Is it just me, or are seemingly incessant GOP debates the past few months allowing President Obama’s lack of public exposure to seem more and more like solid leadership? The Republican lineups simplistic, square and reactionary focus on “Anti-Obama” rhetoric especially on foreign policy has highlighted a resoundingly hawkish stance on Iran with little attention to our current engagements in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And while it may be expedient amongst a certain political base to try and one-up each other in aggressive foreign policy talk, only Ron Paul challenges the party line on Americas role in the world.
When it comes to Pakistan, compared to Democrats Republicans have a consistent history of preferring to work closely with the military establishment in Islamabad. While there is a level of bipartisanship post 9/11, (case in point is Obama’s continuation of Bush era drone use with little debate), Republicans have through the Cold War and beyond preferred dealing with the military establishment rather than focusing on democratic, or liberal institution building. Which is not necessarily an entirely erroneous policy; part of the rationale is that state building is expensive in blood, toil, time and treasure and rarely feasible. Further, there are an endless number of constraints and uncertainties that profoundly hinder institution, or democratic state building in a place like Pakistan, rendering Republican policies simply pragmatic.
Which brings us to current policy: the bipartisan endorsed “Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act” (S. 1707) enacted in 2009 has yet to bear tangible fruit. Granted the aforementioned that institution building is time exhaustive, the fact remains that Pakistan has deteriorated politically, in the realm of security and economically. And having watched everyone from Gov. Romney, Sen. Santorun, Gov. Perry, Rep. Bachmann and yes even the soft spoken Gov. Huntsman, reiterate hawkish foreign policy while refusing to acknowledge a need for meaningful improvement, only Rep. Ron Paul’s extreme calls for an isolationist posture offer some semblance of change. And because his prescriptions have yet to be tried, the utility of his ideas have yet to be tested. But now may be a time to consider his stance since they call for exactly what the Pakistani public wants.
Referring to our Pakistan policy as nothing short of “Bombs for Bribes” Ron Paul acknowledges the nobility, yet inherent futility in calling for democratic institutions in all places of strategic engagement. He understands that we are already engaged in “130 countries” with “700 bases around the world” and in this speech against the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, he bluntly explains:
“the way we treat our fellow countries around the world is we tell them what to do and if they do it, we give them money. If they don’t we bomb them. Under this condition we are doing both. We are currently dropping bombs in Pakistan and innocent people get killed. If you want to promote our good values and democratic processes, you can’t antagonize the people”
He goes on to suggest dialogue and trade as alternatives to current policy. And although his statement is simplistic and was made in 2009, it highlights Ron Paul’s isolationist, more economically focused prescriptions on foreign policy that seek to reduce our military footprint abroad based on pragmatic constraints, like military and fiscal overstretch. And these calls seem more reasonable than before, especially when it comes to Pakistan and the fact that our aid has yet to yield satisfactory results. So while the Obama administration continues engagement and GOP candidates refuse to acknowledge much concern over current policy to Pakistan, can Ron Paul really be the only alternative available?
Someone once considered completely out of left, excuse me, right field, could be the reminder we need to moderate our engagement with countries of interest. Because what is interesting is that current rhetoric in Pakistan is very much in line with Ron Paul’s ideas. Ron Paul isn’t touting conspiracy theories, nor does he echo far left foreign policy thinkers like Noam Chomsky. Rather, his past statements on our engagement in Pakistan as “inadvertently causing chaos” and “violating security and sovereignty“ are exactly what the average Pakistani seems to feel and hears about in their mainstream TV, and print media. Takeaway for us means, it’s a perception that is realistic; perhaps more so than current policy reflects.
In fact, legendary cricket star turned politician Imran Khan’s recent surge in popularity is in large part due to his highly critical foreign policy rhetoric that vociferously calls for D.C. to adopt a more isolationist stance so Pakistan might reclaim lost autonomy. Imran Khan steadily built support for his party on the continued observation that America’s “War on Terror” has intensified insecurity and his subsequent promises to curtail American involvement is a first step in alleviating Pakistan’s problems.
He underscores Ron Paul’s sentiment that perceptions urgently matter in a climate where American intervention is increasingly received hostilely. While there may be issues of concern with Ron Paul’s overall foreign policy prescriptions, both politicians insistence on winnings hearts and minds does render the congressman’s ideas in relation to Pakistan worthy of consideration. Imran Khan’s recent ascendency and Governor Paul’s gradually increasing support marks a convergence in shifting to a direction of a less militarized approach to engaging Islamabad. Two men once considered out of the realm of political viability now increasingly resonate in their respective publics; policymakers ought to take note.