Interview conducted April 4, 2007. Listen to the interview.
All right, our very special guest today on Antiwar Radio is Dr. Ron Paul, congressman representing District 14 in south Texas and new presidential candidate. That’s all I can say about that, because Antiwar.com is a nonprofit and the government has rules about such things, but we can talk all about what Dr. Ron Paul believes. And that’s really what I am interested in anyway.
So welcome back to the show, Dr. Paul.
Paul: Thank you, Scott. Good to be with you.
Horton: You have the most consistent antiwar record of any congressman from either party. If one goes back and reads your speeches from years and years ago, they are just the same as the ones today taking the strict antiwar position. This is obviously due to the fact that you have some very strong principles about such things.
So, Dr. Paul, what are your first principles of American foreign policy?
Paul: Well, first, I think it is in our best interests to mind our own business, provide for a strong national defense, and stay out of the affairs of other nations. I don’t believe in internationalism of the sort where we go to war under the United Nations. Those are my personal beliefs.
At the same time, the most important promise I make is to uphold the Constitution. If we read the Constitution carefully, we find there is no authority to do those things [interfere with other nations]. So I personally abhor getting involved when we don’t need to and getting into wars that are unnecessary. At the same time, we are told that we are not allowed [to interfere] unless there is an explicit declaration of war. Since World War II, we have totally ignored those guidelines.
Horton: Now I think the mainstream policy establishment would probably say that makes you an "isolationist" then is that right?
Paul: They use that term all the time, and they do that to be very negative. There are a few people in the country who say, "Well, that’s good. I sort of like that term."
I don’t particularly like the term because I do not think I am an isolationist at all. Because along with the advice of not getting involved in entangling alliances and into the internal affairs of other countries, the Founders said and it’s permissible under the Constitution to be friends with people, trade with people, communicate with them, and get along with them but stay out of the military alliances.
The irony is they accuse us, who would like to be less interventionist and keep our troops at home, of being isolationist. Yet if you look at the results of the policy of the last six years, we find that we are more isolated than ever before.
So I claim the policy of those who charge us with being isolationists is really diplomatic isolationism. They are not willing to talk to Syria. They are not willing to talk to Iran. They are not willing to trade with people that might have questionable people in charge. We have literally isolated ourselves. We have less friends and more enemies than ever before. So in a way, it’s one of the unintended consequences of their charges. They are the true isolationists, I believe.
Horton: The original term for it back in the 18th century was "independence," right?
Paul: Right. That’s a much better term, but they don’t want to use it.
It probably came out in World War I and World War II, when there was a drumbeat to get involved in wars that were unnecessary even then, so they had to paint those who didn’t want to go [to war] as being unpatriotic, isolationist, and not caring about the world.
Horton: Okay, I’d like to get your criticism of the Bush Doctrine. Its three main sections are, first, preemption of threats before they occur in order to prevent catastrophes like happened on September 11; second, unilateralism doing what America thinks is right regardless of international opinion and the United Nations; and third, regime change deciding who is fit to run other people’s countries.
Paul: Right. And of those three, the one I talk about most and think is the most dangerous is preemption.
We’ve been involved [in other country’s affairs] much more than we should have been for many many years. Even before World War I for over 100 years we’ve been doing way too much. Our CIA has been involved on numerous occasions even, in the Fifties, getting involved with overthrowing the elected leaders in Iran.
But today it is much more blatant. It’s not sort of backdoor stuff. It’s not sneaky. It’s not using the CIA secretly to get us involved when we shouldn’t be. It’s a blatant, open, and declared policy:
"Well, if we think it is in our best interests, and we don’t like them, then we should go and start the war."
That’s what preemption is all about. We have never been so bold as to say that we should start wars. At least we pretended we weren’t involved in starting wars. So I think that is the most significant and most dangerous change in our foreign policy.
I think unilateralism is a tricky term, because in some ways militarily I would just as soon be unilateralist. But I think that if you were unilateralist in your military, but you were willing to talk to people and be friends with them, it would be a more natural internationalism. Of course, that would require an international sound commodity standard of money such as gold or silver, which would allow and be much more conducive to trade with everybody.
But going it alone while at the same time bragging about being the powerhouse (saying, "if you don’t listen to us, we can take you on") I think is very, very dangerous.
The other one is very tempting. A lot of American people succumb to the temptation of saying, "Well, you really have a bad guy, and we have to get rid of him because he might become worse." So they get tempted and support this idea, "Well, we are really going to get rid of a Saddam Hussein or an Ahmadinejad," without seriously thinking that through.
