The Ron Paul Effect

The times, they are a changin’ – and the signs are all around us. The American people are sick unto death of the Iraq war, and this growing dissatisfaction with American foreign policy spans the political spectrum: it isn’t just the Left that is singing “we ain’t marchin’ anymore,” it’s moderates and even conservatives. The recantation of Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones was the harbinger of a mounting trend, and as disaster piles on fresh disaster in the killing fields of Mesopotamia, the conservative case for the war gets harder to make – and more prominent figures on the Right are dissenting from the Bush-neocon orthodoxy.

Conservative dissent on the war question has been present from the very beginning: Pat Buchanan has been a vocal critic of the War Party since Gulf War I. The American Conservative magazine, which Buchanan co-founded with Taki Theodoracopulos and Scott McConnell, was launched to give voice to those on the Right who reject the neoconservative “liberationism” of the Bush administration as a “Jacobin” invention, as Claes Ryn, a prominent conservative professor, so trenchantly put it. Others have since joined Buchanan, Ryn, and the other conservatives and libertarians who were denounced as “unpatriotic” by David “Axis of Evil” Frum, the neocon enforcer of political correctness, in the pages of National Review – when he announced that he and all good little movement (neo)conservatives would henceforth “turn our backs” on those perfectly awful “unpatriotic conservatives.”

That this now means Frum must turn his back on the founder of National Review is an irony worth contemplating. William F. Buckley Jr. has recently argued that the war is a “failure,” along with the policy that spawned it, and that it is time for conservatives to reconsider their blind support. Without quite saying it, Buckley’s chief concern seems to be that the GOP ship will go down with the neocons who have hijacked it, and this political consideration is precisely what motivated a group of Republican congressmen to troop to the White House the other day and bluntly declare they’d had just about enough. As even some of the neocons, such as Francis Fukuyama – who famously proclaimed the “end of history” – abjure their errors and the rats jump ship, “movement” conservatives are following suit.

Back before the war started, Cliff Kincaid, a conservative activist and writer associated with Accuracy in Media (AIM), a longtime mainstay of “movement” conservatism, penned a piece entitled “Antiwar Conservatives?” that questioned the existence of such an exotic species. Like the unicorn and the sphinx, this creature, he averred, was only talked about yet never seen, and he specifically took me to task for allying with the “far Left” in a united front against the war. Right after the invasion was launched, I appeared with him on MSNBC to debate the war: the country, I said, was against the invasion, and an increasing number of fairly conservative Republicans – such as Ron Paul – were speaking out against it. For his part, Kincaid wondered aloud how in touch with the national zeitgeist it was possible to be out in San Francisco.

Now that most of the rest of the nation is aligned with my fellow San Franciscans, however, Kincaid has done a turnaround: he not only acknowledges the existence of antiwar conservatives, but has also become one of their most eloquent defenders against the know-nothings of the neoconized GOP. The neocons are in a tizzy about the heresy of Ron Paul at the South Carolina Republican presidential debates, when he dared state the obvious: that al-Qaeda is “over here” because we are “over there.” Rudy Giuliani’s Mussolini-esque eruption and Paul’s defiant-yet-reasonable refusal to recant has become the fulcrum of the right wing’s agony over an issue that could sink the GOP, marginalize conservatives, and give us President Hillary Clinton.

Kincaid wisely recognizes that the neocon response to Paul’s speaking truth to power is intellectually dishonest. What’s even more heartening, however, is Kincaid’s anger over the attempted smearing of Rep. Paul:

“In a desperate attempt to make Rudy Giuliani out to be the hero of Tuesday night’s debate, Fox News is continuing to attack Texas Congressman Ron Paul for something he did not say. In the latest installment of this campaign, John Gibson of Fox News says that Paul ‘suggested that the U.S. actually had a hand in the [9/11] terrorist attacks.’ No, what he said was that U.S. foreign policy was a reason why Osama bin Laden attacked America. This is a fact.

“Gibson’s comment shows how Fox News has been eager to slant the news in favor of Giuliani, who claimed in his famous response to Paul that the congressman had said that the U.S. ‘invited’ the 9/11 attacks. That was false, too.”

The outright lie that Paul is part of the “9/11 Truth” movement, which holds that the U.S. government itself pulled off the biggest terrorist attack in American history, is the latest edition of the smear-Ron-Paul campaign that has taken off since the showdown with America’s Mafioso Mayor. The canard that Paul justifies terrorism is eagerly spread by the smarmy Gibson and the ridiculous Michelle Malkin, a cocoa Coulterite who, like the original white-bread version, makes an art out of self-caricature. Even after the complete falsehood of her charge against Paul was pointed out, and acknowledged by her, Malkin still did her best to wriggle out of it by trying to weave a very tenuous connection between Paul and the Truthers. The woman has zero integrity and even less credibility, but the smear campaign rolls on. As Kincaid put it:

“Ron Paul is being viciously attacked over this issue because some people don’t want to consider the implications, which Paul is honest enough from his perspective to spell out. These implications are that the U.S. should withdraw from the region, supposedly to spare the U.S. from any further attacks. That is the Ron Paul approach, and he claims it is what President Reagan would do. It may be naïve to some, but he cites Reagan’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from Lebanon after 241 of them were murdered in a suicide bombing. He thinks no good can come from U.S. involvement in such an irrational part of the world.”

Kincaid probably doesn’t agree with Paul’s analysis in its entirety, but he is honest enough to call a foul when he sees it. Chances are he is fairly typical of conservative activists in the GOP, not the bought-and-sold “leadership” but the rank-and-file, and therein lies a golden opportunity for Paul – and the antiwar movement.

