Ron Paul's popularity in Iowa a sign of a war-weary America

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PARIS -- The opinion polls' forecast that Rep. Ron Paul would do well in the Iowa Republican caucus has surely not been evidence of a surge in Iowa of hostility to the Federal Reserve and to free trade. If Paul comes out at or close to the top in the vote, it will demonstrate that Robert Naiman was right in writing on Monday (in the web magazine Truthout) that non-Republican crossover voters would determine the Iowa outcome.

Paul and Mitt Romney have been the only two candidates that could be distinguished from the array of Christian conservative conformists chorusing the Fox Television song. On issues, boredom alone would send the voter to Ron Paul, whose opinions have seemed to be those of a live human being with some knowledge of the world as it is: a world in which America's principal activity abroad during the past decade has been waging war on all those Muslims "who hate us."

The clear crossover vote-getter issue on which Paul has differed from the rest of the candidate crowd is war: his hostility to the commitment of both Democratic and Republican administrations to prosecuting undeclared war in the Middle East, South Asia and everywhere else that is harboring what the American government has chosen to identify as agents of "terror," "Islamic terrorists" or "violent extremists."

Americans are not much given to pacifism. We are a fairly bloody-minded society, even though for many years we were given over to isolationism, which is not at all the same as pacifism. Paul is not a pacifist in the classical sense; he served as an Air Force flight surgeon during the Vietnam War, and in the National Guard. He is an old fashioned mind-our-own business American of the kind that opposes going abroad to seek out monsters to destroy, as has been the American policy in the Middle East during most of the last half-century.

He has a crankish libertarian electoral program, which is why his attempts over the years to establish himself as a national political figure have not succeeded until now. He is against the U.N., NATO, the IRS, the Federal Reserve, immigration, NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. Not the usual agenda! Not my agenda either.

But the Republican caucus vote is open to all, so it is not a true test of what Iowa Republicans think, but of what a self-nominated and heterogeneous group of people, willing to go out on a winter's day to do their civic duty, think about the issues.

War, after all, is a pretty big issue to younger voters whose children are growing up in a world of American-made wars: the war to destroy the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq and wreck the country so that it would cease to be a factor in Middle Eastern power politics (and current Israeli proposals to do the same to Iran); and the war now being waged across Afghanistan to reinforce an American puppet government, which represents ethnic and national minorities at the expense of Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun majority, from whom the Taliban movement has risen.

The American public generally seems to find this confusing and troubling, but has mostly been convinced by successive Republican and Democratic administrations that, unless the U.S. is at war with the Muslim world, terrorists will set off nuclear bombs in American suburbs at worst, and at best state legislatures across the country will proclaim Shariah law. As Zbigniew Brzezinski observed recently that "the American public is abysmally ignorant about the world;" the mass media isn't much better; and the Obama administration and Democrats are "frozen in the face of this complexity, and the party out of power is raving mad."

There seems little chance to end this. In December, the commanding general in Afghanistan, John R. Allen, told the New York Times not to count on American troops leaving that country in 2014, as scheduled. He sees a need for troops to stay on, so that the outcome will not become the political scandal that Iraq seems to be.

Since any military intervention in another country, either to crush or overthrow a rebellion (particularly the ethnic, regional, ideological or religious rivals to a government), automatically generates hatred and resistance to the interventionist power, such a policy generates its own opposition and automatically contributes to its own eventual perpetuation and defeat.

This is reasonably obvious to most people of common sense or who have experience in everyday politics (current Republican presidential candidates excluded). There is no point in belaboring it. But it seems beyond the ken of the foreign policy establishment in Washington, and the Pentagon, which are kept in business by war.

Countries must deal with their own national conditions, and their own wars, and resolve their own internal conflicts. As a general rule, no lasting settlement can be imposed by foreign intervention.

It is another matter if some regime launches its own aggressive program, but foreign intervention is usually constructive only when it is directed towards restoring balance and containing international war or aggression and their consequences.

Aggressive democratic interventionism meant to turn non-Western countries into Little Americas -- the recent American foreign policy ideology -- has inflicted great harm abroad and upon the American people themselves. No wonder Iowans are drawn to someone who wants the United States to make peace rather than war. Even a Paul defeat in Iowa wouldn't change that, but it might in any case inspire the other presidential candidates, including President Obama himself, to think again about what the American people actually want.

(Visit William Pfaff's Web site for more on his latest book, "The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy" (Walker & Co., $25), at http://www.williampfaff.com.)

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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

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