Last Wednesday, my editor published a disheartening reminder on this website: Ron Paul isn’t going away.
After I choked down some aspirin and gathered my wits, I realized there were two ways to look at the matter. In one sense, it’s a dismal reminder of how frivolous American politics can be. Though some of his supporters fancy themselves “revolutionaries,” Ron Paul is one of the most reactionary candidates in recent history, and he should be consigned to obscurity as soon as possible. On the other hand, his continued relevance has gifted me with the opportunity to write this article without being impertinent. Ron Paul’s legions of defenders may regret their inflexibility in the coming years, but it’s starting to seem unlikely. Self-satisfaction and wishful thinking are stubborn bedfellows.
Apparently, just the idea of even thinking about Ron Paul gives Matt Johnson a headache. What could cause such vitriolic enmity towards Ron Paul? Well, he is “reactionary”, for starters. What does Matt mean by that? The word is defined “relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially: ultraconservative in politics”. Well, the first part of that hardly applies, inasmuch as it has become almost cliché by now to point out the fact that he has been unusually and remarkably consistent in his positions on the issues for his decades of public service. But what about “ultraconservative”? Does that word apply to Dr. Paul? It means “beyond in space: on the other side”, “beyond the range or limits of: transcending”, “beyond what is ordinary, proper, or moderate: excessively: extremely”. So what Matt Johnson is really trying to say is that Ron Paul’s views and his positions are extreme, outside of the standard framework for discussion, and his arguments against the status quo and current political establishment outside of the limited range of acceptable criticism and dissent.
And he has a point there. But is that a bad thing? Isn’t that rather what the U.S. needs? Shouldn’t dissent from the status quo be considered a good thing? Matt Johnson doesn’t think so. He thinks if Ron Paul had been president instead of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama that the world would be much worse off for it. To prove what a horrible president Ron Paul would have been, he simply invents a hypothetical alternative reality based on his own simple perceptions of what Ron Paul’s political views are and what U.S. foreign policy is:
Here’s a glimpse of Congressman Paul’s ideal world: Osama Bin Laden would still be alive and the CIA would be dead. The United States would no longer be a member of NATO or the United Nations. Federal foreign aid for the victims of disasters such as the Asian, Haitian and Japanese earthquakes would be rescinded (even AIDS prevention programs in Africa would get the doctor’s axe). The Iranian nuclear weapons program would be given an idiotic American blessing. Iraq would still be privately held by a band of murders and sadists known as the Ba’ath Party, and they’d have Kuwait under their bloody thumbs. Yugoslavia would have been ethnically “cleansed” and absorbed by Greater Serbia. American aircraft would not have protected innocent civilians in Libya. And our present conversation about Syria would be reduced to a series of sighs and shoulder shrugs.
It’s very possibly true that if a Ron Paul had been president all these years that Osama bin Laden might still be alive. Ron Paul certainly would not violate international law and the sovereignty of other nations by sending combat helicopters into their airspace and putting a team of commandos on their soil. Ron Paul recognizes that acts of terrorism are crimes to be properly dealt with through law enforcement, such as the cooperative efforts with the Pakistani government that led to the arrest of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. But this all misses the point, because if Ron Paul had been president, 9/11 wouldn’t have happened in the first place. If Ron Paul had been president in place of Carter and Reagan, the U.S. wouldn’t have funded, trained, and armed the mujahedeen in Afghanistan and encouraged the creation of al-Qaeda in the first place (bin Laden’s Maktab al-Khidamat, the precursor organization to al-Qaeda, operated alongside the CIA out of Peshawar, Pakistan). The U.S. wouldn’t have had military bases on Saudi soil. The U.S. wouldn’t have been supporting Israel’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinians for all these years. The U.S. would not have had a policy of criminal sanctions against Iraq that killed over a million Iraqis, including half a million children. So, yeah, Osama bin Laden might still be alive, it is true—but so would the 3,000 Americans who died on September 11, 2001.
