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After his fourth-place showing in Florida, Ron Paul, by then in Nevada, told supporters he had been advised by friends that he would do better if only he dumped his foreign policy views, which have been derided as isolationism.
Not going to do it, said Dr. Paul to cheers. And why should he?
Observing developments in U.S. foreign and defense policy, Paul’s views seem as far out in front of where America is heading as John McCain’s seem to belong to yesterday’s Bush-era bellicosity.
Consider. In December, the last U.S. troops left Iraq. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now says that all U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan will end in 18 months.
The strategic outposts of empire are being abandoned.
The defense budget for 2013 is $525 billion, down $6 billion from 2012. The Army is to be cut by 75,000 troops; the Marine Corps by 20,000. Where Ronald Reagan sought a 600-ship Navy, the Navy will fall from 285 ships today to 250. U.S. combat aircraft are to be reduced by six fighter squadrons and 130 transport aircraft.
Republicans say this will reduce our ability to fight and win two land wars at once – say, in Iran and Korea. Undeniably true.
Why, then, is Ron Paul winning the argument?
The hawkishness of the GOP candidates aside, the United States, facing its fourth consecutive trillion-dollar deficit, can no longer afford to sustain all its alliance commitments, some of which we made 50 years ago during a Cold War that ended two decades ago, in a world that no longer exists.
As our situation is new, said Abraham Lincoln, we must think and act anew.
As Paul argues, why close bases in the U.S. when we have 700 to 1,000 bases abroad? Why not bring the troops home and let them spend their paychecks here?
Begin with South Korea. At last report, the United States had 28,000 troops on the peninsula. But why, when South Korea has twice the population of the North, an economy 40 times as large, and access to U.S. weapons, the most effective in the world, should any U.S. troops be on the DMZ? Or in South Korea?
U.S. forces there are too few to mount an invasion of the North, as Gen. MacArthur did in the 1950s. And any such invasion might be the one thing to convince Pyongyang to fire its nuclear weapons to save the hermit kingdom.
But if not needed to defend the South, and a U.S. invasion could risk nuclear reprisal, what are U.S. troops still doing there?
Answer: They are on the DMZ as a tripwire to bring us, from the first day of fighting, into a new land war in Asia that many American strategists believe we should never again fight.
Consider Central Asia. By pushing to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, and building air bases in nations that were republics of the Soviet Union two decades ago, the United States generated strategic blowback.
China and Russia, though natural rivals and antagonists, joined with four Central Asian nations in a Shanghai Cooperation Organization to expel U.S. military power from a region that is their backyard, but is half a world away from the United States.
Solution: The United States should inform the SCO that when the Afghan war is over we will close all U.S. military bases in Central Asia. No U.S. interest there justifies a conflict with Russia or China.
Indeed, a Russia-China clash over influence and resources in the Far East and Central Asia seems inevitable. Let us get out of the way.
But it is in Europe that America may find the greatest savings.
During the Cold War, 300,000 U.S. troops faced hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops from northern Norway to Central Germany to Turkey. But not only are there no Russian troops on the Elbe today, or surrounding West Berlin, they are gone from Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Between Russia and Poland lie Belarus and Ukraine. Moscow no longer even has a border with Turkey.
Why, when NATO Europe has two nuclear powers and more than twice the population of a Russia whose own population has shrunk by 8 million in 20 years and is scheduled to shrink by 25 million more by 2050, does Europe still need U.S. troops to defend it?
She does not. The Europeans are freeloading, as they have been for years, preserving their welfare states, skimping on defense and letting Uncle Sam carry the hod.
In the Panetta budgets, America will still invest more in defense than the next 10 nations combined and retain sufficient power to secure, with a surplus to spare, all her vital interests.
But we cannot forever be first responder for scores of nations that have nothing to do with our vital interests. As Frederick the Great observed, “He who defends everything defends nothing.”