In some ways, I think it’s a disaster. What it boils down to is Bush says, "Well, we got rid of this really really bad guy we got rid of Saddam Hussein, and that means it [the war] was worth it." That means Saddam Hussein, that one person, was worth 3,200 American deaths and 25,000 casualties. I don’t think the guy was worth that much. He wasn’t going to attack us. So I think Bush put way too much value on a Saddam Hussein insisting that we have to have a regime-change.
When we know that a certain regime is powerful enough that it might do some harm to us, all a sudden this noble goal of getting rid of bad guys doesn’t exist. We didn’t go after Stalin. We didn’t go after Mao Zedong in China and Pol Pot [in Cambodia]. We just let them be. Of course, even today we deal with a lot of bad people.
So that is just a pretense for the American people. [U.S. leaders] say, "Well, we’ve got to rile the people up to get Saddam Hussein." In reality they are probably thinking more about the oil than they are about Saddam Hussein.
Horton: Now, September 11th did reveal an actual threat to the lives of American civilians that must be faced one way or another. I wonder if I can get you to address the "war on terror," specifically, if possible, in the context of your being a conservative Christian Texas Republican, and whether you think September 11 heralded the "clash of civilizations" and a real long term struggle that America needs to win [militarily], or whether you think this is the kind of thing that could be settled by other means?
Paul: Well, I think there is a pretty significant clash, but I think very few people in America understand it because they’ve been told so many lies about why they [Middle Easterners] want to attack us here, and why we have to go over and fight them over there, so we won’t have to fight them here.
I think that is so misleading. I think the whole mess in the Middle East started many, many years ago (hundreds, if not a thousand years ago) where the fighting was going on between Christians, Jews, Sunnis, Shi’ites, and Persians. It’s just been going on forever. In recent years I see this as a civil war within the Muslim world the Shi’ites and the Sunnis. We prop up Sunni governments around the world and incense those Shi’ites, who then would like to attack us.
So the war on terrorism is real. There is a clash, but I think we would be out of danger, if we would never have imposed our will on them by going over there and being in their face. I happen to believe almost everything that Osama bin Laden wrote about why they attacked us. It was nothing more than blowback for our policies over there having bases on holy land.
I think we would be a lot better off if we just had a more neutral policy. The war on terrorism would probably fade. Al-Zawahiri has been reported as writing in an e-mail that he hopes and prays we don’t leave Iraq. It is a very good thing for them to rally their troops, motivate their fighters and recruit suicide bombers. If all of a sudden we would leave, it would be very detrimental to their policy.
I believe that is the case. I would like to hurt their [the terrorists’] policy by leaving.
Horton: Now, when you talk about American forces occupying the Arabian peninsula as being Osama bin Laden’s motivation, that’s not to justify what he’s done. It’s just to explain it, right?
Paul: Yes. I think that’s the explanation. Bin Laden had some other reasons, but that was the biggest one the fact that we had military bases in Saudi Arabia.
Now, I think we actually closed that base in Saudi Arabia, but then we invaded two other Muslim countries as well [Afghanistan and Iraq], and we are in other various countries like Kuwait and all around on the Saudi Arabian peninsula. The whole peninsula is holy land to them. This provides a tremendous motivation for them to come after us, because they see us as attacking them.
It doesn’t matter whether or not we are involved in a clash, or whether we are over there really taking them on, because probably 90 percent of the Muslims believe we are over there for the wrong reasons and that we are there as an enemy of the Muslim people.
Therefore this serves as motivation for them to be continuously willing to attack us.
Horton: Besides ceasing poking the hornets’ nest, what is to be done about the followers of Osama bin Laden as they exist today?
Paul: Our policy now creates more not less of them. You know that immediately after 9/11, I was supportive of the authority to go after those responsible. Of course, those truly responsible were all dead (the 19) but it certainly didn’t mean that we should go into Iraq. It meant that we could go after Osama bin Laden himself. But we should have taken a closer look at Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, if we were really looking for the source of our problem.
It is something that, unless we change our policy, we are going to have a difficult time solving. I just don’t think that our administration has been willing to look at it objectively, and there’s too many other factors involved.
Horton: What sort of changes to our policy towards Saudi Arabia and Pakistan do you have in mind?
Paul: Just leaving them alone and not propping their governments up.
I thought it was rather amazing the other day when [King] Abdullah in Saudi Arabia announced that we were unnecessarily and dangerously occupying the country of Iraq. It is pretty amazing that Saudi Arabia is actually talking to the Shi’ites in Iran.
I think they should sort this out, and we should come home. The Arab League over there could solve a lot of these problems.
Israel is willing to talk to Syria, and we interfere with that negotiation. I think if we weren’t there, Israel would have a much different motivation to talk to moderates over there.
If we have Sunnis and Shi’ites talking to each other in spite of us over there trying to stir up this hornets’ nest, I would think that if we left, there would be a great deal more willingness on the part of these factions to talk to each other. It would be far from peace and tranquility, but look at what it’s like since we’ve been there.