It’s possible that if a Ron Paul had been president for all these decades that the U.S. would no longer be a member of NATO. But why should we presume that would be a negative thing? Matt Johnson doesn’t bother to actually present an argument for why we need NATO or for why NATO is a positive force in the world, what with its frequent wars and illegal bombing campaigns, such as in Libya (more on that momentarily). Or take the illegal bombing of Kosovo in 1999, which was characterized in the West as a “humanitarian intervention”, despite the fact that it resulted in an escalation of the “cleansing” and other atrocities on the ground in the former Yugoslavia and a higher civilian death toll in its first three weeks than had occurred during the three months prior, when the “humanitarian catastrophe” had occurred that had served as a pretext for the bombing. U.S.-NATO Commanding General Wesley Clark afterward announced that it had been “entirely predictable” that the bombing had resulted in an escalation of violence on the ground. This action also led to the formation of a new doctrine of “illegal but legitimate” warfare—“illegal” because it was neither an act of self-defense against armed aggression by the U.S. or its NATO allies nor authorized by the U.N. Security Council (the only two conditions under which the use of force is permissible under international law), but nevertheless “legitimate”, by definition, since Washington makes its own rules and holds itself to a different standard than the rest of the world.
It’s also true that Ron Paul doesn’t think the U.S. should be involved in the U.N. But, again, why should we assume that it would be a bad thing for the U.S. or the rest of the world if the U.S. was not there to use its veto power in the Security Council, for instance, to defend Israel from censure for its war crimes and other violations of international law (e.g., vetoing an uncontroversial resolution condemning Israel for its illegal settlement activity in the occupied West Bank, blocking the implementation of the recommendations of the U.N. fact-finding mission into Israel’s 22-day full-scale military assault on the civilian infrastructure [an implementation of its “Dahiyah Doctrine”, so named after a Beirut neighborhood Israel flattened during its 2006 invasion of Lebanon] of the defenseless Gaza Strip in ’08-’09, etc.)? Why would it be a bad thing if the U.S. could no longer use its position at the U.N. to bully other nations into marching in step with orders from Washington? How would it not be a good thing if the U.S. could no longer cite U.N. resolutions interpreted unilaterally to justify its use of force, such as in the wars for regime change in Iraq (another “illegal but legitimate” war; contrary to some attempts to claim such, Resolution 1441 did not authorize the use of force) and in Libya (also “illegal but legitimate”; Resolution 1973 authorized a no-fly zone to protect civilians, a mandate that the U.S./NATO immediately announced it would exceed by supporting the rebels and to continue bombing until there was regime change, all in violation of the U.N. Charter and the very resolution under which its operations were ostensibly carried out). When the U.S. has a Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, who has taken an oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the U.S. Constitution, but who declares that the Executive branch doesn’t need Congressional authorization for war, that the president may get such authorization to order young American men and women into harm’s way from the U.N. (he told the Senate that in making the decision to go to war, the administration would first “seek international permission” and then “come to the Congress and inform you” and “determine whether or not we would want to get permission from the Congress”; emphasis added), would it really be so bad to have a president who would immediately fire this person and replace him with someone who respected the Constitution and upheld his oath of office? The Obama administration, of course, did not get a Congressional declaration of war for its war on Libya, which action was thus also a violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Matt Johnson talks about U.S. foreign aid and how horrible it would be to cut it. He certainly has an innocent understanding of what U.S. foreign aid is all about. He completely ignores the billions in military aid to countries that engage in violations of international law and human rights abuses, such as the $3 billion given annually to Israel, the $1.3 billion given to the military establishment in Egypt, to Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. He doesn’t want to talk about how U.S. aid and support for Israeli policies sustains the oppression and killing of Palestinians, or how all the people who suffer at the hands of their own brutal governments, autocracies propped up by the U.S. government, would benefit if the U.S. stopped supporting their oppression. He doesn’t want to talk about how foreign aid is given with strings attached requiring that money to be circulated right back to the U.S., such that it often serves effectively as a taxpayer subsidy for various U.S. industries, like the military/security industrial complex. He doesn’t want to talk about how this aid is effectively used to bribe nations to get in line, the money flowing to obedient client regimes and being instantly cut off to any foreign sovereign nation that dares to defy Washington, even to U.N. bodies like the Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, which the U.S. cut funding to for voting to admit Palestine as a member). He doesn’t want to talk about how if Americans didn’t have their money taken from them by force by the government, they would be all that much more able to show the world how generous a people they are by making private, voluntary, tax-exempt donations to disaster relief programs. Nope, Matt Johnson doesn’t want to talk about any of these things. These are all “reactionary” observations to be made, well outside of the acceptable limits for debate. If the U.S. cut foreign aid, people in Africa wouldn’t get medical care. That’s all anyone needs to know about the matter, in Matt Johnson’s view.
