Congressman Paul is a curious issue for conservatives in the presidential race. There is no one more grounded in the Constitution and the ideals that our Founding Fathers held dear in terms of limited government. His knowledge of the grave problems in the Federal Reserve and our country's monetary policy seem to me like much needed penicillin to a decades old illness that is more complicated than most people (myself included) can fully understand.
But Congressman Paul's views on foreign policy are troublesome at the least for mainstream conservatives (and I do mean mainstream rather than majority). Conservatives who strongly support the War on Terror have deep ideological differences with Paul's beliefs that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought for no reason, a mistaken foreign policy blunder by former Pres Bush. The debate rages whether Paul is a isolationist or a non-interventionist, a debate that is muddied by semantics and the idea that there may be little difference between the two terms in the age of terrorism and WMD.
But there is a rationale for neo-cons and defense hawks to get behind the idea of Paul as president, a logic that has only really come to light in the wake of the recent Afghan riots over Koran burning. First, a quick history.
The causus belli for going into Iraq and Afghanistan was in both cases a clear and present danger-a threat by each to our national security. While it is wonderful hindsight to say that we lost the end objective in Afghanistan when we lost Bin Laden, and that we were wrong about WMD in Iraq, the fact remains that we acted in good faith with the best intel available at the time we invaded each country. Not going into Afghanistan would have rung the dinner bell to terror groups across the world that the US was indeed a paper tiger. Not going into Iraq would have allowed a brutal dictator to flout UN mandates while daily breaking the cease fire agreements that ended the Gulf War.
Each of the two wars can be divided into phases-winning the war (fighting a uniformed enemy organized in military units) and winning the peace (prevailing against insurgents and militia that use terror to cow the local populace). In both countries, we won unprecedented victories against the armed forces of the defenders. Afghanistan was defeated in a few months, Iraq in a few weeks.
But even legitimate wars can turn out poorly. In Iraq we fought and bled until we finally committed the forces necessary to win, along with a groundswell of local support. In Afghanistan we have muddled along for years until just a few weeks ago, when a trumped up charge of desecrating some Korans, baseless charges considering the radical Islamists who desecrated the books first, has engendered a popular upswell of anti American sentiment. Now, neo-cons find themselves in a unique position-the war in Iraq is over, and the reason for US forces staying in Afghanistan is melting away with every riot and protest. If the Afghans truly do not want our help in rebuilding their country, then we have no right to insist otherwise.
So the end of the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters begs the question-where are we now in terms of national security? I refuse to believe that radical Islam has dropped off the table as a threat. On the contrary, the Arab Spring has made it a more widespread and underground threat than ever. We used to know who our enemies were-now we can only guess. And Iran is as great a threat to the US as it ever has been. Either in terms of terror operations on US soil, attacks against our ally Israel, or the prospect of Iranian surrogate warfare via Hezbollah, the threat to the US from Iran is quite real.
But an equal threat to national security has raised its ugly head in the last 5 years, one that is quite unprecedented for the US military-our skyrocketing national debt. In fact, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs last year called it our 'biggest national security threat'. In that light, Congressman Paul's devotion to fiscal issues doesn't seem so far out of line with foreign policy matters.
Consider it in this light; America is faced with the worst military situation known to history, a two front war. Hitler's Germany was ultimately done in by the two front effort, as was Japan, and Rome spent several centuries grappling with war on several fronts. Our perilous financial situation has lead us to a point where it may not only be advisable, but perhaps even necessary to fight on one front at a time.
Rep Paul's ideas of pulling back US troops from around the globe seem to me and others to be short sighted. We can fight the enemy out there today, says conventional wisdom, or we can fight them on our soil tomorrow. But much like my wife telling me that the shoes she bought on sale but couldn't really afford were a 'bargain', the fact is that we can only afford to do today what we can afford to pay for today. It does our country no good to fight battles across the globe in the name of freedom and democracy if we lose our own battle at home under the weight of foreign held debt.
In this line of thinking, a Ron Paul presidency becomes the best possible hope for our military situation. Because while all four candidates have campaigned on smaller government, only Paul has laid out how small and how fast he would shrink the budget (maybe too fast in my opinion) in order to get our country's debt in order. At the same time, an orderly withdrawal from our bases around the globe would allow the US military to consolidate and reorganize. Leaving the field of battle to the enemy is a bitter pill to swallow, but much more manageable if there is plan to get set for the next battle, rather than just retreating from the current one.
In the two front war scenario, holding the line on one front while advancing on the other is sound military strategy. Thus, a less aggressive but still potent response to terrorism under Paul is acceptable when combined with a budget cutting push on steroids. We can weather the one storm if we are making significant progress on the other.
But to be honest, this kind of skirts the main point of contention between Paul supporters and the neo-cons. At some point the neo-cons will want to take the security on the budget front and use it to push back on the radical Islamist front. Thus, neo-cons and Paul supporters would be at odds before the end of a Paul presidency. In truth, this isn't a path to neo-con support of a Paul presidency, as much as it is a resignation to the fact that winning one front is better than stalling on two. But is does provide a rationale for those who disagree with Paul's foreign policy to come together under Paul if he is the nominee, no different from Romney, Santorum or Gingrich supporters who would nonetheless rally round the GOP candidate. We all want the candidate who will do the best by our ideals-but conservatives need to reconsider the notion that Paul can't advance our national security situation.
The point being of this whole work; neo-cons could and should support a Paul campaign if he is the nominee because the net/net of that outcome is a better national security situation at the end of the road. The takeaway for current Paul supporters is that there is a logical way of persuading neo-cons to support Paul, rather than taking a hard line on any one who doesn't immediately see your point.
Each side will likely struggle with these roles.