There is no area in which Republicans have further strayed from our traditions than in foreign affairs.
Generations of conservatives followed the great advice of our Founding Fathers and pursued a restrained foreign policy that rebuffed entangling alliances and advised America, in the words of John Quincy Adams, not to “go abroad looking for dragons to slay.”
Sen. Robert Taft, the stalwart of the Old Right, urged America to stay out of NATO. Dwight Eisenhower was elected on a platform promising to get us out of the conflict in Korea. Richard Nixon promised to end the war in Vietnam.
Republicans were highly critical of Bill Clinton for his adventurism in Somalia and Kosovo. As recently as 2000, George W. Bush campaigned on a “humbler” foreign policy and decried nation-building.
But our foreign policy today looks starkly different.
Neoconservatives who have come to power in both the Democratic and Republican parties argue that the U.S. must ether confront every evil in every corner of the globe or risk danger at home. We need to “fight them over there” they say, so we don’t have to “fight them over here.” This argument presents a false choice. We do not have to pick between interventionism and vulnerability. The complexity of our world is exactly why the lessons of our past should ring true and demand a return to a traditional, pro-American foreign policy: one of nonintervention.
Moving forward, I suggest that we as Americans adhere to these five principles:
1. We do not abdicate American sovereignty to global institutions. The purpose of the United States is to protect the liberty of the American people. We should never allow the WTO, NAFTA, the U.N. or the Law of the Sea Treaty to transfer power from America to an international body.
2. We provide a strong national defense, but we do not police the world. America should be armed with defensive weapons capable of repelling any attack. We should spend all appropriate money to make sure that no country in world can credibly threaten us.
Unfortunately, our foreign policy is undermining our security. We have more than 700 military installations in 135 countries around the globe. We have 50,000 troops in Germany, 30,000 in Japan, and 25,000 in South Korea. Worse, we have our brave men and women bogged down occupying Iraq and Afghanistan in the midst of ethnic strife and civil war.
We spend more than $1 trillion per year on our foreign policy, and our military is stretched thin. We can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. We must bring our troops home from around the world, cut overseas spending and strengthen our national defense.
3. We obey the Constitution and follow the rule of law. The Constitution clearly states that only Congress can declare war. Congress abandoned that responsibility during the buildup to the Iraq war and must never make that mistake again. When wars are undeclared, they drag on with no clear plan or exit strategy. If we must fight, we should do so with overwhelming force, win as quickly as possible and promptly withdraw.
4. We do not engage in nation-building. Conservatives know government is a poor tool to solve problems. It then makes no sense that we would think that our government could build civil societies and solve the tremendously complex problems of a developing country. Nation-building does not work. It places a tremendous burden on our military and takes directly from the pockets of the American taxpayer. The best thing we as Americans can do is offer friendship while setting a good example of what a free and prosperous society looks like. Ronald Reagan wanted America to be a “shining city on the hill.” We should make that our goal.
5. We stay out of the internal affairs of other nations. America should conduct trade, travel and diplomacy with all willing nations. Intervention, however, always has unintended consequences and almost always gets us in trouble. For example, in 1953, our CIA helped overthrow Mohammad Mosaddeq, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran and installed the Shah of Iran, a ruthless dictator. The blowback from our actions was in large part responsible for the extremist Iranian Revolution of 1979, the taking of our hostages and the many problems we have had with Iran ever since. So much of our intervention makes no sense. We backed Saddam Hussein for much of the 1980s, and then twice went to war against him. In the 1990s, we bribed North Korea not to pursue atomic weapons with nuclear technology, and Kim Jong-il used that assistance to build several nuclear bombs.
Intervention simply does not serve our long-term interests.
The world is a dangerous place and we should be concerned, but intervention and militarism cannot solve our problems. The answers to our foreign policy problems lie in defending our soil, scaling back our global military footprint and trading with all willing partners. We have strayed far from this philosophy, but we can get back on track by looking to our Constitution, our traditions and the example of our Founding Fathers.
Ron Paul, a Pittsburgh-born obstetrician and Republican House member from Texas, campaigned for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination on a limited-government platform.