Ron Paul and the Terrorists - Where Libertarian Foreign Policy Goes Astray

by N. M. GUARIGLIA July 16, 2012

I like Ron Paul.  I admire his honesty, his integrity, and his consistency.  I also dig his libertarian principles.  Ron Paul predicted-along with a few other Austrian School economists-the housing bubble and the collapse of the financial sector in 2008.  He's been out in front on monetary policy and the Federal Reserve.  His short book End the Fed should be read by every American.  (My favorite excerpt: "It is no coincidence that the century of total war coincided with the century of central banking.")

Dr. Paul is right about following the Constitution.  He's right about respecting the Tenth Amendment.  He's right about ending the absurdity that is the federal war on drugs.  He's right about the seriousness of the national debt.  He's right about emphasizing individual liberty and personal responsibility.  Even on foreign policy, he has some things worth to say-on the United Nations, on sovereignty, on foreign aid, and on the futility of nation-building.

But Ron Paul does not understand the enemy.  He does not appreciate, as Lee Harris once phrased it, "that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy."  Paul seems to believe the enemy is merely an ally we haven't befriended yet; that the cause of the enemy's butchery is our opposition to it.  Time and again, whenever the 9/11 attacks are brought up, Paul goes through the litany of "why they attacked us" by citing the ills of U.S. foreign policy.  Paul's supporters-almost self-righteously so-come across as though they alone understand the "root cause" of terrorism.  And the root cause, they contend, is what the United States does abroad. 

Why is this so?  Why are most libertarian-minded people-with whom I mostly associate myself-so inclined to believe that, for whatever violence our adversaries bring upon us, the United States brought it upon itself?  This is a bit self-loathing, no?  Masochistic, even.

One explanation is their belief in the validity of "blowback," a non-interventionist theory espoused by Chalmers Johnson amongst others.  The thinking goes: the more we meddle in someone else's affairs, the more we put our fist in the proverbial hornet's nest, thereby angering foreigners and creating future enemies.  Admittedly, there is some truth to this.  Another explanation is the libertarians' general opposition to government intervention.  If domestic government intervention undermines liberty (i.e., Obamacare), then foreign intervention must also undermine liberty.  As our "empire" overseas expands, our civil liberties erode (i.e., the Transportation Security Administration or the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act).  I have heard more than a few libertarians quote Randolph Bourne's declaration that "War is the health of the State."  There is truth to this too. 

But this is an argument for confronting tyranny abroad without succumbing to tyranny at home.  It isn't an argument for not confronting tyranny at all.

Despite their merits, all of these explanations miss the forest for the trees.  The Ron Paul people-including Ron Paul himself-might understand the nature of domestic tyranny; what Alexis de Tocqueville once called "soft despotism."  (By this I mean the maternal Nanny State, the encroaching Surveillance State, the Regulatory State, Big Brother, and all the rest of it.)  But they do not fully appreciate the true nature of tyranny abroad; the hard despotisms of today, primarily fanatical Islamic supremacism. 

There are four reasons this is so.

1. It's about who we are-and who they are-not what we do.

Since 9/11, both libertarians on the Right and liberals on the Left have snickered whenever George W. Bush-or any politician for that matter-said the al-Qaeda terrorists "hate us for our freedom."  "How simplistic," they'd say.  "Merely a feel-good explanation."  "The terrorists hate us for deeper, more understandable reasons than our freedom!"  In other words, we were hatred for our cynical policies, not our admirable values.

Step back and think about this for a moment.  Yes, the al-Qaeda guys hate our policies.  Should we have expected something else?  Come to think of it, have there ever been two enemies in all of history that agreed with each other's strategies and policies against one another?  Patton and Rommel, maybe?  Other than that, no, there hasn't been.  That al-Qaeda hates our policies should have always been a given.  Would not their agreement with our policies be cause for concern? 

