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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15 Responses

  1. Les
    January 9, 2012, 11:23 am

    The Marxist economist Ernest Mandel was well aware of the expulsion of the Germans at the end of World War II from lands where they had been living for as long as seven hundred years.

    • lysias
      January 9, 2012, 3:32 pm

      That expulsion of the Germans was more or less approved by the Western allies at the Potsdam conference in 1945.

      The expulsion from the Sudetenland and the rest of Czechoslovakia was accomplished while Czechoslovakia was still democratic (the Prime Minister was Communist Klement Gottwald, but there were plenty of non-Communists in the government at the time>)

      I think those expulsions were wrong, but they were a lot more excusable than the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The bulk of the ethnic Germans living in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia had enthusiastically greeted Nazi occupation, and many of them had assisted the Nazi crimes. It’s understandable — if not in the end justifiable — that Poles, Czechs, and Serbs should have been unwilling to have Germans any longer living in their midst.

      • Citizen
        January 10, 2012, 10:42 am

        Some of the ethnic Germans who formerly lived between the Bohemian Forest and the Urals, the White, and the Black seas were hell-bent to become junior partners in the Aryan master race, and so became a fifth column for the Nazis, but most of them were indifferent to politics–farmers in East Prussia and the Romanian Banat, coal miners in Silesia. They were like ordinary people anywhere: not the actors, but the acted upon. Further, in Hungary or Poland, for example their options were limited. The choice for the average person with ordinary courage living in East Central Europe was ultimately between Stalin or Hitler. Some two million Volksdeutsche died and fifteen million were displaced during the ethnic cleansing.

        Their fate seems justified for those who supported Hiter, and that’s the likely consensus of surviving Jews, Poles, Czechs, Ukrainians, but the great majority of the Germans ethnically cleansed, as exemplified by the East Prussian farmers and Silesian industrial workers and their families–were innocent.

        The history of this expulsion and of the factors involved in the Allied decision(s) to do it, is well covered in A Terrible Revenge, by Alfred-Maurice de Zayas

      • Koshiro
        January 10, 2012, 11:38 am

        Except that Germans were also expelled from areas which were German before the war or any prewar expansion (East Prussia, Silesia, Pomerania), did not at any point in recent history have anything but a large German population majority and were simply emptied of their indigenous inhabitants to facilitate annexation and exploitation by Poland and Russia.

        It is actually quite similar to the Nakba, and there really is no justification for it unless you would also allow for the Nakba to be justified in principle. The key differences are that a) The German people, as a nation, did not have all or even most of their land taken away like the Palestinians did, b) most Germans, including former refugees, voluntarily agreed to settle things with Poland and Russia by means of a peace treaty and c) as individuals, former German refugees can move back to their former homes because almost all of the territory in question is now part of the EU.

      • Les
        January 10, 2012, 6:30 pm

        In the US armed forces in Europe during World War II, the largest ethnic group was made up of German Americans. Would anyone suggest that Americans of German extraction who supported Hitler be deported to Germany? We are not talking about spies but of the politics of such individuals.

      • Citizen
        January 11, 2012, 5:13 am

        At its height, the German-American Bund consisted of 6,000 to 25, 000 members tops, at a time when German Americans comprised 25% of all Americans (today Americans of German extraction comprise 25% of non-Hispanic whites, and 17% of total US population)–some were put in concentration camps in 1930s America, and generally deprived of due process, most leaders were deported or pressured to move to Germany–but the sheer numbers of German Americans worked against tossing most of them in camps as we did to our Japanese Americans. They had camps for their children similar to Jewish camps now in the USA that work to cement allegiance to Israel, and, unlike Bobby Kennedy’s attempt to get the pre-AIPAC seminal Zionist Lobby organization registered as agent of a foreign country, congress did so nail the German-American Bund.

  2. Kathleen
    January 9, 2012, 11:48 am

    Just finished reading. Going to read again

  3. Oscar
    January 9, 2012, 11:54 am

    Terrific insight, Jack. Here’s a follow-up piece from Stoller, a bit bemused by the faux outrage of progressives with a neo-con-influenced identity crisis and the hissy fit they’re throwing over Ron Paul’s message.

  4. gazacalling
    January 9, 2012, 12:53 pm

    Wow, what an intellect is on display here.

    He makes Lizzy Ratner’s opinions look childish.

  5. lysias
    January 9, 2012, 4:39 pm

    OT, if Romney continues to do stuff like this, Romney does damage control following remark about liking to fire people, he just might end up doing a lot worse in New Hampshire and South Carolina than people are currently expecting.

    • unVet
      January 9, 2012, 9:06 pm

      I have no fondness for the Mitt at all, but one of things I really dislike is the taking of something like his comment about liking to fire people and distorting what his actual message was. Using such a tactic seems to admit that there is nothing of substance to go after him about, which is definitely not true.

  6. ToivoS
    January 9, 2012, 4:40 pm

    One quibble with Ross’s to say nothing of the greatest act of ethnic cleansing in human history, the expulsion of the three million ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe.

    The number I recall from some reading 30 years back was 12.5 million while wkipedia today “The movement of Germans involved a total of at least 12 million people, with some sources putting the figure at 14 million,”.

    To be sure one of the biggest ethnic cleansings on record.

    On another subject — nice symmetry, the libertarians descended from the Norman Thomas socialists while the neocons descended from the bloodthirsty Trotskyists wing of the socialist movement. Why can’t the right produce their own thinkers? They keep raiding our side.

  7. Glenn Condell
    January 9, 2012, 6:47 pm

    This is a good companion piece to David Samel’s excellent takedown of Jerry Slater yesterday. The key sentences there were:

    ‘Slater’s perspective clearly assumes the awful premise of American exceptionalism, that the US is entitled to take actions that would be forbidden to other nations, because of our superior military capability, our superior morality, or both.’