So I think the most important thing is to come home. People say, "Well, there still could be some chaos." Yes, but the chaos is because we went in there and messed things up. It wasn’t nearly this type of chaos before we went in.
Our interests should be what is best for America. We shouldn’t pretend we can nation-build, pick regimes, and make all these decisions. We shouldn’t pretend that we are the policeman of the world.
That is where our big mistake has been. It is going to contribute to a major bankruptcy of this country.
Horton: When you talk about the interests of America, it often seems that what takes precedence over the interests of America are the interests of certain Americans like stockholders in some of the military-industrial complex corporations.
William S. Lind, for example, has characterized Washington, D.C., as merely an imperial court. There are so many people sucking off the United States Treasury and pushing these policies that are bad for America as a whole, but good for them in the short term, that it is almost impossible to undo it.
We know how much it takes to run for office (a lot of money), and only rich people can afford to bankroll politicians. It seems more and more rich people have their interests in sucking off the U.S. Treasury rather than having a free-enterprise system where they can make their ends their own way.
Paul: I think the money tells you a whole lot. The fact that some of these candidates will be able to raise $100 million to run their campaigns tells you that, as far as companies are concerned, [the candidates are] a good investment. So Halliburton has a lot of incentive to pump the money into the campaigns. What about a drug company that gets this monopoly control over the sale of drugs? They must think it is a good investment as well. Then there are many companies involved in the military-industrial complex.
So the real evil isn’t the spending of somebody’s own money to help a candidate. The real evil is the fact that government is so big and has so much to auction off. There is such an incentive and so many benefits from being friendly to the people who are in power, that government is bought on a continuous basis.
The big question is whether the American people will wake up and try to combat this, or will they just go along with another candidate who has a lot of this money and can put some fancy ads on television? Hopefully a few people will wake up one day.
Horton: I’m Scott Horton. This is Antiwar Radio, and I am talking with Congressman Dr. Ron Paul from District 14 in south Texas.
If we can switch gears a bit to worries about a war with Iran. You may have seen the headlines this morning [April 4], "Washington Hurting British Bid to Free Crew." The Iranians have captured 15 British sailors and marines, and apparently the United States is interfering in their negotiations with the Iranians to get these sailors back. Your comment, Dr. Paul?
Paul: I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, because it seems like the neocons have always said and I guess they believe that chaos is a benefit to them. Out of chaos they can gain a certain edge.
We [the U.S. government] don’t want these Israelis (like I said earlier) to negotiate with Syria. We have to paint them [Syrians] in a certain fashion.
We don’t want this thing to be settled too easy with Iran, because we are looking for an excuse to go in there and bomb them, cause chaos, and have regime-change there. So to me it is a real mess.
The Iranians, at least I think, would be a lot more reasonable in their dealings with the British, but hardly anybody is talking about the five hostages that we hold the diplomats from Iran that we picked up. There are some who believe that this is nothing more than retaliation for us holding their diplomats, and that’s compounding the problem with the British.
I mean, unless the British can talk the United States into releasing those diplomats, they are going to have more trouble getting their 15 men back.
Horton: And it may be a portent of things to come in Iraq. Perhaps it’s a warning from Iran saying, "Look how easy it is for us to get at your guys. This is what you can look forward to if you do bomb us."
Paul: Yeah. I think that is the case. They [Iran] are not stupid. Our reaction would have been a lot different if they had captured 15 Americans. So they are picking on a softer spot. You know, Blair speaks tough and wants to do whatever Bush tells him, but I don’t think the British people are nearly as supportive of Blair as Blair is of Bush.
Horton: There was a provision in a recently passed authorization for further funding of the war which included benchmarks, timetables, and so forth. That provision basically, I believe, reminded the president, that he does not have the authority to initiate a war with Iran, yet Speaker Pelosi took it out.
What does that reveal about the Democrat’s leadership the Democrats who were elected to their majority in the House and the Senate by an antiwar American population last November?
Paul: I think it shows they are trying to appease the antiwar position. At the same time, I don’t think they are truly antiwar. If you look back to 1998, it was Clinton who signed the Iraq Liberation Act into law, which was to have regime-change in Iraq. So, as bad as this administration has been, these plans have been in place for a long time.
The removal of this [provision against attacking Iran] is really pretty sick. First, it seems like it should be unnecessary, because it should be automatic that a president cannot go to war and start bombing another country without permission, but under the conditions of today, everybody realizes that he might.
So it seemed reasonable to put that in. As a matter of fact, it was a bill that I was an original cosponsor of, and we attached it to the budget bill.
