Ron Paul and the liberal interventionists

US Politics
on 15 Comments
Norman Thomas
Norman Thomas,
Paul’s leftwing predecessor

Unlike all the others who have sounded off on Ron Paul on this site in recent weeks, I write as someone who was rather intimately involved with the movement four years ago, and have been generally disenchanted since.  I have many criticisms of Ron Paul individually and of libertarianism generally. 

But I find all the left-liberal complaints about Paul to be in extraordinary bad faith.  I was pleased with this pro-Paul piece here, but wish it had included this excellent essay by Matt Stoller, which lays out the fundamental problems of liberalism that Ron Paul has been able to speak to, and are at the heart of what I have been engaged in in a twilight struggle to explain to the movement for peace and justice in Palestine for a long time.

First, it needs to be said that so much of the cry that’s been raised up against Paul is contrived.  The newsletters are very real, and reflect the same disturbing opportunist streak in Paul that kept him from running third party in 2008 and will likely do so again, and why he has insisted on working within the Republican Party since 2008.  I remember my naive adolescent leftist hope that he might see fit to introduce Articles of Impeachment against Bush in the run-up to the Iraq War, only to find that he was instead trying to reach out to mainstream Republicans on anti-UN grounds.

On the other hand, the more outlandish quotes of Paul that have been circulating about Israel, Iran, the Holocaust, and more all come from the highly disreputable source of a former staffer turned neocon hatchet man named Eric Dondero.  In a Paul town hall meeting the other night, he spoke at some length about Iran and Israel but said nothing you wouldn’t hear from the Center for American Progress.

I increasingly feel that the hysteria about Paul being “anti-Israel” is no less contrived than in the case of Obama. Obama is simply the scapegoat for larger historical forces he has nothing to do with, and both he and Ron Paul, in their very different ways, simply push the buttons of the neocons and their old establishment allies to no end.

The larger point is that the Ron Paul movement forces us to see the question of Israel and Palestine, and numerous other American imperial hot spots, in simple and forthright terms of right and wrong, as opposed to such ultimately abstract concepts as “racism” and “colonialism”.  Anyone who says “a racist is unfit to be a human being” (as one of Paul’s critics did) has the soul of a commissar.  After all, who is it that’s defending indiscriminate murder of civilians “because they hate”?

There’s nothing new about that line of reasoning.  The Jews learned it from the Germans, and the Germans learned it from the British with their shockingly similar rhetoric about the “savage Hun”.  I often said that the Gaza blockade may be most of all like the starvation blockade of Germany after Versailles, which is so very disturbing because it means the Israelis subconsciously want to create another Hitler. 

And that’s another thing.  While “genocide” is an invented and arbitrary term, ethnic cleansing is very real.  Just as Hitler reportedly said of the Final Solution “who today remembers the Armenians?”, I have no doubt Ben Gurion had the Soviet precedent foremost in his mind and may very well have asked “who remembers the Kalmyks and Tatars?”, to say nothing of the greatest act of ethnic cleansing in human history, the expulsion of the three million ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.

In his pro-Paul piece, Phil Weiss mentioned the circle around Henry Regnery in the 1950s as a precedent for having allies on the right for justice in Palestine.  The truth is that most of those figures as late as the early 50s considered themselves in some sense progressive if not exactly on the left.  A great many were supporters of Norman Thomas in 1948 and were involved with his Postwar World Council.  I am at work on a complete history of the American Socialist Party, and even I have been shocked to discover the degree to which the so called “old right” whose mantle is claimed by the Ron Paul movement in fact has its roots in the non-Communist left of the 1930s and 40s. 

That is just one of many things I have found painfully intellectually disingenuous from so much of the Paul movement nowadays.  But the other side of that coin is the challenge to the left.  I always felt the issue of Israel and Palestine should be an issue that exposes the contradictions and hypocrisies of the liberal-internationalist paradigm–instead too frequently it has been jammed into the pre-existing categories of racism and colonialism, and I’m afraid that that discourse will devolve into a case of the revolution eating its own.

A large part of the reason Elmer Berger and Reform anti-Zionism generally were forgotten, frankly, is because they are uncomfortable history for the left.  When Henry Wallace and the American Labor Party were shouting “It is part of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan to sacrifice Jewish blood for Arab oil”, the most reliable anti-Zionists on the Jewish left were old-line social democrats (the real kind, not the fake Trotskyist kind that emerged in the 70s).  This is also, it bears acknowledging, uncomfortable history for many Paulians, as their much celebrated hero Robert Taft was as reliably pro-Zionist as any gentile politician today.  And yes, there is also the matter of Kermit Roosevelt and CIA Arabism, but such are the ironies of history.

In short, just as, in Matt Stoller’s words, “liberals must grapple with big finance and war, two topics that are difficult to handle in any but a glib manner that separates us from our actual traditional and problematic affinity for both”, advocates for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine must grapple with all the attitudes and approaches they inherited from a liberal internationalism whose legalese is invoked by no one more insistently than the Zionists.  For many, I sense that both when it comes to Israel/Palestine as well as generally, to quote Stoller again, the intellectual challenge that Ron Paul presents ultimately has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with contradictions within modern liberalism.  

There is no need to re-litigate the Second World War or any other part of the 20th century.  We now have available from South Africa the model of Truth and Reconciliation far superior to any international tribunals with their conceits of implementing justice on the basis of abstract categories and ex post facto crimes.  Am I highly idealistic and even naive to be preaching such prophetic justice?  Perhaps.  Does it offend the most absolutely perfect justice that such a process should start on the Israeli end?  Probably.  But we cannot afford to let the cause of peace and justice in the holy land become parochial, and not serve some vision for a better and more just world.

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