Rudy, for his part, continues to display his utter ignorance and determination to demagogue his way to the White House by touting his confrontation with Paul. Speaking in New York with Sen. John McCain, he claimed that the six Albanians recently busted for plotting to attack Fort Dix and kill American soldiers proves that he, not Paul, is right about Why They Hate Us: “Why [did they want to kill our soldiers]?” he asked his audience, according to Stephen Spruiell of National Review. “Because we had some attacks on Iraq in the 1990s? I don’t think so.”

Think again, Rudy: according to news accounts of the case, one of the defendants, Eljvir Duka, was recorded as saying, “In the end, when it comes to defending your religion, when someone attacks your religion, your way of life, then you go jihad.” This sounds very much like the same litany of complaints that OBL and his gang have used to recruit an ever-growing army of terrorists to their banner: America’s war on Iraq, they say, is part of its general war on Islam itself.

Furthermore, there is every indication that most if not all of the Fort Dix terrorists were trained by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which was aided by the U.S. in its fight against the Serbs – and for whose sake we initiated a bombing campaign that ended in the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the fall of Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic. Here the parallels with al-Qaeda – nurtured in the bosom of the U.S.-funded-and-supported Afghan insurgency against the Soviets in the 1980s – are even clearer. Once again, “blowback” has blown back in our faces. We armed these guys, we trained them, we funded and encouraged them in waging yet another war of “liberation” – and today we are fending them off as they try to blow up military installations in the U.S. Now there’s gratitude for you!

Although Spruiell doesn’t agree with Paul’s conclusions, he is clearly appalled by the blatant disregard for logic and plain old common sense displayed by Paul’s enemies in the GOP:

“Excuse this interruption of presidential politics for a quick moment with a reality check: What’s the big deal with admitting that our pre-invasion policies toward Iraq — the sanctions, the no-fly zones, the bases to protect Saudi Arabia from Saddam’s lunatic aggression — were used to justify mass slaughter in Osama bin Laden’s various fatwas against America? That doesn’t make him right. It just identifies one dynamic at work in the evil worldview of a madman.”

A reality check is precisely what the neocons who control the Republican political machine fear the most. That’s because they don’t acknowledge any version of reality other than their own, and they can’t afford to, either – or else the whole fabric of their elaborate fantasy of the U.S. as the noble “liberator” of Iraq will start to come apart at the seams. As journalist Ron Suskind recounted a discussion with a top White House official:

“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community,’ which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’ I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ‘That’s not the way the world really works anymore,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality – judiciously, as you will – we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'”

Up until now, the GOP has been living in a bubble, along with the president, denying that we were losing, and that we got ourselves into an awful mess: the “good news,” they claimed, wasn’t being reported, on account of the media’s alleged “antiwar bias.” That, at least, is what Kincaid seemed to sincerely believe when we debated on MSNBC two years ago. Today, however, he seems ready to acknowledge that there is a problem and that the fault isn’t to be found with the media, or with someone like Ron Paul who dares to say that the emperor has no clothes, but with his fellow conservatives.

This is progress, and Paul’s candidacy is the catalyst. Of course, Ron has a lot of obstacles to overcome, not the least of which is the liberal bias of “mainstream” media – yes, Cliff, I agree with you on that one! Anyone who votes against government programs as a matter of high principle and who insists on taking the letter of the Constitution seriously, as Rep. Paul consistently does, is going to have to endure much from skeptical journalists – such as CNN’s John King Sunday, who, during an interview with Paul, scoffed at his low poll numbers. Of course, the polls don’t mean much six months before the first primary. It is foolish to write off Paul’s potential appeal at this stage – especially to New Hampshire voters, who will set the tone for the race.

Remember, Pat Buchanan took New Hampshire in 1992, and Rep. Paul has a lot in common with the Buchanan Brigades, who may turn out in full pitchfork mode for the conservative-libertarian congressman from Texas. The smug assurances from both establishment liberals and the folks over at Fox News that Paul is a meaningless blip in the online polls – supposedly “manipulated” by Paul’s online Machiavellis – could be very short-lived. No, online polls aren’t an accurate measure of a candidate’s popular support – but they do measure something, and that is the degree of support among his or her followers. And this can translate into a measure of future support, given the candidate’s ability to attract attention and build on this enthusiastic base.

Rudy’s rudeness has backfired. In response to the effort to paint Paul as a Republican John Walker Lindh who must be waterboarded until he confesses all, Ron has attracted some prominent defenders: Bill Maher, Andrew Sullivan, and others who might not agree with all of Paul’s message but who are nevertheless outraged at this brazen attempt to intimidate him and drive him out of the GOP. Six months from now, as the war gets even worse and the “surge” hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans, what Paul is saying will be the emerging conventional wisdom, so much so that even the Republican leadership will have to acknowledge it. Provided he continues to do well in fundraising, Paul’s poll numbers could spiral rapidly upward as the Iraqi occupation and the sock-puppet “government” of Iraq plunges downward into oblivion. Which brings to mind a famous saying of Gandhi’s:

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.”

They don’t dare ignore him, and ridicule isn’t working: now they’re engaging him, but it is already too late for that. In raising the issue of our failed foreign policy in the very arena that the War Party has always counted as its exclusive domain, Ron Paul has already won. The neocons may be able to retain control of the GOP until November ’08, but Iraq really is their Waterloo. The blame for the coming defeat of the GOP will fall squarely on their shoulders – and then it won’t be Ron Paul who will be driven out of the party.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Check out my joint appearance with Jerusalem Post columnist Michael Freund on Jewcy.com, debating the question “Should we bomb Iran?” The fun starts here

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is editor-at-large at Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].