Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why Ron Paul is Wrong

Yesterday I expressed my dismay in Ron Paul for his failure to make the vote passing the House Resolution to condemn Iran's violent crackdown against its own people unanimous. Perhaps in my general lividity over the situation, I failed to make the points I intended to make clearly enough. I've received a number of comments from various directions, be it on Digg or Facebook, here, or even in other blog responses to my post that I just think misunderstood exactly why I felt it necessary to take Ron Paul to task. Admittedly, the post is a bit sloppier than what I normally write as I wrote it more from a stream of consciousness standpoint that from the typical logical breakdown that I normally follow, and did not spend much time editing myself after I was finished. It seems through some combination of my own sloppiness, the fervor of most of his supporters to continue to support him no matter what, and perhaps a flat misunderstanding of my intention, I feel that I must clarify exactly what the point of my post was.

The astute reader will note that I took pains to show my support of Ron Paul, and even to agree with the general premise of his foreign policy. I support a policy of non-interventionism. I believe the number of troops we have stationed indefinitely abroad is obscene and wholly unnecessary. But I also feel it is naive to believe that we can deal rationally with certain governments that are by their very inception and definition, irrational. It is here, in the area of non-interventionism, where many people seem to have misunderstood my meaning. This misunderstanding is best embodied in a blowback post by Marc Gallagher at Liberty Maven. There he cites me and writes:

Those clamoring for intervention need to answer a few questions, but there is one question that trumps them all.

What is the endgame of intervening in Iran?

Is it the preposterous idea to enforce a fair election in another country and install Mousavi as President so the Iranian reformers can be “free”? Where in the U.S. Constitution that we claim is the supreme law of the land permits the U.S. government to intervene in another country’s election process (no matter how flawed it may be)?

This has been a common response to my opinion. Some, who obviously failed to actually read the entire post, have gone so far as to call me a neo-con. However, upon reading my words carefully, you will note that nowhere did I ever promote that we should be interventionist or interfere in Iran's election process. The issue at hand is not an issue of interventionism versus non-interventionism. The issue at hand is a country whose people are willing to die, nay, be martyred in the streets in a fight for their own liberties, their own basic human right to a fair, honest, democratic vote. The issue at hand is a government losing its overbearing grip on its people, and responding with intentional slaughter.

This is a black and white issue of right and wrong. It is simply wrong that the Iranian government would kill its own people, no matter the reason. The fact that the government is killing its own people for the purpose of continuing to violate their basic human rights is flat out evil. The United States sits across the dinner table of the world and observes this abuse, pushes its chair back, rises and makes its voice heard in condemnation of these events. This condemnation is not an act of interventionism. It is a commentary by the world's leading power on what is right. If we cannot lead by our examples, we must at times be heard.

The proper place from which we should have been heard was the mouth of our President. The United States is still the most powerful country in the world. We still reside at the head of the dinner table. Barack Obama was unwilling to sit at the head of the dinner table watching this blatant misbehavior take place, rise and be the stern voice of authority necessary to bring the room to order. He was unwilling to stand up and be a voice of justice.

In the absence of a stern voice of authority resonating from the White House, our Congress voted to pass a condemnation of Iran's brutality. The resolution is a simple, strong statement for freedom and individual liberties:

Expressing support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law, and for other purposes.

Resolved, That the House of Representatives--

(1) expresses its support for all Iranian citizens who embrace the values of freedom, human rights, civil liberties, and rule of law;

(2) condemns the ongoing violence against demonstrators by the Government of Iran and pro-government militias, as well as the ongoing government suppression of independent electronic communication through interference with the Internet and cellphones; and

(3) affirms the universality of individual rights and the importance of democratic and fair elections.

Nothing in the language of this resolution is remotely interventionist. The resolution is a statement of American values, and a declaration of what all individuals should expect as their rights. A unanimous vote could have provided the world with the resounding statement by America that Iran's actions are wrong, that its people deserve to be treated as human beings instead of animals. Instead we fall one vote shy of unanimity. One vote provides the international community with reason to doubt America's belief in her own values. Ron Paul's vote. His reasoning?
I rise in reluctant opposition to H Res 560, which condemns the Iranian government for its recent actions during the unrest in that country. While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens, I am always very cautious about “condemning” the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives. I have always hesitated when my colleagues rush to pronounce final judgment on events thousands of miles away about which we know very little. And we know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran.
Where do I even begin? Let's work backwards. We know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran? Excuse me? For a man whose campaigning and fundraising has relied so heavily on the viral spread of information via the internet, he sure seems to be ignoring the fact that it even exists in this case. There is so much information available online, even including videos of martyrs being made, that it's unfathomable to believe anybody, let alone the internet-savvy Ron Paul, just isn't sure about what's happening in Iran.

He questions Congress' constitutional authority to sit in judgement of foreign governments? Of course we have no constitutional authority to affect the actions of foreign governments. But this does not mean we cannot, as the shining beacon of liberty and freedom, have our country's voice be heard at a time that demands that we provide a strong voice of leadership. Iran is spilling the blood of her own people in the streets, and it's not within our authority even to say something about it? Please.

