Friday, September 16, 2011

Republican Peace Piper

Rep. Ron Paul
Ron Paul is the kind of presidential candidate the American people haven’t seen in a long time—one who’s dead serious about ending overseas military adventures. That’s a stance that is increasingly popular with disgruntled voters across the political spectrum, which could well spell trouble for President Obama. Activists on the left and the right are increasingly fed up with Obama’s military surge in Afghanistan and foot-dragging in getting the remaining troops home from Iraq.

At the Republican presidential candidates’ debate sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express in Tampa, Florida the other night, Paul drew a thunder roll of applause when he said: “We spend $1.5 trillion overseas in wars we don’t need to be in and we need to cut there. And then put this money back into our economy here.”

This kind of response is rattling the foreign policy establishment. With polls now showing that a majority of Republicans as well as Democrats and Independents want a drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan, one startled foreign policy analyst noted, “in the mid-August Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Ames, Iowa, one of the loudest applause lines was for isolationist Rep. Ron Paul’s demand to ‘bring our troops home.’”

Paul, the controversial, libertarian congressman from Texas, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam war, doesn’t just toss out applause lines. Like Eisenhower, who ended the war in Korea and spent his presidency reining in a rambunctious stable of warhorses, Paul is determined to spell out the fiscal and social consequences of allowing the military-industrial complex to rule the roost.

“We’re under great threat,” Paul continued during the Tampa debate, “because we occupy so many countries. We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.”

He continued to press his point even when many in the audience began booing his contention that US military actions overseas stirred up a hornet’s nest of terrorist reactions. “We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?” Paul said.

It’s hardly news that Ron Paul has been saying these kinds of things for years. “Opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more generally to U.S. military activity abroad, has been a cornerstone of Paul’s candidacy and sets him apart from the rest of the Republican field,” ABC News noted in a report on its website.

What’s changed is the sharp rise in public unease over the decade-long war the US launched in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by 19 young men from the Middle East on behalf of grievances that are still being hotly disputed.

“Two in three Americans, 65 percent, now want to reduce or withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, up dramatically from 39 percent in 2009, according to the new German Marshall Fund 2011 Transatlantic Trends survey,” noted a blog piece by Bruce Stokes that CNN reposted from YaleGlobal Online.

“A solid majority, 58 percent of Republicans, now want to see U.S. forces in Afghanistan reduced or withdrawn. Such sentiment is up a dramatic 36 percentage points since 2009, according to the GMF survey,” Stokes continued. “Disengagement is even more strongly supported by Democrats (70 percent) and Independents (66 percent), but their swing to that position is less pronounced. Backing for reduction or withdrawal is up 23 points among Independents and 24 points among Democrats since 2009.”

Ron Paul’s stance on military spending, or more likely the tanking poll numbers on public support for the Afghan war, stirred a Greek chorus of war weariness from two other Republican presidential candidates, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Here’s an amen moment in the Republican candidates’ otherwise contentious debate that the liberal Nation magazine ran approvingly on its website: 

Huntsman: We are ten years into this war.… America has given its all in Afghanistan. We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it’s to them that we offer our heartfelt salute and a deep sense of gratitude. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan. We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation-building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, which it is in this country.

Perry: Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it’s time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it’s also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And I think the entire conversation about, how do we deliver our aid to those countries, and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don’t think so at this particular point in time. I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country’s military is going to be taking care of their people, bring our young men and women home.

Chances are that Obama, who successfully ran in 2008 on a platform of reforming the federal government, will face a Republican challenger next year pressing for real change in the war arena.

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