But the explicit removal of this is almost like saying to the president, "Well, you know we really don’t care. We are not going to tell you that you are not allowed."
To me, that looks so bad.
It’s something that indicates the president is probably going to have a free ride, if the excuse is there. I’m afraid the bombing and the attack on Iran will happen. Unfortunately, if the incident that precipitates our bombing is strong enough, the American people, unfortunately, will probably go along with it.
Horton: What do you think the likely consequences of an American war against Iran might be? We talked about their [Iran’s] ability to get at our guys in Iraq. What else do you foresee as a likely consequences if we do start another war?
Paul: Probably $200 per barrel oil and $4 or $5 for gasoline. That’s one economic consequence.
But I think it will mean that a lot more of our men are going to be killed in Iraq. There will be a call for doubling the number of troops over there. Before you know it (although there are no plans right now for us to invade Iran) somebody will say, "Well, let’s not be hamstrung. We can’t let them [Iran] hit us and run back over into Iran." They’ll [U.S.] have to send a lot more troops over.
Who knows what he’ll [Bush] do after that how this war might spread. Right now we have ups and downs. Today [April 4] happened to be a down day. That is there is not as much friction there [U.S./Iran] right now, and one hopes that the British and the Iranians will work something out, but that could change within hours.
Horton: And of course, bombing Iran, and perhaps even changing the regime there, is exactly what Osama bin Laden would want us to do, isn’t it?
Paul: Boy, that’s for sure. You know, we tend to want to get rid of their [our adversaries’] enemies.
We have fallen into the trap of supporting Iran: We got rid of the Taliban, and so we helped the Iranians, and Osama bin Laden has been helped in his recruiting.
You know, al-Qaeda was pretty weak six months to a year after 9/11, but it looks like they are getting all their strength back. Their motivation is our troops in the various countries over there.
So far, it looks like we’re in for a long fight. I am not so sure we are all the sudden going to have a change of policy, but I do think there’s a chance this country will become so poor with a dollar crisis that we won’t be able to afford this empire anyway.
Horton: Now, Dr. Paul, there is a story that has been very little-covered and is something that I was hoping you could help explain.
The John Warner Defense Appropriations Act that was passed last fall (the same day, I believe, as the Military Commissions Act) apparently changed the authority over the state National Guard units. It gives the president the power to nationalize them without seeking the permission of the governors. The State Governors Association sent a unanimous letter signed by all 50 governors protesting this, and yet apparently they’ve lost the fight.
Can you tell me if I have characterized that accurately and what that might portend for our federal system?
Paul: I am not sure, but that may be related to the changes that occurred in the modification of the Insurrection Act, which means that the president can call up all these troops at will. There doesn’t even have to be a military confrontation or a real insurrection. It could be a big flood someplace, and the president can do this.
I believe it is also related to the modification in the Posse Comitatus Act, which means the president has a whole lot more authority to declare a national emergency and actually impose martial law. Those changes have gone through subtlety and quietly. Long term this is not very good for us as citizens, and it is not very good for the principles of the republic.
Horton: And it does reveal doesn’t it reveal the principle that "war is the health of the state?" That as long as we have an overseas empire, our domestic government grows bigger and bigger as well?
Paul: Yeah. That’s probably the most dangerous part of it.
Look at all the laws that have been passed domestically. There’s everything from the PATRIOT Act to the Military Commissions Act and the whole works. There’s the idea that everything we do can be monitored with warrantless searches and other very, very serious changes. We have this attitude about habeas corpus the fact that we can be held as an American citizen without getting into court as long as we are a suspected terrorist.
When you look at all these laws, we don’t have any rights left. Of course, all that has not yet been used so much with American citizens (although to a slight degree), but once the principle is established, it is very hard to reverse. It is very dangerous.
Horton: And we have seen the farcical nature of the Guantanamo Bay tribunals when this man David Hicks, who has been in the news for years because he is an Australian citizen a state that is closely Allied with us and they [the tribunal] made a plea bargain and gave him nine months. So how dangerous could this "terrorist" have been all this time?
Paul: Now our courts are politicized. The sooner we close down Guantanamo, the better. I don’t know how you can solve that mess down there. That is just so un-American.
Horton: Do we give these men trials in American federal courts, Dr. Paul?
Paul: I don’t know the full details of every every single person they ever captured. There has to be some kind of a court, whether it is a military court or a court here.
I guess a crime committed in another country I don’t know whether that means you can bring them here [to the U.S.] and justify it. But there has to be something better than secret courts, secret holdings, "extraordinary renditions," and having prisons all around the world. That process has to end.
Horton: Dr. Ron Paul. He represents District 14 in south Texas a libertarian Republican congressman. Thank you so much for your time today, Dr. Paul.
Paul: Thank you, Scott, good to be with you.