True, in some cases our policies may have been counterproductive in that they were needlessly angering large amounts of Muslims.  Even Paul Wolfowitz, the hardest of neo-cons, conceded this point in 2003 when he said: "We can now remove all of our forces from Saudi Arabia.  Their presence there has been... a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda.  In fact, if you look at bin Laden, one of his principle grievances was the presence of so-called Crusader forces on the holy land, Mecca and Medina."

But if our "Crusader presence" on Saudi "holy land" was their grievance-and this grievance was addressed by disbanding our military bases on Saudi territory-why, then, are we still being attacked?  Ron Paul would respond, "Because we went into Iraq."  Fine.  But... now we're out of Iraq, too.  Will it stop now?  "Well, we're still in Afghanistan."  And when we leave there?  "Predator drones."  And if those stop?  "Guantanamo Bay."  And if we close that?  You see where this is going.

To say Islamic terrorists hate us for our policies is a bit like saying poverty causes terrorism, as former President Bill Clinton recently asserted.  Though there are elements of truth to this notion, it is grossly insufficient as an explanation for the existence of the enemy.  Poor places might be fertile ground for recruiting terrorists, but most of the al-Qaeda operatives are highly educated and financially well-off.  Additionally, there are billions of poor people around the world that have no interest in trying to destroy American skyscrapers.  Why not?  Likewise, there are billions of people in the world who disagreed with the U.S. invasion of Iraq, or oppose the nature of the U.S.-Israeli relationship, or have a quandary with another aspect of U.S. foreign policy, and yet they are not trying to put toxins in our water reservoirs.  Again... why not?  It couldn't be that there is something uniquely Islamic about Islamic terrorism, could it?

It is wrong to claim Islamic terrorism is about everything but itself.  The central reason the jihadists oppose our policies is because they oppose who we are.  Did the Islamists protest Kuwait's ethnic cleansing of 300,000 Palestinians or Jordan's massacre of 20,000 Palestinians?  Do they decry the Saudi and Egyptian mistreatment of Palestinians in concentration camps?  Did Lebanese Hezbollah object to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon?  Would Abu Musab al-Zarqawi have waged his insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq if we were installing a Salafist government in Baghdad?  Would Osama bin Laden have opposed our presence in Saudi Arabia if we were Sunni-Wahhabi coreligionists? 

Our Islamist enemies aren't just evil; they're hypocrites.  This business of contextualizing their indiscriminate violence against civilians, within our Western constructs of reason, is surreal.  Adversaries in conflict-even the most morally bankrupt-will always provide a list of justifications for their actions.  But the mere act of providing justifications does not justify these actions!  This even applies to apparently legitimate grievances.  The Treaty of Versailles, by all objective measures, was unfairly harsh to Germany after the First World War.  The injustices within this treaty, however, in no way justified Nazi actions, Nazi doctrine, or Nazi ideology-and it does not sufficiently explain the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich.  That this even has to be explained to people this day in age is a bit embarrassing.

The Islamists have declared war on democracy nonstop for years, and have made it clear-in word and deed-that their mission is the establishment of a puritanical 7th century religious theocracy.  They think Spain belongs to them.  They don't respect Arab borders or national sovereignty.  They want to reconstruct the ancient caliphate from North Africa across the Middle East to Southeast Asia.  They want Europe.  They want the Sultan.  They want Jafar from Aladdin to rule the world.  In fact, as the late Christopher Hitchens once observed, one of Osama bin Laden's chief grievances, while he was alive, was American resistance to the Islamic conquest, occupation, and genocidal annexation of non-Muslim East Timor.  If you opposed that genocide in Southeast Asia, you've made yourself an enemy.  In an interview from 2002, Osama bin Laden not only claims responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, he declares war on the concept of "humanity" itself-literally: "The values of this Western civilization under the leadership of America have been destroyed.  Those awesome symbolic towers that speak of liberty, human rights, and humanity have been destroyed."  Does this sound like a man with a legitimate grievance?  Then there's Muhammad Badi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who recently declared "mastership of the world" as the Brotherhood's goal.  Does this sound like a resistance fighter?

