Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Election 2012
Ron Paul Is Not Our Savior
Ellen Finnigan makes a case for Rep. Ron Paul as a candidate who should win approval from Catholics on the basis of his anti-war views. Congressman Paul’s appeal in this respect is understandable, given the current exhaustion with the war in Afghanistan, and the depressing possibility that Iraq may descend once again into sectarian violence after all our efforts there.

But Ron Paul is not the antidote.
I won’t attempt to give a comprehensive defense of the War on Terror, as I think there are good reasons to oppose the way it’s been waged in part or in whole, nor will I wade into the debate over whether preemptive attack is compatible with just war theory—though this is not as clear cut as Ron Paul and Finnigan suggest—but I will strongly object to the idea that a vote for Ron Paul is a vote for “Peace on Earth,” or that it is even a morally and rationally informed choice.

To say that we should strive to avoid war, that it is a course to take only when all other reasonable options have been exhausted—that it always constitutes “a defeat for humanity” as Pope John Paul II put it—is to say what we all know. The very label “anti-war” in our country is childish in its suggestion that there is a broad “pro-war” constituency that relishes the idea of soldiers and civilians being killed. It’s like saying you are “anti-poverty.” So are most people. The question is how best to reduce poverty, just as the question is how best to achieve peace and security. Sometimes the best way to reach those ends is through war and preparedness for war—hence the very idea that war can ever be “just.”

Christians are obliged to use prudence in moral decision-making about these issues—a virtue that cannot be exercised without a firm grasp of reality, which is precisely what Ron Paul lacks. A case in point—the case in point—is the complacence with which he regards the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. It’s nothing to worry about according to Paul: “They don’t threaten our national security.” This is a regime that seized the U.S embassy in 1979 and held Americans hostage for over a year, that is an international sponsor of terrorism responsible for hundreds of American deaths, that was recently caught plotting to bomb a restaurant in Washington D.C. in order to assassinate the Saudi ambassador, and whose president has explicitly announced his desire to wipe an entire country off the map. But apparently their acquiring weapons of mass destruction shouldn’t concern us in the least.

If Paul believes that the costs and risks of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons outweigh the costs and risks of the current regime going nuclear, then he should make that argument. He chooses instead to pretend that there is no danger, even suggesting that perhaps they aren’t really trying to get nukes at all—a deluded view, especially in light of the most recent International Atomic Energy Agency report.

Ah, but even if the mullahs got nuclear weapons, we could talk them out of ever using them, the same way Kennedy did with Khrushchev in the Cuban missile crisis! This comparison is totally inapt, and is a good example of another way in which Congressman Paul’s ideas are divorced from reality: He has a tendency to make facile analogies that obscure real differences and important truths—as do his supporters. The glib comparison that Paul often makes between abortion and military action is one such case. He speaks as if there were no appreciable moral differences between the taking of innocent life in the womb and the deployment of an all-volunteer army to fight a war. Likewise, Finnigan’s suggestion that Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.’s model of non-violent civil disobedience is applicable to the realm of international politics ignores the very great difference between an individual risking personal injury to protest injustice within a democratic nation of laws, and a nation state risking the lives of its citizens by refusing to use violence as a means of legitimate defense against aggressors nations. What would a nation practicing non-violent resistance even look like? Diplomacy? Diplomacy is important, and should be engaged in intelligently, but it simply doesn’t always succeed. Exhibit A: Hitler.

In Ron Paul’s view, peace is achieved by withdrawing from the NATO alliance, abolishing the CIA, cutting all foreign aid, hunkering down within our borders, and just hoping the rest of the world will take care of itself and leave us alone. “Mutually assured respect” instead of “mutually assured destruction” sounds nice. The problem is, respect isn’t mutually assured. There is no guarantee that our extending a hand will result in the unclenching of a fist, as President Obama wished for in his inaugural address four years ago.

Of course, Congressman Paul thinks that all those fists are clenched for a good reason, namely “American Empire.” (America is not an empire in any meaningful sense of the word: We have no colonies; we exact no tribute.) In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attack, he suggested that we had essentially brought it on ourselves by defending the territorial integrity of Kuwait in the first Gulf War and maintaining a strategic military presence in the Middle East. Last month he insisted that “there was glee in the [Bush] administration” immediately following 9/11 because it would give the president a longed for pretext for invading Iraq. Whatever your views of the Iraq War, it’s deranged and deeply uncharitable to think that President Bush was filled with joy when his country was attacked and his fellow citizens brutally murdered.

Paul’s ideological commitment to isolationism at all costs is so great that, according to a former aide, “he strenuously does not believe the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler in WWII. He expressed to me countless times, that ‘saving the Jews,’ was absolutely none of our business.” The Paul campaign dismissed this aide as “a disgruntled former staffer,” but declined to deny that the statement accurately represented his position.

If you don’t happen to believe that all conflict, aggression, violent ideology, and terrorism in the world is ultimately caused by the past and current foreign policy of the United States, then Congressman Paul’s vision of world peace via minding our own business offers little comfort. It would be nice if it were true, but wishing won’t make it so. As Christians with an understanding of original sin, we should recognize the fatuity of the idea that nation states can all just get along with each other any more than individual men and women can. As Pope Paul VI put it in his encyclical Gaudium et Spes, “Insofar as men are sinful, the threat of war hangs over them, and hang over them it will until the return of Christ.”

Christ is our Savior. Ron Paul most definitely isn’t.

Katherine Connell is associate editor of Altcatholicah.

Photo Courtesy Gage Skidmore.

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