Not that it’s in any way likely, but let’s ask: What happens under President Paul?
Specifically, would there be any reduction in the number of innocent bodies crushed or blown to bits under U.S. bombs and missiles, or hacked to death by the minions of regimes we support?
Paul supports a number of positions that put him beyond the pale of progressive or even civilized thought. But his appeal is real, and cuts across ideological boundaries, because more and more Americans really do see the pointlessness or malign effects of having our military spread across the globe, at war or threatening it, in too many countries to count. Paul, as this excellent “Imagine” ad promises, will do something about that.
There is a serious effort afoot to shame or scold liberals/progressives who have good things to say about Paul. Katha Pollitt, especially, goes to town on any progressive who might consider straying. “Man-crush”–the ultimate insult. That is so grad-school in the eighties (and I know from experience!)
For what it’s worth, in Pollitt’s exasperated contempt for Paul I see echoes of her review of Nicholson Baker’s Human Smoke, a genuinely radical and important book that painted sympathetic portraits of pacifists and nonviolent activists in the years leading up to World War Two. Her main response, stated up front: “fury at pacifists.”
Because of course, World War Two produced 60 million corpses, a permanently militarized and aggressive United States, and the specter of nuclear annihilation for the planet forever. Only an asshole (or a man) would try to revisit the run-up to such a war and try to imagine alternative scenarios, right?
Is it possible that after everything we’ve learned about America’s low, dishonest wars since the Good War ®, liberals cling to the idea that U.S. bombs and boots on the ground in foreign lands are a force for good? That establishment liberals are not dismissing Paul in spite of his non-interventionism, but because of it?
It’s a partisan thing, partly. Democrats are as good as, or better than, the other guys at starting wars. A combination of the Wilsonian streak and, in recent years, a byproduct of domestic political battles, whereby the Democrats always feel compelled to prove they’re not “soft” on communism, or terror (only the Muslim kind, of course).
Supporters of the the current administration should be forced to confront just how Paul’s positions on foreign policy and war make conventional progressivism/centrism/liberalism (the three conflated in a bewildering way in the current president) look compromised, corrupt, and downright evil.
So, finally, to the point of all this: a consideration of Freddie De Boer’s It’s not about Ron Paul: It’s about you, which uses the case of historic and ongoing U.S. support for Indonesian repression as a representative instance of the liberal establishment’s complicity in barbarism.
When confronting establishment progressives with the reality of our conduct and how much it has cost some of the poorest and most defenseless people on earth, the conversation never stays about our victims; it inevitably changes to those attempting to talk about them, a knee-jerk defense that progressives have made an art form. That’s why Ron Paul is so perfect, for establishment liberals. He is an open invitation to change the subject. The United States keeps killing innocent people, keeps propping up horrific regimes, keeps violating international law, keeps trampling on the lives of those who lack the power to defend themselves– but Ron Paul is a racist, and believes in the gold standard, and opposes abortion, and in general supports some of the most odious domestic policies imaginable. What I insist, and what people like Glenn Greenwald keep insisting, is that Ron Paul’s endless failings shouldn’t and can’t exist as an excuse to look away from the dead bodies that we keep on piling up. What I have wanted is to grab a hold of mainstream progressivism and force it to look the dead in the face. But the effort to avoid exactly that is mighty, and what we have on our hands is an epidemic of not seeing.
Even though De Boer doesn’t allow comments, he does share Robert Farley’s response in an update, which I think takes a useful (theoretical) look at what would be different under President Paul.
And so this brings us to assumption the second, which is that a President Paul would somehow have done something to make all those Indonesia people not dead. I suppose it’s possible that a President Paul would have refrained from supporting the Suharto coup, although it’s also certainly possible that Paul’s free market commitments would have made anti-communist activity attractive; I don’t know enough about Paul’s early career attitudes regarding the USSR, the Sandinistas, etc. I guarantee you, however, that President Paul would have lifted not a finger to assist all the Indonesians killed in the wake of the coup, or in the various statebuilding projects later engaged in by the Suharto and post-Suharto governments. President Paul might not have engaged in a direct military relationship with Indonesia, but he would not have prevented American private military firms from contracting with the Indonesians in training and advisory roles; he would not have prevented the Indonesian military from purchasing all the military equipment that it could afford from US defense corporations; he would not have prevented US corporations with interests in Indonesia from calling (publicly or privately) for violent defense of their extractive and labor interests; and he would not have supported any robust international action to condemn or isolate the Indonesian government.
I would have to point out that all the private military activity is a direct byproduct of America’s armies and navies and air forces having spent the past half century spread out across the planet. How many of these private military contractors are ex-U.S. military? Most? Nearly all?
And yet even if Paul does make radical reductions to America’s military, Farley is right. There will still be plenty of Yanks and plenty of U.S.-made munitions, ships and aircraft. And I don’t imagine Paul would be aggressive in stopping American BUSINESSMEN from doing American BUSINESS, would he? As long as they’re not supported by the tyranny of taxation, that is.
Not that any of this has a snowball’s chance in hell of happening. Paul’s role has been at least partly constructive in this campaign because he has asked hugely important questions and, yes, imagined an alternative. But unless he mounts a third-party run, he’ll be out of the race soon, and the entire debate on “defense” will be reduced again to the moronic question of which party Keeps Us Safe ®. America will continue to be sucked dry by its military no matter who gets elected, and we’ll return to the alternate universe where slight reductions in the rate of the Pentagon’s budget growth are looked upon as brave (or treasonous) major cuts.