Although Ron Paul placed second in the Iowa straw poll, behind Michele Bachmann by the slimmest of margins, most media commentators — both left and right — refused to anoint him as one of the “big three” candidates remaining in the Republican presidential contest. Translated, the media gatekeepers, as they did in his 2008 campaign, are telling the American people that Paul should not be regarded as a serious candidate. Apparently, only Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry have somehow earned this exalted designation.
Although the Iowa straw poll does not represent a cross section of the Republican Party, at least some likely voters participated in it. Romney and Perry, both of whom did miserably in the poll, seem to have earned their place in the elite candidates club merely on the basis of media conjecture as to their future viability — based mostly on “political buzz” or fundraising potential.
When candidates are effectively cut out of most media coverage because they are deemed “not serious” or are predicted to have “no chance of winning,” this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite his impressive showing in the Iowa poll, Paul is receiving the same ill treatment by the media this go-around as last. An example of media disparagement of Paul’s views could be seen a couple of days earlier in the behavior of Fox’s Chris Wallace, who was moderating the Republican debate. Wallace zeroed in on Paul’s previous statements on Iran and nuclear weapons, including his opposition to sanctions against that country and this remark: “One can understand why they might want to become nuclear capable, if only to defend themselves and to be treated more respectfully.” Wallace asked Paul if his policy was really that President Obama was too tough, not too soft, on Iran.
In responding to Wallace’s question, Paul cast aside the conventional wisdom on U.S. policy vis-à-vis Iran and cogently opined against sanctions, arguing the historically accurate case that they can often lead to war with the sanctioned country — for example, sanctions preceded U.S. wars with Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Manuel Noriega in Panama. Unbelievably (in the eyes of the nearly always sanctimoniously interventionist American media), Paul had the temerity to actually empathize with another country’s feelings of insecurity and to argue for negotiating, even with odious regimes.
Just think of the agitation and the worrying of a country that might get a nuclear weapon some day. And just think of how many nuclear weapons surround Iran. The Chinese are there. The Indians are there. The Pakistanis are there. The Israelis are there. The United States is there. All these countries — China has nuclear weapons.
Incredulous that he was hearing someone actually say that another country might try to develop nuclear weapons for the same reason that the United States had developed them — to enhance its security — Wallace gave Paul another 15 seconds to explain this seemingly astonishing position, saying, “I just want to make sure I understand. So your policy towards Iran is, if they want to develop a nuclear weapon, that’s their right, no sanctions, no effort to stop them?”
Paul calmly replied that trying to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon only makes its feelings of insecurity worse. He added that “we tolerated the Soviets [getting nuclear weapons]; we didn’t attack them. And they were a much greater danger [than Iran] — they were the greatest danger to us in our whole history.” Paul could have added that the United States also declined to bomb the even more radical communist Mao Zedong as he took China into the nuclear club in the 1960s and threatened nuclear war with America. Iran has never made such threats to the United States.
Paul’s yes-to-negotiations-and-no-to-sanctions-and-war-with-Iran position holds up well when all the hype about Iran’s threat to the United States is brushed away and the facts are uncovered:
- Iran is a relatively poor country compared to the United States, and, even if it got nuclear weapons, it would have only a few warheads. Developing a long-range missile to carry those warheads half a world away is also difficult. In contrast, the United States already has such long-range missiles and also has the most capable nuclear arsenal on the planet, containing thousands of warheads. That huge arsenal and those missiles would likely deter, with a threat to Iran’s existence, any contemplated Iranian nuclear attack. With its small number of warheads, Iran could not similarly threaten the existence of the United States.
- A nuclear Iran may be more of a threat to nearby Israel, but Israel has 200-400 nuclear weapons and can also deter any potential Iranian attack with such a hefty atomic response capability.
- Although Iran’s regime has spouted Islamist rhetoric, its government usually behaves pragmatically, especially when dealing with much stronger countries, such as the United States and Israel.
Thus, Paul’s position on Iran is just one example of his opposition to interventionist and jingoistic U.S. foreign policies — about which the media either is astonished (à la Chris Wallace) or exhibits disdain. Yet the reason Paul has such resonance with a certain segment of the American people, despite the media’s derision, is because those people take the time to go beyond political slogans and conventional wisdom and listen to Paul’s facts, analysis, and cogent explanations of and solutions to policy problems.