The terrorists are not revolutionaries.  They are reactionaries.  They are not "Minutemen" like the American Founders, hell-bent on liberation.  They are primordial sociopaths hell-bent on domination.  They are not anti-imperialists.  They are imperialists.

For every "legitimate" grievance-Iraq, Israel, "occupation," and what have you-the Islamists themselves cite ten times as many illegitimate grievances.  They declared a bloodcurdling fatwa on novelist Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a novel.  They murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh for the crime of directing a movie.  They rioted and burned down embassies-and seek the head of Swedish artist Lars Vilks-over the drawing of a cartoon.  Frightened Europeans have cancelled operas and taken books off shelves.  This is a direct war on the Enlightenment, on our freedom of expression, on our First Amendment, on our right to offend.  The Islamists have no problem justifying terrorism for illegitimate reasons, whether it's over South Park, girls in school, mini-skirts, alcohol, Western literature, secular thought, or the Large Hadron Collider.

Ron Paul and his supporters ignore the cultural, ideological, and theological elements of this conflict.  This war is about age-old human emotions: pride, fear, envy, and hatred.  It's about humiliation.  It's about power.  It's about control.  Most of all, it's about women.  It is not we who are xenophobic and racially intolerant, Dr. Paul-it is they.  Our jihadist enemies are the most racist, sexist people in the world.  That they're brown and wear Third World clothing shouldn't blind us from this fact.  Through violence and oppression, the radical Islamists are desperately trying to disconnect vast portions of the planet quicker than ubiquitous Western culture can connect it.  In fact, one of Osama bin Laden's last messages was an indictment on the evils of Western capitalism.  Would libertarians like Paul-capitalists all-forfeit our capitalistic system in order to assuage the anger of the Islamists?  Of course not.  Who is Ron Paul, then, to tell others they must forfeit whatever they hold dear... in order for others not to want to kill them?

2. The terrorists' grievances-both legitimate and illegitimate-are obsolete.

The issue of Iran comes up a lot today.  Every time it does, Ron Paul cites the U.S.-backed 1953 coup against then-Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh, which installed the Shah to power.  Paul believes this intervention led to blowback.  He believes the Shah's brutality-not the U.S. abandonment of the Shah in 1979-gave rise to Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Islamic theocracy in Tehran.  Paul therefore believes this half-century-old action justifies, or at least explains, contemporary Iranian anger against the West.

But consider the inverse.  Would Ron Paul-or any American or European, for that matter-allow a Western statesman to justify the use of force in the present day by citing grievances from the 1950s?  Of course not.  Only a barbarian would justify killing people in 2012 by referencing something that happened in 1953.  Why, then, does Paul allow the Iranian regime to do this?  Al-Qaeda, it is said, hates us because of the Crusades.  Never mind that the United States played no part in the Crusades (the U.S. didn't even exist then).  Would Paul allow an American president to justify intervention in the Middle East by citing the four centuries of Islamic invasion and conquest that preceded the Crusades?

Imagine the corollary.  It is some 50 years from now, the year is 2060.  Without warning, an American president begins intentionally and indiscriminately killing as many Iranian civilians in the streets of Tehran as possible.  When international outrage ensues, the American president says, "We are conducting these operations today as ‘blowback' from 50 years ago when a previous Iranian administration tried to conduct an assassination of diplomats in our nation's capital."  Would this justification fly?  I didn't think so.

This is how the jihadists must be spoken to.  Their grievances shouldn't be quoted empathetically.  They should be repudiated.  They should be picked apart intellectually, historically, and objectively.  Ron Paul, as a public figure, is very good at holding himself to a high standard.  For this he is rare and should be commended.  But he is very, very bad at holding foreign totalitarians to a high standard.  In fact, by allowing the jihadists to cite whatever grievance they want, he is holding them to a lower standard than anyone else in public service today.  And Ron Paul's supporters, who are very good at holding public officials to a high standard, are very bad at holding our enemies to that same standard.  In many ways, the official libertarian platform seems to be: "Never make an excuse for a politician... unless he is a foreign dictator trying to kill me." 

