Obama’s Change May Be for the Worse

Interview recorded April 22, 2009. Click here to listen to the interview.

Scott Horton: For Antiwar.com, I’m Scott Horton. This is Antiwar Radio. And introducing our first guest today, it’s Dr. Ron Paul. He’s a congressman representing District 14 on Texas’ Gulf coast in the House of Representatives and, of course, you all know he ran for president last time. And also he’s the author of the excellent libertarian primer The Revolution: A Manifesto, which I highly recommend you go out and get and share with everybody you care about.

Welcome back to the show, Ron. How are you, sir?

Ron Paul: Thank you, Scott. I’m good, thank you.

Horton: It’s very good to have you here on the show today. Let’s talk about warfare. What’s going on in Afghanistan? Looks like they went from… I forget how many troops were there in the first place… they said they were going to add 17,000 more, and then they made that 20,000, and I think they added another 10,000 troops on top of that. Is America kind of starting that war all over again, and how long do you think we’re going to stay in Afghanistan?

Paul: Well, it’s a continuation, I guess there is nothing brand new. The expansion of the war into Pakistan had already started with the last administration, which proves our point that foreign policy stays the same. Interestingly enough, recently within the last hour or two, I came from the Foreign Affairs Committee, where Hillary Clinton was testifying about foreign policy.

Horton: Oh, yeah?

Paul: And I got my five minutes in and brought up the subject and actually told her that I was pleased because I heard the rhetoric and tone of the foreign policy was changing, and they were reaching out a little bit, but I said "words are one thing, but actions are even more important." So I tried to get her to tell me where have we seen any significant changes. Have we brought any troops home? Have we done anything to emphasize the fact that Obama immediately increased the military budget by 9 percent and expanded the number of troops in Afghanistan?

And I asked her, "Is there is any place where you can give me a little encouragement that we’ve actually had a change in policy?" And the only thing that she could offer was not that they brought any troops home or they cut back in any way, because they haven’t. She was saying, "Yes, we will be out of Iraq," but I think that’s a pipe dream, quite frankly. I think there is chaos there, and I think it’s stirring, and I think if it gets a little worse there is no way they’re going to walk away from Iraq, and the troops will stay there.

And, of course, they are expanding in Afghanistan, and she testified of the importance of not dealing with Pakista,n because you know it was a rogue nation and they had nuclear power. And I mentioned that in my statement to her that the Soviets had tens of thousands of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles. And we talked to Khrushchev, we talked to the Chinese, and we didn’t have to fight the Russians and the Soviets. So I urged her to maybe be a little cautious. You don’t have to get too excited about the fact that the Pakistanis have nuclear weapons. It is serious, but there might be other ways of handling this rather than going back in there and say we have to engage in "nation building." But I am afraid, as you are well aware, foreign policy doesn’t seem to change, no matter what they tell us.

Horton: Well, it even seems from the point of view of a pragmatic imperialist that messing around in Pakistan is really dangerous because they have nuclear weapons. It is a country that, it is basically a country because they have one military. But other than that, it’s sort of a pseudo-state drawn by the British, and here we are messing around, bombing in there, and this is how the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia. We disrupted the society so much by bombing the country during the previous government.

Paul: I think that’s a good point, because they don’t have intercontinental ballistic missiles, they are not a threat to the United States, per se. But locally we have large bases or troops marching in or getting involved inside of Pakistan. We have more than just drones there. They might just want to test one of their weapons and cause chaos there. So, you’re right, the disruption is the most important problem, and just think about how things finally got settled in Vietnam once the French and the Americans left.

Horton: Well, now, Dr. Paul, I think some people might be surprised to hear you say that you don’t think anything really is going to change in Iraq, even though they’re escalating in Afghanistan. They have promised that by the end of 2011 they’re going to have all the combat forces, in fact I think they even say all forces, out as per the status of forces agreement. What indications do you see that lead you to believe that that’s so much smoke and mirrors?

Paul: Well, because they never said they would close down the bases. They never said they would back away from a billion-dollar embassy, and they have never changed their policy of maintaining stability. They’re just hoping that they can do it without American troops. They want to rename them. They won’t be combat troops, but they will keep them there. And they’re expecting the puppet government and the local forces that we trained to maintain stability.

The tragedy is that the instability exists because we trained both sides, we trained Sunnis and Shi’ites. And I don’t think the Sunnis who’ve been kicked out of power all of a sudden will love the Shi’ites, who are more likely to be allied with the Iranians. So I think it’s unstable and, therefore, with the weapons that we have provided, that violence is going to break out. And if we do back away and happen to bring our troops home, if they are sincere in what they tell us, by the time they remove 50 percent, what if the violence has multiplied three times? No way. There’s no way they’re going to leave.

And then there is the possibility that one of our bases would be hit. What I fear most is something like that, some big weapon getting in and some problem comes when some bomb goes off that literally kills hundreds of Americans, as it did in Beirut when the Marines were killed. Fortunately, I think for us and our country, although Reagan made a mistake by putting these troops there, he at least said, "I’m coming out of there, I didn’t realize how dangerous and how irrational these people were."