    The shoe never visits the other foot (to use a Dershowitticism) in Slater’s world, buried as he is in the insular van, unable to imagine himself or his loved ones at the business end of US/Israeli power projection. Nations and people have crossed the line when war can be ‘deemed’ appropriate. That decision should never be an abstract, debatable ‘choice’, it must be an existential necessity.


    ‘Paul is unique among Presidential candidates, and in a tiny minority of US politicians, who are willing to challenge the prevailing poisonous atmosphere of military glorification disguised as super-patriotism.’

    In other words, despite his warts, on the issue that matter more than any other and in fact shapes to a large extent every other concern, he is all we’ve got. From afar I find myself thinking, Jesus, is a 76 year old Hayekian states-righter the best America can come up with? Apparently, it is.

    Phil has said he’d rather hold his nose and vote for Obama, but boil away the boilerplate and Obama is Bush without cojones, a foot soldier for the forces that are destroying America (as opposed to one of it’s scions). Whether he is a fool, a knave or simply the weakest man ever to hold that position in the end doesn’t matter. A vote for him keeps the wheels pointed at the wall, and this goes for domestic policy as well as foreign. All candidates bar Paul represent simply changes of gear or perhaps a belated turn this way or that. Paul is the brake… an old and slightly dated brake perhaps, but the only brake in the race. That is who I’d be holding my nose for.

    ‘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’

    Yes but if he wasn’t such a vacancy, such dead and now rather fetid air, he would have something to do with them. He is after all the President of the United States of America. Roosevelt (take your pick) or Eisenhower or Kennedy would have had something to do with them. Even the Bushes you can imagine clearing their throats (they’d be talking to their own kind after all). Obama’s complete lack of agency with regard to the interests of US citizens generally (rather than in particular) makes a vote for him a vote for the worsening status quo.

    But more than that, a vote for Obama is a vote for more murder of innocent brown people in countries most Americans couldn’t find on map, for indefinite detention perhaps involving torture for (again mostly innocent) US citizens and foreigners alike, 1984 style surveillance of everyone on the planet, for the continued looting of the 99% by his 1% backers.. really the list is too long to haul out in every blog post or comment. Glenn Greenwald’s selection here (from paragraph 12 on) of Obama’s actual crimes against decency (ridiculing liberals’ fear about Paul’s potential analogues) will do me as a starting point:

    Read that list and tell me which of these outrages Ron Paul would use the office to support or continue. Of course, we have been down that path of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ a few years ago (and I admit to some misgivings about Paul’s economic panaceas, but at least they haven’t had ample opportunity to fail miserably as the regnant dictums have) , but the masses are a little more conversant with reality now, and more finely attuned to the governing bullshit and if Paul turned on a dime as Obama did I think all bets would be off in the US for the present political arrangements.

    Obama came from nowhere to betray us, Paul has been there from time immemorial it seems and it is the prospect of a crusading outsider (a genuine rather than manufactured one) cleaning up the stables that scares the shit out of those who have their hands (or even just a pinky or two) on the levers of power, in both wings of the governing elite.

    Washington 2012 reads like Rome 69; it needs a Vespasian, not another Nero.

  8. Hostage
    January 9, 2012, 9:53 pm

    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 avoided Slater’s discussion of Ron Paul’s policy on war powers and intervention because the post 9/11 discussions of jus ad bellum by philosophers and political scientists tend to distract attention away from the twin legal revolutions in jus in bello and jus post bellum of the 1940s and 1990s. Serious crimes, such as murder, should not be treated like simple political issues that can only be addressed by political solutions. Many of us tend to think of war crimes and the Nuremberg trials. But in fact, Nuremberg was principally about trying German officials for waging war itself, crimes of jus ad bellum. Justice Robert Jackson, the chief American prosecutor, left trials concerning the war’s atrocities to others.

    In any event, Ron Paul’s previous suggestions regarding the use of the senescent provisions of the US Constitution regarding Letters of Marque and Reprisal are truly simpleminded. Authorizing mercenaries to seize private property from civilians overseas or to conduct reprisals went by the boards with the adoption of the Hague regulations, the Geneva Conventions, and the Additional protocols. The inherent legal problems associated with our government’s policy of contracting with private or third parties to use deadly force against the citizens of another state were amply illustrated by incidents in Iraq and Pakistan involving Blackwater, & et al. See also Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America)

    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.

    There are no provisions in the Rome Statute, going forward, for extending amnesty or immunity from prosecution to individuals on the basis of South African-style Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. The International Criminal Court had no initial jurisdiction over crimes committed by South Africans prior to July of 2002, but the government of South Africa granted the Court jurisdiction over crimes committed by its citizens after it became a State Party to the Rome Statute. See for example “ICC may try IDF officer in wake of Goldstone Gaza report: South African-born commander David Benjamin authorized which targets troops should strike during war:

    The ICC wasn’t established to re-litagate the Second World War or any other part of the 20th century. The elements of the serious crimes which are subject to the jurisdiction of the Court were codified long before it came into being. So they can’t be accurately described as ex-post facto or abstractions.

    The fact of the matter is that there has only been one attempt to bring the Israel-Palestine conflict before an international criminal tribunal. The Palestinian complaint is still pending. On the other hand, dozens of attempts to apply informal sanctions and political solutions have all failed.

  9. Citizen
    January 10, 2012, 10:21 am

    RE: “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.”

    “Whatever pretext Israel and the US (for consistency) might find for the war they threaten, at stake is the existence of the world as we know it. Even a triumph of their justitia may turn utterly hollow, for there might be no people to celebrate it. So the real question that Jews and non-Jews alike face today is: Is the World for Israel or are Jews for the World? We know how Rabbi Berger would have answered.”

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