This meek attitude is dishonorable.  It embodies the "soft bigotry of low expectations."  It is akin to justifying the contemporary crime of an African-American man by referencing the injustice of 19th century slavery.  Only far-left Marxists are supposed to do crazy stuff like that.  It keeps us all enslaved to time-to the actions of others.  As a libertarian, I thought we were supposed to reject the creation of dependencies on one another; "a system under which everybody is enslaved to everybody," as Ayn Rand once described it.  Paul's recitation of the terrorists' grievances is the ultimate form of collectivism because it explains away the violence of people who are alive by casting the burden of responsibility on people who are dead.

No libertarian or conservative-or fair-minded person, period-would do this.  But Ron Paul does it every time he speaks on international affairs.  Quite frankly, it's revolting in its presumptuousness.

3. What would the Founding Fathers do?

Ron Paul loves the Founding Fathers, as do most libertarians.  This is for good reason.  Although we recognize their imperfections-they were merely human, after all-we appreciate the Founders for the titans of philosophy they truly were.  Libertarians understand the historically exceptional nature of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  We lament the state of civics education throughout the country, specifically the modern misuse of real and measurable ideals, like freedom and liberty, as cheap clichés.

But in an effort to provide legitimacy to their foreign policy ideas, some libertarians wrongly claim a monopoly on the Founding Fathers.  In 2007, Ron Paul wrote a book on this very topic called A Foreign Policy of Freedom.  Paul quotes the foreign policy advice of John Quincy Adams: the United States should not go abroad "in search of monsters to destroy."  He quotes George Washington's famous Farewell Address: the United States must avoid "entangling alliances."

Yet this is a misunderstanding of the Founders and their view of foreign affairs.  Although most of the Founders would today be considered modern libertarians, they still understood-as their philosophical influences John Locke and Adam Smith understood-that it is the nature of regime, above all else, that causes the outbreak of violent conflict.  In other words, "the enemy" hates us as much for our virtues as for our faults.  The American Revolution was not about "a threepenny duty on a pound canister of tea," as Russell Kirk once wrote.  It was about freedom and tyranny, which are real things; real things inherently opposed to one another. 

John Locke, whom Thomas Jefferson described as one of the "three greatest men to have ever lived" (along with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton), writes in his Second Treatise of Government: "One may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion; because such men are not under the ties of the common law of reason, have no other rule, but that of force and violence, and so may be treated as beasts of prey, those dangerous and noxious creatures, that will be sure to destroy him whenever he falls into their power..."  And then the kicker: "He who makes an attempt to enslave me thereby puts himself into a State of War with me."

"State of War"-capital W.  Young Thomas Jefferson, the most brilliant and radically libertarian of the Founders, knew what Locke meant.  In March 1785, Jefferson crossed the Atlantic with John Adams as ambassadors to meet with Abd al-Rahman, Tripoli's ambassador to London.  The two future presidents had grievances of their own to discuss with their Muslim counterpart.  Between the years 1530 and 1780, about 1.5 million Europeans and Americans were captured and enslaved by Islamic North Africa (a fact lost in most of our history classes).  Jefferson and Adams asked Rahman why the Islamic Barbary States were attacking American ships and enslaving their crews.  They reminded Rahman that America had played no role in the Crusades or in the Reconquista.  Rahman told them "it was written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise."  That is to say, Rahman claimed Islam gave "Musselmans"-Muslims-the authority to enslave anyone they wanted to enslave.

Rahman demanded the Americans pay a tribute to avoid the slave trade of the Barbary States.  John Adams believed paying the bribe was the prudent thing to do.  Jefferson didn't think so.  He saw in the Barbary States the two things he detested most: tyrannical government and theocratic justification for its existence.  He decided he would make war-preemptive war, it could be said-upon the Muslim tyrants of North Africa should he ever become Commander-in-Chief.  And that is precisely what he did.  It was called the Barbary Wars (thus the second line in the Marines' Hymn: "To the shores of Tripoli").

