Rep. Ron Paul on War, Peace, and the News Media

Congressman Ron Paul is a Republican from Texas. An obstetrician by profession, Paul is noted for never voting for legislation unless it is authorized by the U.S. Constitution. He is an advocate of limited government. He has also opposed U.S. military interventions overseas, including Iraq.

Michael Shank: You’ve said that “It’s nothing more than a canard to claim that those of us who struggled to prevent the bloodshed and now want it stopped are somehow less patriotic and less concerned about the welfare of our military personnel.” During wartime this is often the case. How can one work to counter this tendency to claim that those who question or work to stop a war are unpatriotic?

Rep. Ron Paul: It’s very difficult because the executive branch, and particularly the president, always has the bully pulpit. He can say it over and over and over again, and it’s always heard: “If you don’t vote for the money and you don’t support the policy, you don’t support the troops.” And that’s not true because if you’re spending money to support a policy that puts the troops in harm’s way, performing a task that’s unachievable, then you’re doing everything in the world to hurt the troops. You’re doing everything you can to undermine the rule of law because it’s an undeclared illegal war and it’s very detrimental economically. So to argue that you’re unpatriotic because you don’t support the troops, because you don’t support the policy, is a canard, it’s just not true.

Even the strong opponents to the war, in the Congress here, are intimidated by that. Not so much that they believe it, but they’re intimidated, they say “when I go home the people are going to say that I’m unpatriotic and I don’t support the troops and I don’t support national defense and I might lose my congressional seat.” As political pragmatists they back away from doing what I’m quite sure a lot of them would know would be the right thing to do. And that is to change the policy and de-fund the war.

Shank: And what role does the media play in reinforcing the idea that opposition to the war is unpatriotic?

Paul: They repeat everything the president says and they don’t ask tough questions. They would very rarely give those of us that have opposed the war from the very beginning any credibility. For very special reasons, I think, they aren’t interested in having an anti-war policy. They have other reasons for wanting us to be there and they’re not hesitant at all to continue that policy and they don’t want their policy undermined.

Shank: For political or economic reasons?

Paul: There are a lot [of reasons]. There is something to the old saying about the military industrial complex and the banking system and that some countries in the Middle East like us to be there. It’s not only Israel. Saudi Arabia likes us to prop them up. We’ve been doing that for a long, long time. There’s a lot of special interest there and a lot of people who are deceived into believing that we couldn’t drive our cars if we weren’t over there, because we wouldn’t have the oil supply protected. They don’t realize that since we’ve been there the price of oil has tripled. It isn’t very practical.

Shank: In a House floor speech you noted the “misinformation given the American people to justify our invasion” in Iraq. In perhaps the world’s most free democracy, where free speech prevails, how does misinformation like this go unchallenged?

Paul: Fortunately it always gets challenged; the unfortunate thing is that it’s always very late. We’re getting to the bottom of the truth. People spoke out in elections. Now there’s a different party in charge. There is going to be more investigations. But the real tragedy is that a lot of people die in the meantime. We finally found out that the Gulf of Tonkin was all fudged, and yet we lost 60,000 men. Now we have the misinformation, that’s a generous term, about getting us involved in Iraq. We’ve lost a lot of people, and literally hundreds of thousands are applying for disability. And it goes on and on.

To me, it is a real tragedy. The media, if they’re not in conspiracy to promote war, they’re not doing a very good job by asking questions. And nobody knows what their intent really is. Sometimes the media and big industry are very often the same company.

Intellectually, if you want to stay strictly on an intellectual level, our society has been engrained with the attitude that we have a moral obligation to intervene. Some people don’t think in terms of non-intervention versus intervention. The debate here in Washington is always: we intervene this way, this way, or that way, with whom and how far and how long. It’s always the technicalities of intervention. But we’re never taught in school what our traditions have been and what the founders advised and what the constitution allows. Even the UN charter talks more about peace; they don’t even authorize war in the UN charter. And we ignore that too.

There’s a lot of ignorance out there, and a lot of it is perpetuated in our universities. Except today we’re getting a broader education through the Internet. More people are understanding some of our views. So I think in spite of all the pessimism, we’re much better off today than we were 20 years ago when our voices were not heard at all. Today, our voices are being heard a lot easier because of the Internet.

Shank: In one of your speeches, titled “Don’t Do It, Mr. President”, you urged the president to not bomb Iran. Why are you so against a military invasion of Iran?

Paul: Because I’m against military activity in almost every circumstance when war isn’t declared. I recognize there are a few times our president could act but I think I pointed out in one of my speeches that I can’t remember a time that the president was required to act, i.e. that it was so necessary: the tanks were landing, there was a landing on our beach, the missiles were flying. It’s never happened.

The president has the authority to repel an invasion or an attack. But going into Iran doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. It’s going to expand the war, spread the war, and probably close down the Straits of Hormuz. We don’t have the authority nationally or internationally. It’s just the most foolish thing I could conceive of. And yet it looks like there’s bipartisan consensus that we can’t take anything off the table. We can’t even take off the table that we might use a nuclear first strike to go after Iran. They don’t even have a weapon and our CIA says they probably can’t get one for 10 years. And even if they did have one, what are they going to do with it? Are they going to attack us? They wouldn’t do that.

Yet at the same time we stood up against the Soviet system. They probably had 30,000 nuclear warheads and they had the capability of launching missiles at us. We didn’t have to have a nuclear war to finally win the cold war. We talked to them and there were negotiations.

Their system was a failed system, and it failed. The Iranian [system] will fail too if we just leave them alone. They can never become a power capable of attacking us. They don’t have an air force, they don’t have a navy. It’s an unbelievable, hysterical reaction on our part to become so frightened that we have to attack people like Saddam Hussein. It just bewilders me how people can fall into a trap of believing these stories that are put out and that the media propagates.

