- To help readers better understand the nuances of foreign policy, CFR staff writers and Consulting Editor Bernard Gwertzman conduct in-depth interviews with a wide range of international experts, as well as newsmakers.
Former Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) staged a protest rally on the sidelines of the Republican convention on September 2 to try to reclaim what he says are the true traditional virtues of the GOP, including limited government and less involvement in military campaigns abroad. He criticized some of the main national security policies of the party’s presumptive nominee, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), including his position on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and his staunch support of the Georgian government following the Russian invasion of Georgia in August. "This whole incident points out the fallacy of the current foreign policy," Paul said. "We weren’t even capable of doing anything. It shows how bankrupt we are. We didn’t have the troops, nor the energy, to go in there." But Paul does support expanded offshore drilling, a chief Republican platform plank, and a greater role for the private sector in developing domestic energy resources.
Here we are in Minnesota, site of the Republican National Convention, but at a rally that is not being held in honor of John McCain. What is the purpose of this rally?
The main purpose of the rally is to continue the momentum that was building during the presidential primary race, because a lot of young people joined us, they got enthusiastic. They really liked the message of limited government, personal liberties, and a different foreign policy. They didn’t want to quit. But the campaign had to come to an end, because John McCain did get the votes to be nominated. So in order to not discourage too many people and think that everything has ended, we decided to have a Rally for the Republic, a celebration of what we achieved, and actually to build momentum to continue this effort and to build for the future so that we can influence the Republican Party. Because we think the Republican Party has strayed from its original values of limited government, and we emphasize that. We want balanced budgets and strictly limited government and less controls and less taxes, and therefore we’re going to continue in this effort.
Turning to foreign policy, the Republicans have released their 2008 platform (PDF). Have you seen the platform? What policy initiatives would you like to see added to the GOP agenda?
I haven’t seen it, but I can probably guess. They’re probably not calling for the immediate removal of the troops from Iraq. They probably haven’t said, "We absolutely promise not to bomb Iran unless they attack us." They probably haven’t promised to bring the troops home from Europe and Korea and Japan. They probably haven’t promised to remove our military and financial support to countries like Georgia that are over there just protecting oil lines. So that’s not going to be there and that’s what we’re talking about. Our foreign policy is much more in tune with what President Bush talked about in the year 2000, when he ran and was critical of [President Bill] Clinton, because he said that we shouldn’t be in nation building and we shouldn’t be policing the world. This is the kind of thing that we want to talk about, and that traditionally was the Republican position.
You mentioned Georgia. What would you have the United States do to respond to actions of the Russians and Georgians?
I’d be more worried about what we do to respond to the action of the Georgian government, because it’s the Georgian government under our guidance, our money, and our training of their troops that attacked these two provinces. They’re the ones who started the military attack on the two breakaway provinces.
This whole incident points out the fallacy of the current foreign policy. Because let’s say that this was crucial to our national defense, what was happening in Georgia. We weren’t even capable of doing anything. It shows how bankrupt we are. We didn’t have the troops, nor the energy, to go in there. We couldn’t have possibly gone in there militarily, even with all our weaponry and all our money that we borrow. We have our troops all over the world. We’re in 140 countries, seven hundred bases, and then if you have a crucial problem, because we have spread ourselves so thinly around the world, we really have weakened our defense—exactly what Osama bin Laden has planned for. He wanted to provoke us into doing what we’re doing, putting ourselves into Arab Muslim countries, which really is bringing us to our knees financially as well as diminishing our ability to defend ourselves if we ever needed to.
You’ve been one of the few Republican candidates who opposed both the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. You’ve also been critical of both Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and McCain on those fronts. How should the United States proceed?
If I had my say, we’d come home. We would announce it quickly and safely, just say, "We’re coming home. The Iraqis will determine what kind of government they want." And we would bring our troops home from Afghanistan. It’s foolhardy to be doing what brought the Soviets to their knees. Because you can’t win those wars over there. There’s no way. If you can’t win the war, then you have to win the hearts and minds of the people. And you can’t do that either.
You have a greater influence by leaving militarily if you want to influence them. In Vietnam, we spent all that money and all those lives with the French and the Americans telling the Vietnamese how to live and what to do. Just think, since we lost the war and walked out, now we have influence there. We trade with them, we talk with them, and they travel back and forth. So we achieved with peace what we couldn’t achieve in war. Those are my goals.
With $4 a gallon gasoline, McCain has advocated for increased drilling for oil domestically. Do you favor such a policy? How would you address this energy crisis?
Yes, I favor more drilling. Of course, he used to not be for more drilling. He is now. So I am for that, but I think the best model for drilling would be to look at how Texas oil was developed. It was all privately owned and done under private markets and property rights, and it did quite well. So the closer you can get to property rights and local control, the better we would be. We should get the government out of the way and not prohibit drilling and encourage the drilling. But we should also get out of the way of nuclear power. Nuclear power would be a good substitute. It’s clean and it’s safe, and can provide a lot of cheap electricity. Yet the government is in the way. I don’t like the government making these decisions, because they’re always making mistakes. So if ethanol is good—and you decide if its good only by the market—but you subsidize it, then you cause people to raise corn, and then you burn the corn up, and then the corn prices go up and meat prices go up, and you have all kind of consequences. That’s why I want the government out of the way.
When the Iraq war started in 2003, oil was twenty-seven dollars a barrel. Now it’s over one hundred dollars a barrel. Therefore, foreign policy is important. Our policy causes oil prices to go up. And inflation causes our prices to go up. At the same time, interference in the development of alternative energy also causes our prices to go up.
There was a lot of concern among the electorate that the administration handled Hurricane Katrina ineffectively, and that the United States needed to restructure its disaster response. Do you think that the seemingly more effective response to Hurricane Gustav shows that the Bush administration and Republican Party have progressed?
They didn’t have an actual response. They had a political response. I mean, we were fortunate that the hurricane wasn’t serious, but that was an act of nature. So everybody benefited and lucked out. Politicians running to Louisiana thinking they can change the pattern of weather—that’s daydreaming. And they’re just sort of politicizing an event that they really don’t have much control of. I don’t have much faith in central economic planning, whether it has to do with medical care, energy, or taking care of flood victims. Matter of fact, I think they just get in the way, and that people who live on the coastlines should be responsible for their own problems.
How would you approach globalization and trade differently from a McCain administration or the current Bush administration would?
I consider myself the strongest advocate of free trade. I don’t want any tariffs and I don’t want any barriers. I want to really trade. But I just don’t like the international government organizations, because that becomes managed trade for the benefit of some companies. So I’m not much into nor do I support WTO [the World Trade Organization] and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and all these agreements, because those are only tools for when you’re being undermined, you go there to get your tariffs put on, to try to get fair trade, so to speak. But that’s managed trade.