Matt then comes to the subject of Iran, stupidly suggesting that Ron Paul would give Iran an American “blessing” to develop nuclear weapons, a ridiculous strawman argument which just goes to show that either he has never actually listened to what Ron Paul has had to say about the matter or he just doesn’t care to be honest with his readers (take your pick). What he is really referring to is the fact that Ron Paul has argued that the U.S. should not use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Gasp! What an outrage! What heresy! But it’s too inconvenient for Matt Johnson to point out other relevant facts about what Ron Paul has said about it, such as that he wouldn’t want to see Iran get nuclear weapons, but that Iran has a right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, that there isn’t any evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program, and that a military attack on the country would only serve to incentivize Iran to actually try to develop nukes to deter further such attacks—just as Saddam Hussein made the decision to move his nuclear program “underground”, so to speak, after Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak reactor, which had been under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) supervision and inspections regime and in compliance with Iraq’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT). (A legitimate criticism could be made of Ron Paul because he supported this illegal attack by Israel on the mistaken belief that it was an act of self-defense, but pointing that out would be contrary to Matt Johnson’s purpose, so it is just as well he leaves well enough alone in that regard.) Never mind these inconvenient truths, all you need to know is that if Ron Paul was president, the Iranian nuclear weapons program the U.S. intelligence community continues to assess does not currently exist “would be given an idiotic American blessing”.
Moving right along, if Ron Paul had been president instead of George W. Bush, there wouldn’t have been a war on Iraq! Saddam Hussein would still be in power! Gasp! The horror! Except that if a Ron Paul had been president instead of Reagan, the U.S. wouldn’t have supported Saddam Hussein in the first place. If a Ron Paul had been president instead of George H. W. Bush, he wouldn’t have encouraged the Iraqi people to rise up to overthrow their dictator with the promise of U.S. military backing only to then stand idly by and watch the regime use helicopter gunships to slaughter those who responded to this call. If a Ron Paul had been president instead of Bill Clinton, the U.S. wouldn’t have given Saddam a green light to invade Kuwait in the first place and wouldn’t have then strengthened Saddam’s regime by implementing draconian sanctions that killed Iraqi civilians and made the Iraqi people dependent on the regime for survival. If Ron Paul had been president instead of George W. Bush, the U.S. would not have waged a war in violation of the U.S. Constitution and international law and would not have destroyed and inflicted sociocide upon Iraq; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed in the war would still be alive, the country would not have been torn asunder with sectarian violence, and al Qaeda would not now have a presence in the country. But never mind all of this. Such facts are irrelevant! Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein would still be alive, and that is all you need to know about what the world would be like if a Ron Paul had been president, in Matt Johnson’s calculation.
Returning to Libya, Matt swallows unquestioningly that the U.S. “protected innocent civilians in Libya”. In fact, the claimed pretext, that there was a virtual genocide underway, had no basis in fact and the U.S./NATO killed innocent civilians in Libya, both directly, by dropping bombs on them, and indirectly, by prolonging and escalating the conflict that analysts agree would otherwise have been over in a matter of weeks, rather than months, and by backing armed rebels including Islamic jihadists—al Qaeda being among them (do you see a pattern forming here?)—that engaged in massacres and human rights abuses of their own. Matt similarly laments how U.S. policy towards Syria “would be reduced to a series of sighs and shoulder shrugs” under a President Ron Paul—as opposed to once again intervening to escalate the violence and atrocities on the ground committed by both sides by coordinating the flow of arms and money to the armed rebels whose ranks include al Qaeda (do you see the pattern yet?) in order to implement a policy of regime change with the ultimate goal of weakening Iran’s influence and to pursue the same endgame of regime change in that country.
