- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION

George McGovern promised to “crawl on my knees” to Hanoi to quit the war in Vietnam. That didn’t win many friends among the grunts who fought the war designed by all those Harvard men, and Mr. McGoo’s campaign crashed and burned to the applause of nearly everyone in that distant year of 1972.

No one has accused Ron Paul of being a crawler, but he sometimes channels Mr. McGoo with his angry rhetoric against the wars in the Middle East. If he were president, he said last summer, he would bring home the new generation of grunts from Afghanistan “as quickly as the ships could get there.” Ships would find it hard going in land-locked Afghanistan, but we take his point.

But Mr. Paul has been nothing if not consistent, and he has consistently pushed himself to the margins of the national debate with his prescription for retreat into the Twilight Zone, where the world’s bad guys would roam unmolested by American arms. You might reasonably think this would make him a pariah among the young professionals who bear those arms in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But you would think wrong. Mr. Paul boasted in an interview with PBS “News Hour” that he’s the favorite, by one measurement, of the men and women serving in the military in the region.

“It’s insane what we’re doing [in the Middle East],” he said. “And I’ll tell you one thing about this business with the military. We just had a quarterly [campaign finance] report, and they listed all the money that all the candidates got from the military. I got twice as much as all the other candidates put together on the Republican side, and even more than [President] Obama got, which tells me that those troops want to come home as well, because they know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Figures compiled by the Federal Election Commission, which identifies donations by the donors’ employers, confirm the particulars of his boast. During the second quarter of 2011, for one example, Ron Paul received $25,000 from members of the military services. Six other Republican candidates received almost $9,000 during this reporting period, and Barack Obama pulled in $16,000.

Ron Paul says the troops just want to come home, and he’s no doubt right. For soldiers, like everyone else, there’s no place like hearth and home, be it ever so humble. But the men and women in Afghanistan are professionals and volunteers, sworn to go where they’re told to go. Like everyone else they make private judgments about the why and wherefore.

David French, who soldiered with an armored cavalry squadron in Iraq, observes in National Review Online that the wars in the Middle East have taught many American soldiers to be cynical. (Others would call them skeptical.) They’ve learned that the region “is a savage place that views human life cheaply and will never, ever be worth fighting to change.”

They feel betrayed by “good-idea fairies,” idealists whose good but unrealistic intentions get good soldiers killed by misplaced idealism and Sesame Street multiculturalism. Soldiers are accustomed to blunt, to-the-point talk, and that’s how Ron Paul talks. Some of them send him a few bucks from their Saturday-night beer money.

Many of these men in “the boots on the ground” have listened to the moonshine dispensed by the men who sent them on fool’s errands in the Middle East, from George W. Bush and his theological assurance that “Islam is a religion of peace” to Barack Obama’s craven tours of the Islamic world, bowing and apologizing for being an American. Ron Paul’s rhetoric, if you don’t listen to much of it, can sound pretty good. The soldiers don’t hear soft words, but hear someone “telling it like it is.”

Men dispatched to fight the fights disdained by “good-idea fairies” have small tolerance for the fairy dust the politically correct sprinkle on reality. When the Pentagon announced this week that a new aircraft carrier strike group had arrived in the Arabian Sea, where Iran has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to disrupt oil shipments, and that another carrier was on the way, a spokesman insisted that the maneuvering of the carriers was mere coincidence.

“I don’t want to leave anybody with the impression that we’re somehow [speeding] two carriers over there because we’re concerned about what happened,” the Pentagon spokesman said. Well, of course not.

And all that fairy dust was enough to choke everybody but Ron Paul.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.