Then there is Adam Smith.  While not an American, Smith remains the chief intellectual pioneer of classical liberalism (or modern-day libertarianism).  "The first duty of a sovereign," Smith writes in his 1776 magnum opus The Wealth of Nations, "that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies, can be performed only by means of a military force." 

John Locke and Adam Smith were not pacifists.  Neither was Thomas Jefferson (who wrote of "manly firmness" in the Declaration of Independence).  And while George Washington was a man of restraint, he was also a career intelligence officer and believed foreign espionage could potentially destroy our republic.  In fact, in the very same Farewell Address of his "entangling alliances" warning, Washington tells the American people to avoid "the insidious wiles of foreign influence."  He pleads, "I conjure you to believe me fellow citizens." 

One wonders if President Washington would have remained silent about the arrest of Rahman al-Amoudi, a former advisor to President Clinton, who was found to be an al-Qaeda operative.  What would Washington have said about Omar Ahmad, founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who later subsidized foreign terrorist groups through charities?  What would Washington have said about Nihad Awad or Ismail Elbarasse, Hamas operatives that penetrated the U.S. government, or the alphabet-soup of Muslim organizations-Muslim Students Association (MSA), North American Islamic Trust (NAIT), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)-all of which are fronts for the Hamas wing of the Muslim Brotherhood?  One could go on for hours reciting the Muslim Brotherhood's infiltration of the U.S. government.  Indeed, Frank Gaffney's eye-opening ten-part course does just that, and I have a hunch Washington, Jefferson, and the rest of the Founders wouldn't have tolerated such sedition.

And it's not just the Founders.  There is a long history of libertarian-conservatives rejecting non-interventionist foreign policy.  During the Vietnam War, Senator Barry Goldwater, the godfather of the modern conservative movement, advocated regime change in North Vietnam.  He rejected the defensive posture of "containment."  Goldwater believed in "rollback," not "blowback."  He wanted to overthrow Soviet communism everywhere, including Moscow itself.  Even Calvin Coolidge, perhaps the most libertarian president of the early 20th century, held antagonistic views of foreign tyrants, refusing to recognize the USSR as a sovereign state on ideological grounds.

Then there are the Objectivists of the Atlas Shrugged variety, all of whom are closer to libertarianism than conservatism.  Yet they too seem to reject Ron Paul's foreign policy views.  More recently, Peter Schiff, another Austrian School economist (and Ron Paul supporter), spoke openly about the possible necessity of bombing Iranian nuclear facilities.  Is Schiff a war-mongering neo-con?  Additionally, Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico and libertarian third-party candidate for president, personally told me that, if elected, he'd actively assist in the overthrow of the Iranian government should the Iranian people take to the streets again.  Is Johnson another neo-con?

From Thomas Jefferson to John Locke, from Adam Smith to Barry Goldwater and Ayn Rand, to Peter Schiff and Gary Johnson, not all of history's libertarian-thinking people have been beholden to Ron Paul's foreign policy ideas.  Though the United States is at fault for some things, it is not at fault for everything.  Ron Paul is on weak historical and moral footing when he joins what Jeane Kirkpatrick once infamously called "the blame-America-first crowd."

4. Libertarians underestimate the magnitude of the threat.

The Ron Paul-version of libertarian foreign policy is misguided not only because it misunderstands the nature of the threat, but also because it underestimates the magnitude of the threat.  During a Republican primary debate earlier this year, Ron Paul said of Iran, "The Iranians can't possibly attack anybody.  And we're worrying about the possibility of one nuclear weapon... the Soviets had 30,000 of them.  And we talked to them."  This quote alone underscores Paul's ignorance. 

They "can't possibly attack" anybody?  Iran has been killing Americans for decades and we have never responded.  "The Soviets had 30,000" nukes and "we talked to them"-the implication being we don't talk to Iran?  This is the biggest myth of all.  Every U.S. administration since Khomeini's takeover of power in 1979 has talked with Iran.  It has always backfired.