“These are the doctor’s orders?” Matt Johnson asks. “Ron Paul’s vision for the United States is dank, self-serving rot masquerading as ‘freedom.’” So actually upholding one’s oath to uphold, defend, and protect the Constitution is “dank, self-serving rot masquerading as ‘freedom’”. Americans should just accept that their elected official have no respect for and repeatedly violate the Constitution, apparently, in Matt Johnson’s view. So not engaging in violations of international law is “dank, self-serving rot”. Matt Johnson is also obviously an adherent to the doctrine of “illegal but legitimate” use of force, though we can probably safely presume that in his view, surely only the U.S. could decide what is “legitimate”, and illegal use of force by other nations outside of approval from Washington we must consider wrong. Insisting that the U.S. should not be spending taxpayers’ dollars propping up autocratic regimes or backing human rights abuses and violations of international law is “dank, self-serving rot”. Insisting that the U.S. should stop interfering in the affairs of other nations such as by intervening to prolong conflicts and escalate violence and siding with terrorist groups like al Qaeda is “dank, self-serving rot”, and so on. “The freedom that Ron Paul advocates is the freedom to deny the very existence of international obligations”, he asserts, with no inconsiderable hypocrisy. “It’s the freedom to abandon our allies and help our enemies.” You mean like supporting Saddam Hussein or siding with al-Qaeda, Matt? He says “It’s the freedom to permit genocide, sectarian madness, and mass suffering without even a hint of self-criticism”, he writes, but what he really means, translated into meaningful terms that bear some resemblance to the real world rather than some Orwellian fantasy, is that it’s the freedom to refuse to participate in genocide, to refuse to provoke sectarian madness, to refuse to inflict mass suffering without even a hint of self-criticism. Among Ron Paul’s most heinous sins is his agreement with the foreign policy prescription our nation’s first president, George Washington, for he “constantly reiterates the importance of avoiding ‘foreign entanglements’”. The insolence!
On June 19, 2012, he gave a preposterous, incoherent speech about Syria on the House floor. In it, he makes the following assertions: 1) “Without outside interference, the strife – now characterized as a civil war – would likely be nonexistent.” And, 2) “Falsely charging the Russians with supplying military helicopters to Assad is an unnecessary provocation.” As any fool will notice, both claims are completely fallacious.
And as any fool will notice, Matt Johnson’s claims about how horrible a situation the world would be in if a Ron Paul had been president for the past several decades are completely fallacious. Matt is incapable of recognizing how the U.S. backing for the armed rebels in Syria has resulted in an escalation of the violence—for instance, how the supply of anti-tank weaponry to the rebels had the consequence of the regime deciding to for the first time employ its helicopters—just as he is incapable of recognizing the hypocrisy of the U.S. criticizing Russia for upholding contracts to perform maintenance on Syria’s old helicopters (yes, Russia did not deliver new choppers to Syria, but Syria had purchased them years ago, although Matt neglected to clarify that fact for his readers), while itself helping to arm, fund, and train the rebel forces whose ranks—in case it hasn’t already been mentioned—include members of al Qaeda. When Ron Paul points out the fact that the U.S. is so doing, he “echoes the transparent propaganda of President Bashar al-Assad”, according to Matt. Facts be damned!
The takeaway message is that Ron Paul is a sinner, a heretic, a blasphemer, for having dared to challenge the status quo, by insolently demanding responsibility and accountability in government, by brazenly demanding that our government obey the Constitution and international law, by irrationally insisting that the government should not take money from Americans by force and hand it over to human rights abusers overseas, by audaciously suggesting that the U.S. should not interfere in the affairs of other nations by prolonging conflicts and escalating violence on the ground, etc., etc. (And this is not even to mention his atrocious positions on domestic policies, such as the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy, and how Ron Paul since at least as early as 2001 had been warning against the housing bubble and the financial crisis its collapse would precipitate, as well as warning against the policies that caused it.) Such outrageous blasphemy cannot be tolerated, and just the act of considering such heretical ideas, or even just contemplating the name “Ron Paul”, should give every decent and self-respecting American a headache and force them to choke down some aspirin to alleviate the pain from having acted against their own self-conscience and danced with the devil by actually listening to Ron Paul’s profane blasphemies against the state religion.
And once the drug has dulled their senses, Americans can forget about this wicked presidential candidate who refuses to just go away and accept being “consigned to obscurity”, and think no more of him. Americans may then be tempted to contemplate his heresies no longer, but rest more easily at night knowing that the status quo will go on and that the existing establishment will keep on doing what it does, because America’s foreign policy is good and righteous and just, and that, in the view of obedient and self-disciplined commentators like Matt Johnson, is all Americans need to know.