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WASHINGTON - He probably won't be the Republican candidate for president in 2012, but Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has a good chance to win the Republican primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire in January, become a driving force in next year's campaign and continue to influence his party's agenda.

This isn't good news for Jewish Republican activists and neoconservative intellectuals who backed the Iraq War; they accuse the most influential libertarian legislator on Capitol Hill of being anti-Israel. The Republican Jewish coalition did not invite Ron Paul to participate in the candidates forum it held this month in Washington, claiming that he is far from the party's mainstream and has criticized Israel bitterly during his years in Congress.

My impression, as someone who was one of his foreign policy advisors during the 2008 presidential campaign, is completely different. Paul, a 76-year-old Baptist who has represented the 22nd District of Texas in Congress since 1979, has a profound knowledge of Jewish history, admires Israel and follows its political and economic developments with great interest.

But Paul is also a believer in the Austrian school of economics, whose standard-bearers include economists such as Josef Schumpeter, Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Like other Austrian-Americans, he tends to be skeptical of the need for government interference in the economy and believes that Washington's activist fiscal and monetary policies will lead America into bankruptcy, dangerous levels of inflation and the collapse of its currency. Paul calls for closing the Federal Reserve and other government offices and a significant reduction in the tax burden, along with broad cuts in government spending, including the military budget.

His belief that the government's growing role in the economy contradicts the value of individual economic freedom makes him a political ally of American conservatives, while his opposition to government enforcement of what are called "traditional values" and to undermining civil rights in the name of "national security" explains why he has also become very popular among liberals, but is loathed by neoconservatives.

However, his beliefs also lead him to strongly oppose U.S. military involvement around the world. He argues that military force should be a last resort in order to defend America's vital national interests, not part of an ambitious and expensive strategy intended to impose American ideals and interests on other nations. This policy leads to dangerous American involvement in international disputes that have no direct impact on it and strengthens the power of both the central government in Washington and the military-industrial complex.

It is therefore not surprising that Paul was one of the most prominent members of Congress to oppose the invasion of Iraq, and that today he refuses to support an American military attack on Iran. He believes that Iran - with or without nuclear weapons - does not present a direct threat to American interests, and that Israel has nuclear capability with which to deter Iran if and when the latter does develop nuclear weapons.

Nor is there any anti-Israel aspect to Paul's opposition to giving Israel economic aid. He is opposed in principle to foreign aid, which he sees as a waste of American money on leaders and countries whose interests and ideals are not necessarily in line with America's. Instead, he would encourage commercial ties with and American investment in Israel and other countries.

Thus the fact that Paul sees Israel as America's "close friend" in no way contradicts his opposition to giving Israel economic aid or to an American attack on Iran. He also emphasizes that when it comes to Israel's national interests with regard to Iran or the Palestinians, Washington doesn't have to "dictate" how Israel runs its affairs.

Hence if the Israeli government decided to attack Iran, or for that matter to reject an agreement with the Palestinians, Paul would honor those decisions. At the same time, President Paul would take it for granted that Israelis should be the ones to pay the price of these policies, and should not expect Washington to extricate them from a military or diplomatic hole they dug for themselves.