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December 14, 2004

Nation-Building Is Not Conservative


by Rep. Ron Paul

A recent study [.pdf] by the Pentagon's Defense Science Task Force on Strategic Communications concluded that in the struggle for hearts and minds in Iraq, "American efforts have not only failed, they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended." This Pentagon report flatly states that our war in Iraq actually has elevated support for radical Islamists. It goes on to conclude that our active intervention in the Middle East as a whole has greatly diminished our reputation in the region, and strengthened support for radical groups. This is similar to what the CIA predicted in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, before the invasion took place.

Then, earlier this month we learned that the CIA station chief in Baghdad sent a cable back to the U.S. warning that the situation in Iraq is deteriorating, and not expected to improve any time soon. Other CIA experts also warn that the security situation in Iraq is likely to get even worse in the future. These reports are utterly ignored by the administration.

These recent reports are not the product of some radical antiwar organization. They represent the U.S. government's own assessment of our "progress" in Iraq after two and a half years and the loss of thousands of lives. We are alienating the Islamic world in our oxymoronic quest to impose democracy in Iraq.

This demonstrates once again the folly of nation-building, which is something candidate Bush wisely rejected before the 2000 election. The worsening situation in Iraq also reminds us that going to war without a congressional declaration, as the Constitution requires, leads us into protracted quagmires over and over again.

The reality is that current-day Iraq contains three distinct groups of people who have been at odds with each other for generations. Pundits and politicians tell us that a civil war will erupt if the U.S. military departs. Yet our insistence that Iraq remain one indivisible nation actually creates the conditions for civil war. Instead of an artificial, forced, nationalist unity between the Sunnis, Shi'ites, and Kurds, we should allow each group to seek self-government and choose voluntarily whether they wish to associate with a central government. We cannot impose democracy in Iraq any more than we can erase hundreds of years of Iraqi history.

Even opponents of the war now argue that we must occupy Iraq indefinitely until a democratic government takes hold, no matter what the costs. No attempt is made by either side to explain exactly why it is the duty of American soldiers to die for the benefit of Iraq or any other foreign country. No reason is given why American taxpayers must pay billions of dollars to build infrastructure in Iraq. We are expected to accept the interventionist approach without question, as though no other options exist. This blanket acceptance of foreign meddling and foreign aid may be the current Republican policy, but it is not a conservative policy by any means.

Non-interventionism was the foreign policy ideal of the Founding Fathers, an ideal that is ignored by both political parties today. Those who support political and military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere should have the integrity to admit that their views conflict with the principles of our nation's founding. It's easy to repeat the tired cliché that "times have changed since the Constitution was written" – in fact, that's an argument the left has used for decades to justify an unconstitutional welfare state. Yet if we accept this argument, what other principles from the founding era should we discard? Should we reject federalism? Habeas corpus? How about the Second Amendment? The principle of limited government enshrined in the Constitution – limited government in both domestic and foreign affairs – has not changed over time. What has changed is our willingness to ignore that principle.


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    Ron Paul is a Republican Congressman from Texas. He was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for President.

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