So he left and admitted that he made a mistake by going in. That’s not going to happen today. You know, if a ship is sunk or an American plane goes down and they want to blame Pakistanis or the Iranians or something, I’m afraid that the American people would overwhelmingly support massive escalation and even make it a bigger deal than the Gulf of Tonkin resolution or going into Iraq. That’s what we have to really worry about.

Horton: Yeah, in fact, looking back on that it’s almost like, "Only Nixon can go to China." It sort of took somebody with Ronald Reagan’s cold warrior stature to be tough enough to withdraw troops and still stand up tall – and then, I guess, go take it out on the people of Grenada or whatever later. But if it had been Jimmy Carter or something, he would not have been able to get the troops out of there. The pressure would have been much tougher on him to stay longer, don’t you think?

Paul: Oh, yeah, I think so, and it seems like when a Democrat gets in power they have to prove that they’re appealing to conservative militants. So they go overboard in trying to emulate Republicans.

But what the Republicans do when they get in is they want to neutralize the Democrats’ expenditure on welfare. So we as Republicans then come in, like the Bush administration did, and expand with the welfare domestic spending, and since both sides are supportive, that’s why in the midst of a financial crisis. The deficit explodes.

The significant figure that I’ve looked at just recently is that 12 months ago our national debt was $2 trillion less than what it is now. It went up $2 trillion in the 12 months. That’s the rate of indebtedness that we’re incurring. So that’s very dangerous. And I even pointed this out to Hillary today, that great nations end not because they get defeated militarily; we didn’t have to defeat the Soviets, they ended for economic reasons. And I think that’s what’s going to happen here… and I even brought up the subject of the American empire.

But she, of course, was very, very friendly and actually even made some very positive comments about the Paul supporters, which really was shocking. It was really pleasant. She went out of her way to be friendly towards us and complimented our supporters on how energetic they were and how determined.

Horton: Well, I’m trying to find reasons to like her better than Condoleezza Rice, but I haven’t come up with any yet.

Paul: [laughs] Well…

Horton: I’ll let you know if I find something.

Paul: Well, yeah, it’s hard to make those choices.

Horton: Now, on the Iraq thing… basically what you are saying, if I can boil it down, is that the difference between Barack Obama’s Iraq withdrawal policy and the policy that you would have had, had you been the president, is that he’s basically accepted the Bush premise that we have to "win." We can’t leave if there is a problem left behind. We have to be able to say "the surge worked" all the way up until the last troop leaves from Kuwait, and maybe for a few months after that. Whereas your position is, "We’re leaving, and if the Sunnis and the Shi’ites go back to war, we need to recognize that as a consequence of our invasion in the first place and we’ve just got to go." But I guess you’re saying the way it is in the Obama administration is that as long as there is violence there, we’re never leaving.

Paul: Yeah, and I think his definition of "leaving" is different from my definition. My definition is "leaving," and that is not having military personnel there, turning the bases over to whatever government is there. Matter of fact, I would even… because symbolically it’s so bad… I would not get involved in that embassy, because I think that is a real affront. We could have a small office over there. That embassy ought to be turned over to Red Cross or something like that.

But I would start leaving. I don’t know why, physically, we couldn’t accomplish that in six months. And who knows, maybe it could be very violent, and that wouldn’t surprise anybody. But who knows, it might be a lot less violence than we’ve seen in the last five years. A lot of people have been killed, a lot of people displaced. I think there would be a struggle for the balance of power, but you know, maybe there would be a continuation of the northern part with Kurdistan where that would be maintained, and who knows what would happen in the south. All I know is that this is not going to last. There are just too many reasons for these people to get fighting and killing each other again.

Horton: And, on the larger issue of the cost of empire, as you were discussing with Hillary Clinton (And, of course, I’m madly refreshing Lew Rockwell’s blog, here looking for the YouTube.) But as far as the cost of all that goes, you mentioned the kind of outrage over the so-called… I don’t know if you mentioned outrage. You mentioned the increase in the budget. I’m going to mention the outrage that [occurred] when they called this a cut, when they increased the defense budget by 9 percent, they said, a few weeks ago. And on the right-wing this was denounced as a cut, as apparently they’re shuffling some budget items around inside the Pentagon. But, I guess I just ought to give you an opportunity to really drive home to the people the cost of maintaining a world empire and maybe show us where on the balance sheet we are, in the sense of how much money we make off of the empire, and how much better off we might be without one.

Paul: Well, the special interests are still in charge, whether it’s Republicans or Democrats, and the bottom line is the increase in the amount. And then, of course, he was severely criticized for going back with the supplementals. He did put 130 in the budget, which is different because that’s for next year. But this year he is continuing the policy although his argument there is, "Well, this year is still Bush’s year, so we have to continue to maintain it."

