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Published on August 15th, 2011 | by Jasmin Ramsey

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Paul, Santorum and the Sixth War (on Iran)

Republished with the permission of Informed Comment

By Juan Cole

One of the places foreign policy emerged in the GOP Iowa debate last night was an exchange between Ron Paul and Rick Santorum on Iran, as right wing analyst Thomas R. Eddlem has explained in detail.

Chris Wallace of Fox News asked libertarian Rep. Ron Paul why he was soft on Iran and opposed economic sanctions on Tehran. Paul replied that Iran is small potatoes as a threat, compared to what we went through with the Soviet Union, and that anyway it would be perfectly natural for Iran to want a nuclear deterrent, given that it is surrounded by nuclear-armed powers, including Russia, Pakistan, Israel, etc.:

“Just think of what we went through in the Cold War when I was in the Air Force, after I was drafted into the Air Force, all through the Sixties. We were standing up against the Soviets. They had like 30,000 nuclear weapons with intercontinental missiles. Just think of the agitation and the worry about a country that might get a nuclear weapon some day.”

… That makes it much worse. Why would that be so strange if the Soviets and the Chinese had nuclear weapons, we tolerated the Soviets. We didn’t attack them. And they were a much greater danger. They were the greatest danger to us in our whole history. But you don’t go to war with them.”

…. Just think of how many nuclear weapons surround Iran. The Chinese are there. The Indians are there. The Pakistanis are there. The Israelis are there. The United States is there. All these countries … why wouldn’t it be natural if they might want a weapon? Internationally, they might be given more respect. Why should we write people off? In the Fifties, we at least talked to them. At least our leaders and Reagan talked to the Soviets. What’s so terribly bad about this? And countries you put sanctions on you are more likely to fight them. I say a policy of peace is free trade, stay out of their internal business, don’t get involved in these wars and just bring our troops home.”

Ron Paul was representing the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party. It is not exactly isolationist (note the desire for international trade), but opposes the military-industrial complex. As Right anarchists, they want the least government possible, and see government as a distraction for businesses, who succumb to the temptation to use the government to distort the eufunctional free market. In essence, government is a scam whereby some companies are seduced by the possibility of manacling the invisible hand that ought to be magically rewarding enterprise and innovation. A significant stream within libertarianism theorizes war as the ultimate in this racket, whereby some companies use government to throw enormous sums to themselves by waging wars abroad and invoking patriotic themes. This analysis is remarkably similar to that of Left anarchists such as Noam Chomsky.

The difference is that for anarcho-syndicalists like Chomsky, the good guys of history are the workers and ordinary folk, whereas for Libertarians, it is entrepreneurs. Both theories depend on a naive reading of social interest. Right anarchists seem not to be able to perceive that without government, corporations would reduce us all to living in company towns on bad wages and would constantly be purveying to us bad banking, tainted food, dangerous drugs, etc. I mean, they behave that way when they can get away with it even when there is supposed government oversight, usually by capturing the government oversight agency that should be regulating them and then defanging it (e.g. BP and the Minerals Management Service). On the environment, private companies would never ever curb emissions without government intervention because of the problem of the commons. (Tellingly, Ron Paul calls global climate change a “hoax.”)

And, what makes the Libertarians think that if there were no governments or only weak governments, the corporations would not just wage the wars themselves? The East India Companies of Britain and the Netherlands behaved that way. India was not conquered by the British government, but by the East India Company. Likewise what is now Indonesia was a project of the Dutch East India Company. Libertarians have difficulty imagining warmongering corporations who pursue war all on their own without any government involvement. But governments have often been more timid than corporate men on the spot. In late 18th century Britain, the civil government was very nervous about the EIC conquests in India and worried about corporate corruption, which is one reason Warren Hastings ended up being tried.

Likewise, the anarcho-syndicalist tradition makes workers unions more saintly and disinterested than they typically actually are, though since they are looking out for the interests of the majority (workers), they typically have more equitable positions than the narrower business elites idolized by Libertarians.

Paul’s Libertarian-pro-peace approach to the Middle East (he not only wants an end to the US confrontation with Iran but also a complete US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan) evoked a sharp response from Neoconservative Rick Santorum:

“Iran is not Iceland, Ron. Iran is a country that has been at war with us since 1979. Iran is a country that has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghans have. The Iranians are the existential threat to the state of Israel.”

Santorum has long had a fixation on Iran, and his statement here is typical of the lies he tells about that country. He knows very well that the United States is not at war with Iran, that the conflict between the two countries has been nothing like the Afghanistan or Iraq Wars. In the past, Santorum has said that the US is at war with a radical Islam, at the center of which Is Iran. Santorum does not know that Iran is a Shiite power, whereas most Muslim radicals like the Taliban are, let us say, committed Sunnis and have bad relations with Iran. His last statement, that Iran is an “existential threat” to Israel, telegraphs his motivation in this war propaganda, which is to attract campaign contributions from the Israel lobbies.

When Paul replied,

” The senator is wrong on his history. We’ve been at war in Iran for a lot longer than ’79. We started it in 1953 when we sent in a coup, installed the Shah, and the reaction — the blowback — came in 1979. It’s been going on and on because we just don’t mind our own business. That’s our problem.”

