David Adesnik over at the hawkish conservative think tank AEI asks, “why has the isolationism of Ron Paul and his admirers taken such a sharp turn toward amoral realism?”
I cannot, for the life of me, yet again explain to a right wing hawk the difference between isolationism and non-interventionism, so we’ll leave that to the side.
Adesnik’s question comes from a rather out-of-context quote pulled from a speech Ron Paul gave in 1976. In criticizing the brutality of the Chinese regime at a time when the political elite in the Nixon administration were praising Beijing in a famously “realist” diplomatic move to drive a wedge between it and Moscow, Ron Paul did utter the following, quoted by Adesnik:
It is foolish to believe that the Chinese people do not have the same yearning for freedom that we have…We are asked to be ‘realists’ and overlook [Communist abuses]…This is a foolish and shortsighted policy that simply repeats America’s past error of treating all of our enemies’ enemies as our friends. This policy has probably done more to destroy our credibility as a champion of freedom in the world than any other thing.
Americans pride themselves for having broken with the balance-of-power politics of Europe and establishing a foreign policy that not only upholds American interests, but is moral as well.
This, Adesnik argues, is very different from the Ron Paul of 2013 and even “sound[s] more like George W. Bush.” Adesnik is confusing the “[rhetorically] compassionate conservatism” of Bush’s neo-con foreign policy with Ron Paul’s effort to expose the fact that the U.S. is happy to ally with and support horrible dictatorships while maintaining propaganda about America’s devotion to freedom and democracy.
What Paul said right after the quote pulled from Adesnik is most important and reveals there has been no appreciable change in Ron Paul’s foreign policy views since then:
It is unfortunate that our foreign policy has been so mismanaged that the American people now seem to equate a moral foreign policy with an interventionist foreign policy.The two are not at all synonymous. A condemnation of Communist tyranny ought not to imply the threat of U.S. intervention. Nor should it imply support for every petty dictatorship in the world that pays lip service to anticommunism.
America must remain forthright in a universal opposition to tyranny.
There is nothing here to confuse with George W. Bush. Adesnik seems to buy into Bush’s rhetoric, which seemed to separate him from cold, calculating realists who are happy to look the other way when tyrannical allies rampage, as Paul was arguing Kissinger and Nixon did with China. But Bush was never any different, openly preferring traditional allied dictators to any sort of democracy promotion (which, we don’t need reminding, was never a real goal in Iraq).
On a slightly different note: When I see neo-conservatives actually believing in the propagandistic and inflated rhetoric that cloaks imperialist foreign policies, I’m reminded of this passage in Jack Snyder’s book Myths of Empire, which argues in part that the state risks over-exerting itself in its imperialism if the statesmen start to actually believe their own propaganda myths:
The paradox would disappear if the state and ruling class came to believe the imperialist propaganda they used to mobilize nationalistic support and justify extracting resources from society. Thus a politically strong group could become the agent of extreme over-expansion if cynical, mobilizing elites inadvertently socialized successor elite generations to believe the imperial myths, failing to explain their instrumental origins. It could also happen as a result of subconscious psychological processes which convince people that what is good for them is good for the country. In either case, the line between fact and fiction could become blurred in the elites own mind…
Indeed, the blurring of sincere belief and tactical argument has been common, and it would not be surprising if you leads purveying such arguments were unable to maintain the distinction between valid strategic concepts and opportunistic strategic rhetoric. “If we made our points clearer than the truth,” said Dean Acheson of Cold War containment rhetoric, “we did not differ from most other educators and could hardly do otherwise…The purpose of NSC 68 was to so bludgeon the mass mind of ‘top government’ that not only could the President make a decision but that the decision could be carried out.” Likewise, John Foster Dulles wrote in a 1942 pamphlet that all empires had been “imbued with and radiated great faiths” like “Manifest Destiny” and the “White Man’s Burden,” adding that we too “need a faith…that will make us strong, a faith so profound that we, too, will feel that we have a mission to spread it through the world.”