Jordan Michael Smith praises the positive influence Ron Paul has had on foreign policy debates:
Rather, Paul’s importance lies in his providing an opening to other Republicans (and, perhaps, Democrats) to moderate their international aggression. Paul is the antidote to this persistent and pernicious notion that the key to electoral success in Republican circles is to be unfailingly supportive of foreign-policy interventions and military adventures. By finishing second in the New Hampshire primary last night despite the overwhelming opposition to the GOP establishment, Paul has shown that his views are just plain popular with voters. And after he spoke, rival Jon Huntsman came on to give a speech advocating an immediate end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, a position that until recently belonged almost exclusively to the antiwar left [bold mine-DL]. Whatever his many flaws, Paul has legitimized skepticism of the widespread belief that it is always and forever America’s job to police the globe.
I agree that Paul’s campaign has been a good influence by challenging the prevailing pro-war consensus, and he has presented an alternative to Republican electorates that normally never hear conservative and libertarian arguments against aggressive foreign policy. If Paul were not in the race, there would be no consistent advocate for restraint and non-aggression in U.S. foreign policy. I am less persuaded by something Smith writes later:
Paul will not win, but he may open up space for someone more moderate to rise in GOP circles. Compared to Paul, Huntsman’s antiwar position does not seem so radical. As Philip Klein of the conservative Washington Examiner recently noted, “Though Paul offers a broad non-interventionist attack on the foreign policy consensus, Huntsman is making a more nuanced argument focusing on specific complaints, such as America’s presence in Afghanistan, while still asserting that America, in general, should have a forceful foreign policy.”
I’m not sure how “nuanced” it really is to favor using “all elements of national power” to counter a threat from Iran that does not yet exist while arguing that the U.S. needs to be “nation-building at home.” Some might call that incoherent. Huntsman does differ with the rest of the field in his support for withdrawal from Afghanistan, and last night he called for bringing soldiers home from there. Coupled with his bellicose rhetoric about Iran, one gets the impression from this that he wants to wind down one war simply so that he can start another. Huntsman’s position on Iraq has always been much harder to pin down, but on the immediate issue of whether the U.S. should have retained a military presence in Iraq Huntsman was predictably in favor of it:
“President Obama’s decision, however, to not leave a small, focused presence in Iraq is a mistake and the product of his administration’s failures,” Huntsman said in a statement after Obama’s announcement of the Iraq withdrawal. Huntsman omits that it was Iraq’s decision to keep Americans from staying that led to Obama’s withdrawal order, but he says the administration flubbed the diplomacy that should have secured a new deal to keep troops there.
There is reason to think that Paul’s campaign has opened up space for Republican skeptics and realists in the future, but so far we aren’t seeing the latter take advantage of it. Maybe that will change in the coming years, and we can certainly hope that it will. For the moment, however, the only candidate reliably advocating restraint in foreign policy is Ron Paul, and the best way to increase the opening that skeptics and realists will have in future contests is for Paul to have a strong showing in the remaining caucuses and primaries.
P.S. Don’t miss Smith’s review of George F. Kennan in the current issue of TAC.