Santorum responded by defending the CIA coup against the elected government of Iran in 1953, and asserted that the oppressive dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was an era of liberty for the Iranian people!

Ron Paul concluded:

“You’ve heard the war propaganda that is liable to lead us into the sixth war and I worry about that position. Iran is a threat because they have some militants there, but believe me, they’re all around the world and they’re not a whole lot different than others. Iran does not have an air force that can come here. They can’t even make enough gasoline for themselves.”

Ron Paul’s “peace through trade” approach to geopolitics and skepticism of overbearing imperialism does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming the foreign policy of the United States. He represents small-town entrepreneurs who see the wars and their expense as a burden and a block to trade opportunities. They are a significant segment of the Republican Party, but I’d put them at 15% at most.

The Republican Party is a coalition of seven or eight distinct groups in American society. These include Evangelicals, the majority of whom are typically imperialist in their foreign policy emphases, Wall Street (which includes both hawkish concerns like Boeing and dovish groups like the bankers), Midwestern farmers, suburban and exurban professionals, and the 15% or so of Jewish Americans on the political Right (who, however, account for nearly 200 of our 400 billionaires and whose prominent position in retail business gives them both a reason to be deeply involved in politics and the wherewithal to contribute to campaigns). The preponderance of the party will be with the Santorums and the Bachmanns on a militaristic foreign policy.

Journalism often reports the views of politicians and stops there, and concentrates on personal clashes and personalities. But social historians see politicians as representatives of large social groups, and politics as the victory of some interests over others. Neither Paul nor Santorum will likely ever be president, but the groups they appeal to will have to be won over by the ultimately successful candidate. Unfortunately, the Republican Party’s various constituents add up to a party of Islamophobia and warmongering (munitions corporations, Big Oil and Gas, right wing Evangelicals, Right wing Zionists, white nationalists). The anarcho-syndicalist theory that capitalism naturally produces wars and imperialism is too broad, but certainly some groups within capitalist society will plump for those opportunities. Paul is likely right about the sixth war looming.

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Jasmin Ramsey is an Iranian-born journalist based in Washington, DC.



3 Responses to Paul, Santorum and the Sixth War (on Iran)

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  1. avatar scott says:

    I’m proud to say that I voted Libertarian in the last two presidential elections–even voted in the Republican primary to vote for Ron Paul. It’s Texas. There was no vote for pres. under the elec. college. So, I felt voting libertarian would speak louder than voting for the duopoly.

    I don’t agree with RP on everything, I don’t like an unaccountable Fed, but our economy has been far more stable in the 70 yrs than it was under the Gold Standard. Lack of Gov’t regulation has given us the commodities speculation that has drained our economy these last 5 years (in 2000 $9b. went into commodities speculation, in 2007 it was $300b.)

    But, I like his attitude regarding prohibition, and gov’t opting not to police every damned thing. I don’t want to kill entitlements, but at least the libertarians are more earnest than the duopoly. I wish we’d had an election and debates between Nader and Paul, it would be a vast improvement over the Douchebag/Turd Sandwich we get to choose from instead.

  2. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    Cole gets some things wrong here. The vast majority of pre-WWII isolationists were not against trading with the rest of the world. Nor, for that matter, were most of the post-1945 “Fortress America” types. Ron Paul is not a “Right Anarchist,” but rather a minarchist, one who favors the least possible government. True Right anarchists (and I know some) consider Paul a statist, albeit one who is more palatable to them than the typical Republican.

    It’s quite true that Paul will not be the Republican nominee. But the idea that his foreign policy views represent merely the “small shopkeeper” wing of the GOP is an oversimplification that harkens back to the Republicanism of the 1930s Midwest. Paul’s ideas are more more widely shared than Cole thinks. Cole I’m sure doesn’t really know any Republican voters, but gets his ideas on this subject from the media and academe. In any case, Paul’s views will gain greater acceptance across the politicl spectrum as economic and financial woes render impractical the Santorum view of the world.

    It’s striking to me that although Paul finished a close second in the Iowa straw poll, he received almost no media coverage afterwards. Eugene McCarthy’s second place finish in the New Hampshire primary in 1968 got big press, though the media ignored the fact that a majority of his votes were cast by people who felt LBJ was too weak (yes, weak; dovish) on Vietnam. Not only was there virtually no discussion of Paul after the straw vote, but, to the extent there was, his foreign policy views were either ignored completely or dismissed as “isolationist.” Once again the media betrays its bias toward a particular form of internationalism. There’s a mindset among the movers and shakers in our society — including the media — that won’t change until the weight of empire brings our economy down.

  3. avatar scott says:

    jon, I too think that RPaul’s ideas would diminish the luster of the USG/military. And, the media hate this. Like the moon, the media rely on their proximity to Gov’t officials for their illumination. Dim the source, you dim the media whore’s spotlight. Of course, the analogy breaks down in that the media needs to be put in the spotlight, we will then see the pancake make-up, the scabby knees, ill-fitting wig, needle-marked arms and stained robes of an old worn-out whore.

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