The Ron Paul controversy has opened a fissure in this community. Many long-time contributors to this site who were in general agreement on most Israel/Palestine issues have found themselves on opposite sides of the Paul debate. The question has mostly been whether Paul’s laudable foreign policy positions are more or less significant than his apparent right-wing domestic agenda. Some have taken a third view, arguing that Paul’s economic theories aren’t as potentially disastrous as progressives fear.
Professor Jerome Slater has entered the fray with yet another perspective. He argues that Ron Paul’s foreign policy, which even harsh critics here have lauded, is actually a “simpleminded” rejection of almost all US military action. But is it really fair to characterize anyone who opposed US military action in Afghanistan, the first Gulf War, Bosnia and Kosovo, Libya etc. as “simpleminded”? Does Professor Slater believe that a true pacifist, which Paul is not, is even more simpleminded? 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. Surely he would not approve of another country’s right to invade and bomb the US when its leader declares that the US is posing a threat to them, or that the US people are oppressed by a government controlled by the rich and powerful 1%. In his view, the US and similar advanced, industrial “Western” nations both have a right to military aggression when deemed necessary and a right to protection against such aggression from other countries. He makes no moral case for the US to enjoy special rules.
Slater acknowledges that all wars cause civilian casualties. True, but isn’t that a reason to oppose almost all wars, with very very few exceptions for cases like WWII? A war is a sentence of death for anonymous thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or maybe more. The Iraq War itself has also been a sentence of misery, displacement and homelessness for millions. That is a war that Slater opposed, but once he joins the chorus of approval for some US military adventurism, the powers that be may not be as discriminating as he is. Moreover, his calculation that the dead, wounded and displaced in wars that meet his standards is “worth it,” to use Madeline Albright’s infamous phrase, is made much easier by the fact that those civilians at risk of dying are people he does not know. Surely he would not feel the same way if US military action endangered the lives of his children and grandchildren. But don’t the parents and grandparents of the actual victims in Afghanistan and Serbia, etc. feel the same?
In a comment, Slater goes so far as to say that Bush’s wars were fought with bad-intentioned imperialism, while Obama has more benign motives. But he cannot support a Democratic President’s right to military action without sanctioning a Republican’s right as well. And according to Slater, Bush wasn’t all bad; his decision to invade Afghanistan was praiseworthy, even if he made the mistake of overstaying our welcome.
Finally, it appears that if Paul’s and Obama’s domestic agendas were identical, and their only difference were on military intervention in foreign countries, Slater would prefer Obama’s well-intentioned military actions to Paul’s “simpleminded” non-interventionist positions. That’s a rather shocking position, and that does not even consider their differences on civil liberties issues, the Drug War, whistleblowers like Bradley Manning – just the use of the US military.
Slater, Lizzy Ratner and others have argued that Paul’s negatives outweigh his positives. Although I lean in the other direction, I think that their opinion is perfectly reasonable. But Slater goes much further, belittling the upside of Paul’s platform, including his contempt for the loathsome doctrine of American exceptionalism and strong preference for diplomacy over brute force. As a teenager forty years ago, I saw John Lennon on Dick Cavett, and he condemned US leaders prosecuting the Vietnam War as “insane.” Although I generally agreed with his anti-war position, I recall thinking that his analysis was “simpleminded.” I now think that Lennon summed it all up quite succinctly. For many decades, US foreign policy has been sheer madness. Ironically, it is the most prominent opponent of that madness, Ron Paul, who is portrayed by mainstream media and fellow politicians as a crackpot, for his foreign policy positions. His opposition to military aggression, like his opposition to intrusive domestic surveillance, indefinite detention, the Drug War, prosecution of whistleblowers, etc., should be embraced, even by progressives who find his domestic agenda unacceptable. 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.