On Foreign Policy, Ron Paul Is More Mainstream Than His Opponents

Peggy Noonan took note of the Texas congressman's aversion to war in her latest column. Will other establishment pundits follow?

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In Peggy Noonan's latest column, discussed here by my colleague James Fallows, the Wall Street Journal columnist responds to the most recent GOP foreign policy debate by remarking on its bellicosity. "By the end, some of what was said sounded so dramatic that Ron Paul seemed like the normal one," she wrote. "He very much doesn't want new wars or new military actions. This is not an unreasonable desire!"

It's good to see an establishment columnist coming around to Paul's foreign-policy thinking, even if it's hedged in the condescending frame of they're so crazy they make even Ron Paul sound reasonable. Perhaps she'll go even farther in a future column if presented with evidence that Paul doesn't just "seem" like a normal candidate on foreign affairs, he is a normal candidate.

(In contrast, his domestic views are abnormal when compared to the American public's.)

Remember when Paul belonged to the minority in Congress that opposed the Iraq War? Now, 62 percent of Americans say fighting the Iraq war was a mistake. You know the Republicans who criticized President Obama for presiding over the end of America's military presence in Iraq? Well, like Paul (and unlike Obama) 78 percent of Americans support full withdrawal. And in Afghanistan, another country that Paul wants to leave, two thirds of Americans want to see troop levels reduced. "Just one in three Americans believe fighting there is the right thing for the U.S. to do," CBS News found, "while 57 percent think the U.S. should not be involved in Afghanistan."

Like Ron Paul, Americans are also overwhelmingly against bombing Iran's nuclear infrastructure. And although I'll bet he wants to cut the Pentagon budget more than the average American does, a majority of the public prefers defense cuts to other kinds, and as Rasmussen found earlier this year, "Nearly one-half of Americans now think the United States can make major cuts in defense spending without putting the country in danger. They believe even more strongly that there's no risk in cutting way back on what America spends to defend other countries." 

Comparing Paul's positions to those of either the American people or foreign-affairs experts in the State Department and academia, it is clear that his views are closer to normal than most of his Republican opponents' (that is to say, closer to normal than everyone but Jon Huntsman). On the biggest, most consequential foreign policy issues, he is averse to war, as are his countrymen. It is only when they are compared to the views of the Washington establishment, where the Washington Post op-ed page, the Weekly Standard, and the American Enterprise Institute are regarded as mainstream institutions, that Paul's foreign-policy views seem like the abnormal ones.

Of course, as the Iraq war showed, American public opinion can be turned in favor of military intervention, even if our national security isn't threatened. But a lot of faulty intelligence and false propaganda is required to do so. Forced to confront the full reality of our presence and actions in the world, the average American would be horrified by how closely we resemble an empire.

The average presidential candidate would consider it normal.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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