The United States has offered Iran "rapprochement," "grand bargains," and "full normalization of relations."  We have apologized for the 1953 coup.  We even sold them weapons!  In response, the mullahs blew up our embassies, destroyed our barracks, kidnapped, tortured, and murdered our citizens, soldiers, and diplomats, and sponsored multiple proxy wars against our countrymen and allies.  All this continues to this day.

President Clinton sent former Spanish leader Felipe Gonzales to Iran as a special envoy, offering peace and brotherhood.  The Iranians told Gonzales to get lost.  President Bush did the same thing in 2006.  Again, Gonzales was told to go home.  Whenever there is a semblance of cooperation between the U.S. and Iran-planning post-Taliban Afghanistan in 2001-02, for instance-it is nullified by empirical evidence that the Iranian regime is sponsoring terrorists, death-squads, and assassination teams against Americans in the region.

Just ask former State Department official Nicholas Burns, who-according to his own testimony in BBC's "Nuclear Confrontation" documentary-waited in a New York hotel for days, along with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, thinking Iranian official Ali Larijani would show for a promised handshake and photo-op, cementing full normalization of relations between Washington and Tehran.  Larijani never came, but President Ahmadinejad did, speaking at the U.N. General Assembly with his usual bombast.  Ahmadinejad has called for a "world without America" and a resurrection of the Hidden Imam, hastening Shi'ite Islam's version of the end of the world. 

According to Ahmadinejad, the end of the world is a preferable scenario.  Western academics and other deep-thinkers are quick to respond, "But he doesn't really mean it.  That is just grandstanding, designed for his domestic audience."  Such refrains ignore the single most important lesson of the 20th century, as described by one Holocaust survivor: "When someone says he is going to exterminate you, believe him."  Ron Paul doesn't understand that, with such people, all it takes is "one nuclear weapon."  The Soviets were evil, but at least they loved life more than they hated us.  Nuclear deterrence can work, as it did in the Cold War, as long as each side is rational and believes in self-preservation.  With the Islamic jihadist movement, rationality is gone.  There is no such thing as "mutually assured destruction" with the mullahs in Iran, or with the lunatics in al-Qaeda.

"We love death," the Islamists routinely brag.  "You love life and we love death," the Madrid bomber said in his post-attack audio message.  Simply Google this phrase-"You love life, we love death"-or some variation of it, and you will find hundreds of quotes from different members of various Islamic terrorist organizations.  They repeat this taunt over and over.  They believe it.  It is also indicative in their behavior.  All throughout the Middle East, children are dressed up in suicide vests and are forced to recite poems in school about killing themselves and quenching their thirst for Jewish blood.  The Palestinians' version of Mickey Mouse is a homicidal maniac.  In Iraq, more than once, children were used as suicide bombers-one time, a mentally-challenged child was used.

In the United States, there was the Long Island convert who tried to blow up Penn Station.  An al-Qaedist in Arkansas attacked a military recruitment center in Little Rock, killing an American soldier.  An Islamist in Illinois tried to take down a federal building in Springfield.  A jihadist from Chicago set his sights on a Danish newspaper and assisted the gunmen in the Mumbai attacks.  An Afghan national targeted Manhattan landmarks.  A Jordanian national tried to topple a Dallas skyscraper.  There was the massacre at Fort Hood.  There was the failed attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253, an attack that would have killed nearly 300 people.  There was the Pakistani al-Qaedist that tried setting off a bomb in Times Square, an attack that could have trumped the Oklahoma City bombing in fatalities.  And then there were the numerous "second wave" mass-casualty attacks thwarted in the aftermath of 9/11, as described in the new book Hard Measures by Jose Rodriguez, the former Director of the CIA's National Clandestine Service.

As far as I can tell, the al-Qaedists are the first men since the Nazis to throw children in ovens.  They have sawed off the heads of captive civilians, they have raided elementary schools and massacred hundreds of defenseless children in Beslan, and they have flown full planes into full buildings.  They have even set their own underwear on fire.  These are men that are serious about killing infidels and themselves in the process.  They are dying, quite literally, to obtain a cataclysmic device and set it off in an American city, irreversibly sullying the future of the world.  These are not men that run away from their crimes.  They are not embarrassed by them.  Rather, they air their executions and openly state their morbid fantasies to the world, both to horrify the West into psychological submission, and as a kind of one-upmanship rallying cry for possible recruits throughout their twisted societies.  These are men that have all but stopped belonging to our world.  Their minds are gone.