Even though he won the votes of those who wanted to end the war and bring the troops home and have a different foreign policy, out of fairness to Obama, he was pretty truthful about Afghanistan. Remember during the campaign he actually came across sometimes more hawkish than even McCain did. McCain had to say, "Yeah, me too. I’m for that." But Obama was the first one to start talking about expanding the war in Afghanistan, which makes no sense whatsoever.

But no, they shift things around, they will cut one program and save a couple of million dollars, but then they’ll give billions more to something else. So I’ll bet you most people in this country believe he has cut military spending, which is not true. And this is one advantage I have on the committee as being a Republican, which is that I can criticize the administration for foreign policy where they haven’t done what they have said. But even the Democrats don’t want to criticize her [Hillary Clinton] for a couple of reasons. First is Israel, and the second reason is that they don’t want to offend their president; they want to be unified, just like so many Republicans didn’t want to offend Bush.

They figured, "Well you know, he used to be conservative, but we don’t want to take him on, we don’t want to fight him." So they even voted with him all the time. The Democrats are doing a bit of that too.

Horton: Well, and now as they spend us into bankruptcy it seems like everybody forgets all the stimulus and all the war spending from the last eight years. And now stimulus and war spending, apparently, are the solution to our crisis. And, honestly, as I guess you know, I spend most of my time paying attention to all this foreign policy stuff, and I can’t really keep up with you Austrian economists or about all the developments in the financial crisis. But at least a few times in reading and watching the coverage of the financial crisis on TV, I’m reminded of Garet Garrett’s book, The People’s Pottage, where he talked about the 1930s and what he called the "revolution within the form," where they didn’t really throw the Constitution out, they still kept it there in the window or what have you. But basically they changed the entire nature of the way the Federal government interacts with the society. The revolutionaries weren’t on the outside of the gates, he said, they were on the inside.

And I just wonder whether you think that really compares with what is happening now with the power grabs by the Treasury Department, the executive branch. It’s almost like after 9/11 where it seems like they just sort of get carte blanche. And I wonder whether you think that to call what is happening now something akin to a "revolution within the form" is going too far or if that is what you think is going on. Can you kind of give us a basic outline of what are the major changes that we’re dealing with here that are going to bear consequences for us in the future?

Paul: I think it is a continuation of that revolution that Garrett talked about, and even though it wasn’t a steady progress, you know, what they were doing in the 1930s was they backed off a little bit, especially after the war. But they never changed total policy, it just meant that they slowed it up a little bit. Right now I think we’re much further along. I think what he talked about is absolutely coming to bear, and it’s a form of fascism, and there’s less respect than ever for the law. There’s no hint that they’re ever going to return to sound money unless we do have some philosophic revolution to, you know, offer our solutions to the problems.

So, hopefully we can do this, but I think their side is still winning. Like you say, we got into this mess by spending and borrowing and printing money, and they think we can get out of this problem by just doing more of the same thing. It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Horton: What changes have really happened? I mean we already had a Federal Reserve and an SEC and Treasury and Commerce Departments and all these things. What’s really changed other than the raw numbers of dollars that they’ve taken from us for all their various bailouts and so forth? Is the structure of the government really different now?

Paul: I think there have been some major changes, because they’re getting much closer to control. You know, there’s ownership in banks and insurance companies, they own stock. It’s much closer to a fascist system, where there are a lot of benefits to big business and there is a military-industrial complex and all these things. Now it’s much, much closer. They’re deeply embedded together, so I think we made a big step moving in the wrong direction.

But I also think it’s unstable and will come to an end. The big question is what we’re going to replace it with.

Horton: I know you are aware of the Red Cross report, the Office of Legal Counsel memos, and now this new report from the Armed Services Committee about the torture regime that ruled during the Bush-Cheney years, and I wonder if you have called for an independent investigation, a special prosecutor, or congressional hearings or anything along those lines? What do you think should be done, sir?

Paul: I haven’t been that specific, and I may well get that far, because it’s just in the last couple of days that I’ve been asked about this and whether or not I would support further investigation and prosecution of those who are guilty of those crimes. And I say absolutely, yes. You know, we impeached a president not too long ago for infractions that were less serious than some of these charges that have been levied against our leaders of the last administration.

I think Obama is, you know, very much involved in protecting state powers and state secrecy, and his first announcements sounded pretty bland that he wasn’t going to pursue it. Now he is saying at last he is going to look at those people who wrote up the legal documents. But the people who participated ought to be looked at. I mean, if you were an honest American trying to do your job in the CIA and you were asked to waterboard somebody a couple of hundred times… you’d think, "Well maybe this is torture. Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this." I think everybody has responsibility, and I think they should be investigated and prosecuted if the evidence is there.

Horton: All right, everybody, that’s Dr. Ron Paul, congressman representing District 14 on Texas’ Gulf coast, author of a great many books, including The Revolution: A Manifesto. Thank you very much for your time on the show today, sir.

Paul: Thank you very much.

Transcript courtesy of RonPaul.com.