The latest line of attack on the Texas congressman, courtesy of his ex-staffer Eric Dondero, has it that Ron Paul would not have taken us into World War II to stop the Holocaust. “He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews,’ was absolutely none of our business,” Dondero claims.
Of course, that’s exactly how Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and the rest of America’s wartime leaders felt. Not only did the U.S. not enter World War II to save Europe’s Jews, but the Allies never tried to bomb the train tracks leading to the death camps. After the war, Operation Keelhaul forcibly repatriated Soviet-bloc displaced persons into Stalin’s hands, a move in many cases morally tantamount to sending Jewish refugees back to Hitler. That was the Good War. It was not a humanitarian intervention in any sense.
There would not have been a Holocaust in the first place had it not been for humanitarian war-making. Woodrow Wilson’s intervention in World War I — the war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy — led to the toppling of Germany’s Kaiser and the liquidation of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It’s hard to imagine the Kaiser appointing Hitler chancellor or an imperial Austria submitting to the Anschluss. Wilson’s well-meaning war cleared the way for the most virulent expressions of nationalism and socialism on the European continent. (Wilson didn’t use humanitarianism as his primary rationale for taking America into the conflict, but once involved the administration insisted upon regime change in Germany and stoked the nationalist flames that consumed Austria-Hungary.)
A doctrine of humanitarian intervention after World War II, meanwhile, would have led directly to World War III. How could good humanitarians have refrained from waging war on behalf of the tens of millions of people oppressed and murdered by the Soviet Union and Chinese communists? Yet a war to liberate Russia or China would have been far from certain of success, and America would have paid a steep price not only in her soldiers’ blood but in the health of republican institutions at home. Even a costly victory can be catastrophic, as the Italians or Louis XVI could tell us; defeat has a way of fomenting nationalist resentments and revolution — things that lead readily to persecutions.
As a rule, from a humanitarian perspective no less than a realist one, humanitarian warfare is a self-defeating proposition. That’s not to say exceptions cannot be made: no less a realist than George Kennan agreed after World War II — which he, like most Americans, had been against before Pearl Harbor — that saving Europe’s Jews would have been reason enough to intervene. Unfair though it might be, Western Europe is simply closer to Americans’ hearts than Russia, and Jews closer than Chinese.
Ron Paul may be consistent to a fault where non-interventionism is concerned. But even the most extravagant interventionists have little reason to complain: he is, after all, similarly consistent in his interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, and according to that document it is Congress, not the president, that decides when and for what reason this country goes to war.