Flying under the radar of mainstream media coverage, supporters of Dr. Ron Paul, a seventy-two year old ten-term congressman and obstetrician from Texas, have staged a political revolution. Despite little publicity, they have raised over $15 million, mostly in small donations, giving Paul more money in the bank than John McCain.
In a November 5 "money bomb" (inspired by Guy Hawkes Day as depicted in the film, "V for Vendetta") the Paul Revolutionaries raked in $4.3 million. In doing so, they set a new one-day record for all Republican candidates. In addition, Paul's backers have spontaneously organized over 1,100 meet-up groups. That's more than any other candidate in the race including the youthful and photogenic Barak Obama. By all indications, most of the meet-up group members, now numbering over 60,000, are under age twenty-five. Paul's appeal can be attributed to his no-holds-barred small government, pro-liberty message as well as his consistent call to bring home the troops.
Reporters are right to emphasize the wide gap between Paul and the pro-war Republican presidential field but they should not stop there. If they dig a little deeper, they will find that his disagreements with Democrats are equally great. Paul is the only candidate in either party who wants to shut down the entire American overseas political and military Empire.
Rather than "isolationist" in foreign policy, however, Paul embraces as his own Thomas Jefferson's stated goal of "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." But, unlike our third president, Paul appears bound and determined to apply these words across-the-board. His voting record shows a consistent support for free trade and legislation to redirect the military strictly to home defense rather than foreign occupation. The Democrats, by contrast, largely share the bi-partisan post-World War II consensus of spreading democracy, human rights, or "vital interests" by military force.
Few subscribe to this consensus more zealously than Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton who has considerable credentials as a hawk dating back to her husband's administration. Most notably, she was an aggressive cheerleader for the bombing campaigns against both Iraq and Serbia in Kosovo. Paul, like many Republicans at the time, opposed both. Although Hillary later broke with Bush on Iraq, she rejects a non-interventionist approach. She wants to leave U.S. troops behind in Iraq to fight al Qaeda as well as keep them in the region. When asked in a recent debate whether she would promise that the troops would be home from Iraq by the end of her first term, Clinton refused. Although Barak Obama opposed the war from the outset, his current views are not much different. He also intends to station U.S. forces permanently in the region and reserves the right to put them back in Iraq again in full force to stop "genocide" (a term he never defines). John Edwards advocates the same approach.
While it is true that the Democrats are dovish on Iraq when compared to Bush, they blow bugles on the Darfur region of Sudan. The frontrunners demand tougher sanctions, imposition of a no-fly zone, and U.S. aid for more UN troops. Edwards pledges to work with NATO and deploy U.S. "military assets" to enforce the zone. Clinton has even suggested a blockade of the Port of Sudan, an act of war under international law. The truculence of the Democrats on Darfur defies logic given their objections to the Iraq War. The same conditions apply in Darfur that also led to the Iraq quagmire including a history of Islamic sectarian strife, a long civil war, and no real tradition of the rule of law and democracy. Despite widespread violence and Sunni fundamentalism in Sudan, there has never been a suicide bombing there. Were the Democrats to spread the War on Terror into Darfur, that statistic would certainly change.
Rather than avoid all foreign political entanglements, as would Paul, the Democratic frontrunners promise to extend them. All three, to quote Edwards, hope to exercise "American leadership to forge powerful alliances-with longtime allies and reluctant friends, with nations already living in the light of democracy and with peoples struggling to join them." In contrast to Paul, they do not intend to scale down foreign American bases, much less reconsider the merits of George McGovern's old dream to "Come Home America." As Obama puts it, the United States "cannot afford to be a country of isolationists right now....we need to maintain a strong foreign policy, relentless in pursuing our enemies and hopeful in promoting our values around the world." Woodrow Wilson could not have said it better.
If Americans expect a "great debate" about foreign policy fundamentals in 2008, absent an upset by Paul and his campaign against the American empire and for free trade, they will not get it. That would be a pity. As examples of "blowback" from previous and ongoing interventions continue to mount, such as spiraling oil prices, the free-fall in the value of the dollar, and the current strife in Pakistan and Kurdistan, Americans need such a debate more than ever before.