As libertarianism becomes more visible, politically, and gains ground in the GOP, the enemies of freedom are poised – on both the right and the left – for the attack. Libertarians have never had to deal with this problem before, in the main because their movement was considered marginal, if it was considered at all. Today, however, the situation is quite different: a wave of “anti-government” (i.e. pro-freedom) sentiment is sweeping the country, and the realization that libertarians were the original tea-partiers – coupled with the electoral success of that populist upsurge – has the Establishment in a panic. What we’re seeing is a two-pronged, left-right attack on libertarians, with the initial forays in the foreign policy realm.
The main thrust of the attack is naturally directed at the leader of the libertarian movement, the man who has done the most to make libertarianism a significant political force in the modern world, and that man is Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas). Ron has single-handedly raised the profile of the movement way beyond what anyone imagined only a few years ago. A lot of this has to do with Ron’s prescient warnings about the state of the economy, and the bursting of the real estate bubble, which have given him the kind of authority he never enjoyed in all the years spent crying in the wilderness.
However, Ron’s prescience isn’t limited to economics: unlike most conservatives, Ron was clear from the very beginning that our foreign policy of global intervention would blow back in our faces some day, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks confirmed his view in a way that was not, at first, readily apparent. Yet Ron kept making this point, even in the wake of the war hysteria that followed the attacks, and ten years anon – as a war-weary and dead broke America staggers and seems about to fall – his views are seen as prophetic rather than marginal.
This is precisely what terrifies the Republican party Establishment, and positively enrages the neoconservatives, whose entire philosophy is predicated on the glorification of war. As might be expected, they are sharpening their knives and hoping to go in for the kill, but they can’t do what Rudy Giuliani tried to do the last time around when he got up on his high horse and demanded Ron “take back” his statement that the 9/11 attacks were “blowback,” in CIA parlance, an unintended consequence of our foreign policy adventurism in the Middle East. Rudy, for his trouble, got a grand total of one delegate in the 2008 Republican primaries, and this time around – he’s made noises about entering the fray again – I wouldn’t be surprised if he got less than that. Ron, on the other hand, went on to become the grand old man of the populist Tea Party movement, a candidate whose million-dollar “money-bombs” are a fundraiser’s dream and whose political prospects brighten by the day.
No, this time around the neocons have to be a bit more subtle, while cashing in on the last dregs of the post-9/11 war hysteria. And the only way to do that is to completely misconstrue his words, and twist them to mean something other than what was intended – and then spread the “Ron-said-this” meme far and wide. The latest such attempt was an interview with Simon Conway, a British import with a radio show in Iowa, in which Ron was asked if, given his opposition to violating the sovereignty of other countries, he would have ordered the raid that assassinated Osama bin Laden. Ron answered that, if he were President, “Things would be done somewhat differently.” You’ll note he didn’t say there would have been no raid: instead, he cited the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the actual mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who was found and arrested by the Pakistanis, as an example of US-Pakistani cooperation.
Conway follows up by saying “I don’t want to put words in your mouth” and then proceeds to put words in Ron’s mouth by stating that “you would not have ordered the raid.” Ron then says: “No. No, it was absolutely not necessary” – in this locution, “it” refers, not to the option of a joint US-Pakistani raid, but to a unilateral raid kept secret from the Pakistani government. Once again, Conway goes into his “I don’t want to put words in your mouth” routine, and reiterates that Ron is saying he wouldn’t have ordered any raid whatsoever. Ron answers: “Not the way it took place.”
