequences for the American people. What is good for the U.S. should be guiding the State Department and the White House in the choice for placement of an embassy in a situation in which there are several options, not necessarily what the Israelis perceive might be best for them.
In this case, Israel wants the world to recognize that Jerusalem is its capital, but even countries that have full diplomatic relations with Israel have resisted that demand and kept their embassies in Tel Aviv. No country currently has its embassy in Jerusalem, and there are good reasons why that is so.
Under normal circumstances, the placement of an embassy would not raise any issues at all, as Ron Paul correctly notes, but much of Jerusalem has been occupied by Israeli military forces and the overall status of the city is very much in dispute. Israel’s attempt to colonize the Arab neighborhoods that it has seized and its construction of blocs of settlements on the adjacent West Bank to seal the city off from the largely Palestinian areas to the East have been widely condemned. If the United States were to acquiesce in Israel’s unilateral decision to declare Jerusalem part of Israel by moving its embassy, it would convince the Muslim world that American and Israeli foreign policy are indivisible (if there are any remaining doubts over that issue) and would trigger a possibly violent reaction against the move in a number of nations. It would endanger U.S. troops in the region, and it would also make any kind of peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians impossible. This is precisely why the United States has not already shifted the embassy despite numerous pledges by presidential aspirants and Congress to do so: it would be a very bad move for the American people. Every new president figures that out in fairly short order.
Paul understandably does not have much use for the United Nations, but he surely has some regard for the body of world opinion that it represents, as that impacts directly on American interests. Israel has been on the receiving end of no fewer than 19 U.N. resolutions between 1967 and 2004 denouncing as illegal its continued military occupation of Jerusalem and its establishment of settlements on Palestinian land. The best known is Resolution 242 in 1967, which declared “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” Many more resolutions on the same subject have been vetoed in the Security Council by the United States.
I have tremendous respect for Ron Paul and everything he represents, but I would suggest that in this instance he examine the facts and rethink the position he has taken. Israel is not just another country. It is a nation supported by a powerful domestic lobby that has succeeded in manipulating U.S. policy to serve its own interests. As a congressman, Ron Paul knows that firsthand. If Israel wants Washington to declare Jerusalem as its capital, it is not a disinterested move. It will have consequences and could easily inflict serious collateral damage on the United States. I know Ron Paul is a true patriot, so he should look at foreign policy as an instrument for doing what is best for the American people, as the Founders envisioned. Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would do nothing but harm.