He goes on:
Of course I do not support attempts by foreign governments to suppress the democratic aspirations of their people, but when is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many other countries where unlike in Iran there is no opportunity to exercise any substantial vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made. I have admired President Obama’s cautious approach to the situation in Iran and I would have preferred that we in the House had acted similarly.
He invokes Saudi Arabia and Egypt as examples of countries that do not offer their citizens the right to vote, and comparatively wonders why we have not offered similar resolutions condemning those countries for not offering their citizens their basic rights. He completely ignores the blatant facts involved in the situation at hand. The citizens of Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not protesting their governments en masse, and being slaughtered for it in the streets. Does this seem like selective criticism only for a political point to be made? It sure seems to me like we're trying to do the right thing with this resolution. The only one trying to use this situation to make a political point is Ron Paul, as he grandstands for non-interventionism over a case that is entirely exclusive of interventionism at all.


  1. Paul,

    Great summation and clarification of your position. There is certainly a clear line between intervention and condemning what is happening in Iran.

    I mistakenly took your condemnation to a logical but unnecessary conclusion that it would result in an eventual hands-on intervention. I apologize for misconstruing your words. I will also post a clarification on Liberty Maven when I get a chance today.

    That potential intervention is why I'm worried about official "voted on" condemnations by our legislature. That is why I oppose such resolutions and I believe that is why Ron Paul opposes such resolutions.

    Disregarding the "constitutionality" argument, it's not so much about what the condemnation means right now, but what it may lead to. What are the consequences? Once you condemn something how would it look if these horrible actions keep taking place and intervention didn't follow? The Republicans will continue to cite "weakness" and demand an even stronger response.. and so on.

    For me, it is better to condemn such things on a moral and individual basis rather than having an official "act of Congress" doing so.

    Though, I do tend to agree with your assessment of Paul's press release "explaining" his vote. It could have been more strongly worded against the Theocracy in Iran. That is his chance to express his individual opinion and he didn't do it strongly enough in my view.

    Also, he certainly could have worded it differently when speaking of "limited press reports". It is ambiguous. It could be taken to mean "limited press reports regarding the elections" or "limited press reports about the violence from the government" or even both. If he meant those words about the elections then he's certainly correct in that regard, but if he meant anything else then you are right for calling him on it.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading your thoughts and I look forward to reading more of your writing on this and other matters.

    -Marc Gallagher

  2. Marc-

    I would have to agree with your statement that it is better to condemn such things on a moral and individual basis rather than having an official "act of Congress." This is why I've tried to make the point that it should have been the President's role to make the condemnation, and via my linking to Reagan's handling of Poland in the previous post.

    Even Obama's "stronger rhetoric" today loses all meaning in the tone with which he delivered it. He sounded much more like a man who was lamenting having dropped his ham sandwich at lunch than a man expressing outrage at the brutal actions of a hostile regime.

    I can appreciate the idea you pose of "where do we go from here" and the inherent slippery slope. However, in light of the extreme nature of the events at hand, and the weakness of his reasoning, it's extremely difficult for me to view Paul's actions as anything but grandstanding, and detrimental to what could have been a strong statement by a world leader at that.

    I like Ron Paul. He is a major reason my interest in politics grew from casual to active. However, much as we may support him and be fans of his political philosophy, we need to be able to look at a real situation like this and expect that he act in the best interests of this country's ideals of freedom and liberty and weigh them as greater than his belief in non-interventionism.

    It's hard to look at his decision without believing that he feels non-interventionism in foreign affairs to be a higher ideal than personal liberty and individual freedom, a position which ultimately undermines his own philosophies.

  3. Here are a few Resolutions:
    The first one from March of last year in a "Democrat Controlled Congress". The rest are samples from 2008. Lets not talk about wasting time as that is mostly what the Congress does...

    A non-binding resolution to demand that President Bush impose "stringent inspection requirements" on trade with Iran - language that leaves the door open for a military blockade - will likely come to the House floor this week, according to sources close to Congressional leadership. The legislation, H.Con.Res.362, which is paralleled by a similar Senate bill, has gained bipartisan support rapidly, with more co-sponsors signing on by the day. Once it hits the floor, it's bound to "pass like a hot knife through butter," a staffer in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office told Chelsea Mozen of the nonprofit Just Foreign Policy.

    A resolution recognizing soil as an essential natural resource, and soils professionals as playing a critical role in managing our Nation's soil resources.

    H.RES.216: Congratulating the men's volleyball team of the University of California, Irvine, for winning the 2007 NCAA Division I Men's Volleyball National Championship.

    . S.RES.180: A resolution recognizing the 70th anniversary of the Idaho Potato Commission and designating May 2007 as "Idaho Potato Month".

    H.RES.630: Congratulating the Warner Robins Little League Baseball Team from Warner Robins, Georgia, on winning the 2007 Little League World Series Championship.

    H.RES.970: Expressing support for designation of June 30 as "National Corvette Day".

    H.RES.1050: Recognizing Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as being home to the earliest known reference to the word "baseball" in the United States as well as being the birthplace of college baseball.

    H.RES.89: Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that a day should be established as Dutch-American Friendship Day to celebrate the historic ties of the United States and the Netherlands.

    H.RES.892: Expressing support for designation of a "National Funeral Director and Mortician Recognition Day".

    H.RES.483: Recognizing the 63rd Anniversary of Big Bend National Park, established on June 12, 1944.

  4. Just one or two more things... Who ever said that Iran was a Democracy? Do they have human rights in their constitution? Do they have a constitution? Who gave them their human rights? Is it in the Koran? Or Qur'an?

  5. Personally, I think official condemnation is itself a form of intervention. It is subtle intervention but still a form of it.

    As for the limited press reports ... there may be "so much information available online", but that hardly means it is the entire picture. You just don't know what you don't know. Hell, it is fairly likely that we ARE intervening in their affairs covertly. You know who does know? Obama, and he's pretty much following Paul on this one.