Naturally, the neocons jumped all over this, with a short piece in National Review claiming in a headline “Ron Paul Wouldn’t Have Ordered Bin Laden Raid,” and quoting only a single sentence – “It was absolutely not necessary” – torn out of context. NR followed this up with an extended riff on the same theme, by one Marion Smith, who starts out his polemic with a lie – “Last month, Ron Paul said he would not have ordered the military action that ended in the death of Osama Bin Laden. In his view, ‘It was absolutely not necessary’” – and then goes into a lengthy historical disquisition about the Barbary pirates and other irrelevant topics. Before careening off on that tangent, however, Smith briefly touches on the real issue:
“In the case of the bin Laden raid, Paul argues that the United States had no more right to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty than to violate England’s, had Bin Laden hypothetically been lodged in London instead of Abbottabad. But bin Laden was not in London, and for an obvious reason: The United Kingdom is an ally, in the true sense of the word. Pakistan, it seems, is not. Nevertheless, the strict non-interventionist argues that the U.S. should have respected Pakistan’s sovereignty.”
Marion’s argument is based on the dubious assumption that President Obama was telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about the raid being a “secret” withheld from Pakistani authorities. This is certainly odd coming from a magazine that spends the rest of its column inches questioning the President’s credibility. How do we really know who knew about the bin Laden operation in advance and who didn’t? This Guardian news report avers that an agreement had been made, well in advance, that such a raid conducted in Pakistani territory would be immediately disavowed by the authorities in Islamabad, although it would be carried out with their consent. As the Guardian put it:
“The US and Pakistan struck a secret deal almost a decade ago permitting a US operation against Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil similar to last week’s raid that killed the al-Qaida leader, the Guardian has learned.
“The deal was struck between the military leader General Pervez Musharraf and President George Bush after Bin Laden escaped US forces in the mountains of Tora Bora in late 2001, according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.
“Under its terms, Pakistan would allow US forces to conduct a unilateral raid inside Pakistan in search of Bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and the al-Qaida No3. Afterwards, both sides agreed, Pakistan would vociferously protest the incursion.”
Although Antiwar.com ran this story when it appeared – and Ron, I know, is one of our regular readers – he must have missed this one. In any case, the Musharraf-Bush deal was no doubt still in effect when the raid that killed bin Laden was launched – or else why are we sending them billions of US taxpayer dollars? – and so the entire dispute is simply a lot of hot air. The raid was indeed carried out with the cooperation of Pakistan, no violation of Pakistani sovereignty took place, and the President was simply telling a half truth when he said the operation was kept secret from Pakistan: we may not have told them when we were going to launch it, but they had agreed to it in advance anyway.
Ron’s point about the importance of respecting the national sovereignty of our allies is, here, underscored by what actually took place: the reality is that we didn’t just barge in, without any legal or moral justification, and simply take out bin Laden. Islamabad was in on it from the start, and – as the President noted in his address to the nation – intelligence provided by Pakistan played an important role in the operation’s success.
If you go to YouTube and listen to the Conway interview, or the part which deals with foreign policy, Ron gives precisely the right answer when asked if we should get out of Afghanistan (and Pakistan) now that bin Laden is dead: “We should’ve done that a long time ago,” he said. “I’ve been saying that all along.” Indeed, we could have pulled off the raid on bin Laden’s Abbottabad headquarters without invading either Iraq or Afghanistan: both invasions were a typically American over-reaction to what should have been an operation focused on intelligence-gathering and what boils down to ordinary police work.
The Mafia, too, was a terrorist organization, one that, at the height of its power, killed a great many people on American soil – and yet we didn’t have to invade Italy to neutralize them.
At a time when even Republicans are learning the lesson of what happens to empires that allow themselves to become over-extended, the War Party lives in mortal fear of Ron Paul’s message of a peaceful, non-interventionist foreign policy. They are desperate to convince the public that Paul is against defending the country, and even that he sympathizes with the terrorists. This was Giuliani’s failed tactic, and they’re trying it again. It won’t work any better this time around: more and more conservatives are questioning the neoconservative dogma that all war all the time is a sane or sustainable foreign policy for a republic. The impending bankruptcy of the US has imbued this lesson with a new urgency – and that accounts for the urgency of the smear campaign against Paul, which is only just beginning to unfold.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
At the beginning of this column, I wrote that the attacks on Ron and the movement he leads are coming from the left as well as the right, with the implicit promise that I’d write about both prongs. After 1500 words or so, however, it looks like I’ll have to deal with the attack from the left in a future column.