With the proliferation of CBRN weapons (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear)-along with the exponential progress of GNR technology (genetics, nanotechnology, robotics)-we will soon be entering a brave new world where primitive minds possess the means to destroy human civilization as we know it.  Once the CBRN-GNR genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back.  "Whereas classic warfare is the continuation of politics by other means," Jean Bethke Elshtain once wrote, "terrorism is the destruction of politics by all means."

Ron Paul is quick to say the terrorists are just a small minority within the Islamic world.  This might be true.  Only a small portion of the Islamic world actually enlists in terrorist organizations.  But the cesspool within which the terrorists operate is, unfortunately, sympathetic to their message.  In 2002, the Pew Research Center polled the citizens of Lebanon, Nigeria, Jordan, Mali, Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey, and other "allied" Muslim countries whether or not suicide bombing was ever justifiable in defense of Islam.  In Lebanon, 82% said "yes"-the highest percentage polled.  In Turkey, 20% said "yes"-the lowest percentage polled.  Sam Harris responds in his book, The End of Faith, "If all Muslims had responded as Turkey did... we would still have a problem worth worrying about; we would, after all, be talking about more than 200 million avowed supporters of terrorism.  But Turkey is an island of ambassadorial goodwill compared with the rest of the Muslim world."

Ron Paul is also quick to compare the terrorist threat to Timothy McVeigh.  This is a common argument amongst non-interventionists.  Maybe the Timothy McVeigh comparison would make sense if McVeigh had adhered to an ideology with a minimum of 200 million sympathizers, belonged to an international organization with tens of thousands of operatives in dozens of countries, pursued nuclear weapons to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, and was sponsored, either overtly or covertly, by nearly a dozen governments throughout the world.  That is a more accurate comparison. 

Libertarians of America: Iran, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood, et. al., are not Timothy McVeigh. They are not the Unabomber.  They are not the Irish Republican Army.  They are not Al Capone.

This is an uncomfortable thought for many Americans.  It recalls Trotsky's eerie observation: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."  Libertarians might not think about Islamic terrorists, but Islamic terrorists think about them.  The problem with my fellow libertarians is they have so precisely identified America's domestic problems-chief among them, the insincerity of our politicians-that they fail to appreciate the sincerity of our foreign enemies.  But the world still must be put into context.  For all the evils of quantitative easing or printing fiat money, for all the problems with artificially low interest rates and hyperinflation, there are still thousands of people overseas that wake up every morning, and go to sleep every night, and the first and last thought in their head is: "How can I set off an atomic bomb in Midtown Manhattan?"

As mentioned, not everything Ron Paul says about foreign policy is wrong.  There is a line, however, between self-restraint and self-immolation.  Ron Paul and his supporters cross that line repeatedly, and they do so, I think, for reasons that transcend their libertarian principles-for deeper, psychological reasons.  I am reminded of that quote at the beginning of No Country for Old Men, one of the better movies to come out in a long time.  Tommy Lee Jones plays an old Texas sheriff, tired and nearly resigned to the permanence of senseless human evil.  "The crime you see now, it's hard to even take its measure," he says.  "It's not that I'm afraid of it.  But I don't want to go out and meet something I don't understand.  A man would have to put his soul at hazard.  He'd have to say, ‘Okay, I'll be part of this world.'"

After years of analyzing modern libertarianism and its foreign policy, I get the sense that Ron Paul and many of his supporters simply do not want to be a part of that world.  They don't want to address the perverse reality, the category of human experience known as the enemy, for they fear what they will learn.  They don't want to put their souls at hazard.

Contributing Editor N.M. Guariglia is an essayist who writes on Islam and Middle Eastern geopolitics.


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