Shank: In your words, “if you don’t have a nuke, we’ll threaten to attack you, if you do have a nuke, we’ll leave you alone.” How do you explain this policy?

Paul: The North Koreans exploded [weapons] minimally, and yet it seemed to get respect. All of the sudden we’re talking to them and offering them deals. We knew the Chinese had them. We knew the Russians had them, and we treated them differently. We treat Pakistan differently, we give them money. We treat India differently, and they got their nuclear weapons outside international law. But if you don’t have a weapon we threaten you, as if you did, with the idea that we’re going to go in and take over. And we do. We went into Iraq, and we’re getting ready to do something with Iran.

We give them a tremendous incentive to have a nuclear weapon and that’s why Saddam Hussein was betting on the fact that “if I can convince them I have a nuclear weapon they won’t come in.” But we knew he didn’t have one, that’s why we went in.

Shank: Has the policy of intervention in the name of nation-building — in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly now Iran — ultimately served or undermined US interests?

Paul: It all undermines our interests. I don’t see how anything we’ve done in the last 50 years has served our interests. You can go back longer than that. I’d go back all the way to Wilson. The unnecessary involvement in World War I gave us Hitler and World War II and on. But if you want to start with more recent ones, I think Roosevelt’s promise to protect Saudi Arabia and prop up secular governments that offended and annoyed the more fundamentalist Arabs and Muslims has been a real thorn in our side. Then with the Cold War going on, there was a tremendous incentive for our government to use our CIA and our funding to literally set these schools up, the Wahhabi schools, to teach them to fight communism in the name of radical Islam.

I think the term blowback is a very accurate term. Our policies are ill-advised, maybe well intended. Some people think we need to do this to have oil, I don’t. Once we start to intervene it comes back to haunt us. Osama bin Laden was an ally and now he’s our enemy. Saddam Hussein was an ally, now he’s our enemy.

I think the founders were right about minding our own business. Try to get along with people, trade with them, talk to them. But I don’t believe in isolating ourselves. It’s ironic that they accuse people like me of being isolationist, but yet they have isolated us. Our current administration has isolated us from the world. We have fewer friends and more enemies than ever before. It’s ironic.

Shank: How will the rising defense budget and Iraq war spending undermine our economic and political security?

Paul: It’s a major contributing factor to our deficit, and it’s going to be a big factor in the dollar crisis that I anticipate is coming. We’re not talking about a few dollars; we’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars. In the pipeline this year there’s close to $700 billion dollars, supposedly in the defense of this country. Yet if you talk to generals you find that the military operation is in shambles, they don’t have enough personnel, the morale is low, and the equipment is in bad shape. All this money is doing the opposite of what it should be doing: it hurts our defense, antagonizes our allies, and creates new enemies. And it’s very, very costly. We have to depend, literally, on borrowing from countries like China and Japan. And that’ll come to an end.

We can’t tax, borrow, and inflate forever. That’s what we’ve been doing, and our obligations are overwhelming. Although most of the military [spending] is more or less immediate, the policy is indefinite and overwhelming. We’ve committed ourselves to policing the world. But if you combine this with the pressure of the entitlements, we’re talking about $50-60 trillion dollars that we don’t have enough wealth [to cover]. We’re not producing enough wealth to maintain our standard of living. We have to borrow almost $3 billon a day to keep this going.

I think financially it’s going to lead to problems worse than the 1970s, coming out of Vietnam. They pretended they had guns and butter, and it’s the same story again. Even today’s statistics show that inflation is alive and well, probably much more alive than the government will admit. So I think we’re going to have inflation, a weak dollar, interest rates will eventually go up, the economy is going to remain sluggish, and the only alternative here in Washington is to spend more money. And I think it’s going to lead to a disaster.

Shank: You’ve said the war on terrorism is “deliberately vague and non-definable to justify and permit perpetual war anywhere.” Why has the “war on terrorism” received so much traction in Washington, and is this “war” any different from, for example, our “war on communism”? Is it more dangerous than any war we’ve concocted before?

Paul: The war on terrorism is broader and more vague. Before, the war against communism was a little more concrete. The Soviets were a powerhouse, and they had missiles. But today, with the war on terrorism…you always have to have a war to frighten the people, to get the people to rally around the flag and sacrifice their liberties and allow the state to do a lot more than they should be doing. That’s why I would say that the war on terrorism looks like it’s going to have a longer life unless somebody can point out the fallacies of the [administration’s] thinking.

To me the war on terrorism is like saying the war on crime. Of course we’re all against crime, we’re all against terrorists. But if you have a literal war and you send troops all around the world—and since terrorism is not very often committed by the state itself, it’s just thugs out there, bands of individuals who are killing other people—this justifies anything and everything forever.

That, I think, is very dangerous. We have accepted this notion that you can make this vague declaration. It’s not a real declaration. You don’t know who the enemy is. For people who like the state to grow during wartime, it’s easy just to declare a war. Whether it’s a war on drugs, a war on illiteracy, or a war on whatever, people say “well, it’s a war; we have to be willing to sacrifice our liberties and let the government take care of us.” It’s a contest between those who want to or enjoy being dependent on the government — or are frightened into it both physically and economically — versus those who believe and understand how a free society is safer and wealthier.

Right now, for most of my lifetime, those who want to be safe and secure and believe government can provide have won out over those of us who believe that we would be safer and we would be more economically secure if we assumed responsibility for ourselves. Who is going to win that debate? We’re making inroads but we’re not on the verge of victory.

Michael Shank is the government relations officer at George Mason University