Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist
The GOP would be wise to listen to Ron Paul's message
Two-thirds of Americans can now see that starting a war in Iraq was a mistake. The majority of Republicans still do not see it.
Two-thirds of Americans can now see that starting a war in Iraq was a mistake. The majority of Republicans still do not see it. Eventually they will, but it's hard to go against their own president unless one of their own makes them do it.
That may be the usefulness of Rep. Ron Paul. There is no way this libertarian medical doctor from Texas is going to win the Republican nomination. His strict noninterventionist policy is too radical a change for Republicans. But on foreign policy the Republican Party could use a dose of criticism that gets to the root of things, and that is what Paul has to offer.
Paul says his party will lose the presidency in 2008 if they are still supporting the war, and he is probably right. He does not waste time arguing about surges or timetables. He says America ought to get out, and that America ought to adopt a general policy of staying out of other countries' wars.
Paul rejects President Bush's gum-drop idea that the terrorists hate us for our freedom. They hate us because of what our government has done in their part of the world. In the May 15 debate, Paul said America was attacked on 9/11 "because we were over there."
At the debate, Rudy Giuliani disingenuously declared that he had never heard such a statement, as if it were ridiculous on its face. After the debate, Paul went on Fox's "Hannity & Colmes" show, and Sean Hannity barked at him: Did he think America was to blame for 9/11?
No, Paul said, though really he was saying something like that. When your government acts as an imperial power, the natives bite back. They are responsible for what they do, but theirs is not the only responsibility.
When a Saudi zealot kills Americans, you can blame the deaths on the Saudi because he did it, or on the U.S. government for stationing soldiers in the Saudi's homeland, which aggravated him. Paul's point is that if you don't aggravate folks, you don't get bit.
In the debate, he said, "The conservative wing of the Republican Party always advocated a noninterventionist foreign policy."
It hasn't recently, but it did have a faction like that until the Cold War. There was a revival of it in the 1990s, particularly in opposition to Bill Clinton's undeclared war on Serbia.
Then came 9/11. In October 2002, only six Republicans in Congress — including Ron Paul — voted against starting a war with Iraq.
It is fairly clear now that America will leave Iraq, and not in triumph. It will be tempting for the Republicans to blame the result on the Democrats, because that would mean that the Republicans were "right" in some theoretical way. But they were not right. They did not understand Iraq, or the history of imperialism or much of anything beyond knocking over Saddam Hussein.
In foreign affairs, the Republicans are our nationalist party, and there is a role for that. But they need to question the idea of a "global war on terror." The 9/11 attacks were acts of desperation by 19 men with box cutters. What these men did looked and felt like acts of war, but really it was an audacious crime, planned and executed by a political gang financed with private money.
Fighting such gangs is the job of cops, security workers, customs agents, G-men, diplomats and alert citizens. It is an important task, but we are not at war. America hasn't been attacked in nearly six years.
Republicans need to settle on a foreign policy that asserts American interests in a realistic and humane way. Whether they go as far as the noninterventionism of Ron Paul is another question, but they have to jettison the Bush policy of preemptive war. That the leading Republican contenders refuse to question that policy is a sign that they have not learned and, 17 months from now, will not win.
Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org