In reply to Jim's final question regarding Ron Paul's propensity to infuriate proponents of more muscular foreign policy -- call me crazy, but I think we can all agree that he'd fare far better if he just stuck to his "spending" narrative. I don't think I'm stepping out on too slender a limb here… If I were trying to shift America's collective understanding of an Islamist militant and political group in South Asia that offered safe haven to an epochal visionary of global terror, I probably wouldn't wait until a conservative barnstorm within shouting distance of the Citadel. Something for the Paul camp to consider.
Nay, if I'm Ron Paul, I'm going to avoid discussion of the Taliban altogether (a group largely misunderstood by many Americans and Rep. Paul, himself) and stick to the more delicate insinuation that we often struggle under the weight of our own power. While terrorism remains a very real threat and foreign actors mean us harm, throwing endless money at a conventional military build-up designed to fight two land wars -- presumably on distant continents -- doesn't seem an appropriate response when the U.S. is flat broke.
Perhaps I'm suffering from debate fatigue. From my perspective the candidates' discussion to date has largely ignored the negative shortfalls of a national security strategy that allocates $700 billion a year to protect a country that's already defended by the two largest oceans on the planet. Of course, very little of this money actually goes to the defense of American citizens; rather, it is geared toward defending foreign nationals and toward the uncertain proposition that global stability depends on U.S. military deployment. But I digress…
No, if I'm Ron Paul, I'd re-emphasize the waste associated with America's enduring responsibility to foreign states that are more than capable of handling regional security threats on their own -- but choose to free-ride on the American taxpayer's dime. While this tact won't suit staunch advocates of our current foreign policy who insist that the liberal institutional order is imperiled absent a ubiquitous projection of American power, I'd argue this is the only way to actually beat Obama on foreign policy. Give me a second to explain…
When it comes to national security, GOP candidates are fighting an uphill battle. Absent a Cold War and after eight disastrous years in Iraq, the Republicans have surrendered (or at least been forced to share) the political heirloom of "…strong on national security." Rather, an upstart, president from the wrong side of the aisle ended an unpopular war, ramped up efforts in Afghanistan (where they should have been expended from the get-go) and killed "Public Enemy Number One." Say what you will about the "community organizer" from Illinois, but he's taken scalps during his time in office. Like it or not, most Americans who don't list "Conservative Pundit" on their tax return are war weary, and generally satisfied with the defense posture of an administration that's witnessed the death of bin Laden, the downfall of Gaddafi, and the demise of Kim Jong-il.
I'm going to get some nasty comments for this but -- in fairness -- there isn't much difference between GOP rhetoric on foreign policy and President Obama's national security strategy. Barring threadbare clap-track about moving embassies to Jerusalem, bombing sorties that would drive the price of gas to $300/barrel, and asinine contentions that Turkey is helmed by Islamic terrorists, the narrative is more or less the same: the global, liberal institutional order is imperiled absent a ubiquitous projection of American power.
For better or worse, Paul -- and Paul alone -- enjoys the opportunity to say something different. Unfortunately, he has a nasty habit of pushing things way past the line of conventional thinking, and into a realm of devil's advocacy previously unimaginable in mainstream conservative debate. Recognizing that he's already talked himself out of the nomination, I'll maintain that it's not "crazy" to link an unsustainable national debt with the fact that we continue to spend defense dollars at a rate comparable to, or exceeding, the first half of the 1940s. Something to consider come November, if you want to beat Obama on our terms.
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