Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan and the non-interventionists

Noting the fact that Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan both share the ‘virtue’ of being non-interventionists, Fred Clark starts drilling into the question of whether there really is such a principle as non-interventionism.

I want to look one further step back from this discussion and question the assumption here that “non-interventionism” is a Good Thing.

I don’t think it’s a Good Thing because I don’t think it’s a thing at all. “Non-interventionism” is no more a principle than “interventionism” is. It’s not obvious to me that “never intervene” is a wiser, more sensible, more prudent or more just approach than “always intervene” would be.

It seems to me, rather, to be the sort of crutch one falls back on instead of engaging in the difficult, messy business of an actual principled approach to evaluating any given situation. It allows you to escape having to know or care at all about any particular situation, because you’ve got a one-size-fits-all answer to any and every question.

Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul both happened to be right in opposing the invasion of Iraq, but that had nothing to do with their principled evaluation of that situation. They’re more like my friend in algebra class in high school who always said that X=3. Sometimes X did equal 3, but even when he got the answer right it wasn’t because he understood the question.

“Non-intervention” may sometimes be the better course of action. It usually is. But it may also sometimes be the worse course of action. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent three years battling against non-interventionists. I think that he and his supporter Dr. Seuss were right and their non-interventionist opponents were wrong.

President Bill Clinton chose to intervene in Bosnia. He chose not to intervene in Rwanda. One of those decisions was justified. The other proved to be a monstrous mistake.

Those same two cases — Bosnia and Rwanda — shaped the perspective of our current secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in response to Gadhafi’s lethal attempt to quash the uprising in Libya. The Obama administration chose the path of intervention in Libya, with an approach that in many ways mirrored NATO’s intervention in Bosnia. It confuses more than it clarifies to label that response as “interventionism” and to declare it indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.

I would add one other thought. For those of us who would most likely never consider voting for Ron Paul, the debate about his virtues as a presidential candidate is somewhat redundant. The broader question of greater relevance is whether his presence in the presidential race has had a positive or negative effect. To suggest that the GOP contest would have been better without Paul’s participation, seems to me to be to be a pretty difficult argument to win.

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