Special Report

Ron Paul’s Foreign Policy

Congressman representing Texas's 14th District

Stephen Morton/Getty Images
Stephen Morton/Getty Images

Foreign-policy credentials: Paul served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s, spending time on the ground in countries like Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey. He also sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Overview: Paul’s libertarian, noninterventionist, empire-shunning foreign policy is often described as Tea Party isolationist, but he sees it as defending and strengthening the homeland within budgetary and constitutional constraints. "Isolationism is — is something that the protectionists want," Paul explained in June. "They want to close borders for people coming in, and they want to close trade, and I have no desire to do that all because I’m a free trader and I want as much travel and communication with other countries as possible. This is what the Founders advised. We were never given the authority to be the policemen of the world."

Advisors: The campaign hasn’t released much information about who’s advising the congressman on foreign policy, but it did announce in August that it had hired constitutional and international-law expert Bruce Fein to advise on legal matters and the "dangers to national security of an increasingly interventionist foreign policy."

On the Issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: As part of a larger cessation of military operations abroad, Paul wants to swiftly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and transfer power to Afghan officials. "We’ll have less danger to us if we don’t occupy foreign countries, because that’s the top motivation for the desire to come here and kill Americans," he contends. He views the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as an "impossible situation" and worries that Pakistan will be the "next occupation." Paul also condemns drone strikes, which he says are inciting anti-Americanism and civil war in Pakistan. "For everyone you kill," he observes, "you probably create 10 new people who hate our guts and would like to do us harm."

Military spending: Military spending and defense spending are two different beasts, according to Paul. "We can spend money on defense — that’s OK — but we just can’t afford all these hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars we’re spending on all these wars," he argues.

Immigration/borders: Paul’s top national security priority is securing the United States’ borders. He opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. But he’s not a fan of a "barbed-wire fence with machine guns," which he claims could actually keep Americans penned in rather than prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country. "I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in," he declared in September. "In economic turmoil, the people want to leave with their capital, and there’s capital controls and there’s people controls."

Israel/Palestine: Paul thinks the United States should stay "friends" with Israel but cut off foreign aid, which he says harms Israel’s national sovereignty. In a floor speech reproduced in his book, A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship, Paul recommends staying neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "[I]f we have solidarity with Israel, then we have hostility to the Palestinians," he explains.

China: If the United States wants to maintain peaceful relations with China, Paul maintains, it is "much better off talking to the Chinese and trading with the Chinese." He adds, "In some ways, they embarrass us, because they’re more capitalistic than we are.… But I blame ourselves for that."

Foreign aid: Paul wants to cut all foreign aid, which he has described in the past as unconstitutional and misguided. "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country," he declares.

Iran/nukes: Paul has compared the government’s concern over Iran’s nuclear program to the "war propaganda that went on against Iraq" and has argued that it’s "not worthwhile" to go to war with Iran. "If you do," he adds, "you get a declaration of war and you fight it and you win it and get it over with." He opposes sanctions on Iran, thinks the Iranian nuclear threat has been exaggerated, and proposes offering Iran "friendship."

Trade: Paul is a firm believer in free trade — a conviction he cites to prove he’s not isolationist — but not free trade agreements or multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization. That’s why Paul thinks America’s "best friend" is not Israel or France or Britain — but Canada. "We trade more with them than anybody else … and we give them no foreign aid," he explains.

War on terror/detainees: Paul has called waterboarding torture and torture "un-American," has opposed the Patriot Act and the Guantánamo Bay detention center, and has argued that terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts. He claims that waging war "against a tactic" has enabled the president to flaunt the law and become the "prosecutor, the executor, the judge, and the jury," as in the case of the targeted killing of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Paul did, however, support the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Environment: A growing climate-change skeptic, Paul has deemed global warming the "greatest hoax" in years. He wants to remove restrictions on drilling, coal, and nuclear power; repeal the federal gas tax; eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency; and offer tax credits for alternative-fuel technologies.

Russia: Paul has said little about Barack Obama’s policy toward Russia or the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement, but he did recommend during his 2008 presidential campaign "not threatening Russia in any way because I don’t think it’s necessary. If we’re friends with Russia and we trade with Russia, I think there’s a less likely chance that we’ll ever fight with Russia."

Arab Spring: Starting from the premise that the United States can "no longer afford to police the world," Paul denounced the Libyan intervention as costly, unconstitutional, and potentially "devastating" for the Libyan people. In explaining why he wouldn’t intervene in Syria, Paul noted that "there’s been a lot of people killed throughout the world in the last century. You know, the Soviets and the Chinese killed hundreds of millions. But we didn’t feel compelled morally to try to stop it." As Hosni Mubarak’s regime crumbled in February, Paul blamed the unrest on America’s "interventionist" foreign policy. In an op-ed for the Hill he wrote, "We have isolated ourselves from the Egyptian people by propping up their government, as we isolate ourselves from Tunisians, Israelis, and other recipients of our foreign aid," he wrote.

Other issues: One of Paul’s less publicized critiques of the war on terror is airport security. Paul pledges to replace the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with private security firms, prevent the TSA from "forcing Americans to either be groped or ogled just to travel on an airplane," and allow pilots to carry firearms to stymie future 9/11-style attacks.

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