The slight wound to Ron Paul's pride was visible as he recalled the decision by Fox News not to invite him to Sunday's Republican debate, but he hopes to gain even from his absence. "When there's an exclusion, it energizes the supporters," Paul, a U.S. congressman from Texas, said. He'll use the time freed up in his schedule for more appearances, more speeches. He was in Nashua, New Hampshire, Sunday, speaking to the Liberty Forum. No venue could be more fitting for this extraordinary Republican candidate. He stood out from the field in Saturday night's ABC news debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, particularly where U.S. foreign policy is concerned.
The Republican candidates are careful not to be too highly identified with the administration that will be leaving office in a year. Still, when it comes to terror and the war in Iraq, they give President George W. Bush considerable credit.
"The president got the big decision of his presidency right," Rudy Giuliani said. He meant the decision to "go on the offense" against terror. John McCain agreed, Mitt Romney agreed, Mike Huckabee agreed - albeit with slightly less enthusiasm - and Fred Thompson noted that this was a "global war." Afterward, the five began arguing with Paul, a Republican candidate who blamed American foreign policy for inviting and encouraging terror.
Paul rejects the "isolationist" label, but it's difficult to describe his positions in another manner. In Iowa he took 10 percent of the votes, way ahead of Giuliani's 3 percent and slightly behind McCain's 13 percent. No one believes he can win, but nevertheless in the final quarter of 2007, he raised the amazing sum of nearly $20 million, allowing him to remain in the race. The vast majority of the money came from hundreds of thousands of people who each gave less than $100. Most of them are young - allowing Paul to compare his draw to that of Democratic candidate Barack Obama - and very devoted. In New Hampshire, a state whose citizens have a strong tendency to believe that that government is best which governs least, and are among the most anti-tax people in the country, Paul hopes to do well - at least as well as he did in Iowa.
The most interesting political question about Paul concerns whether he will run as an independent after he loses the Republican nod. Paul refuses to promise that he won't, and one can already hear how would frame an independent run: "The investment was made by the supporters," he notes. They gave the money, they'll decide what to do with it. In other words, if they demand it, he will have no choice but to go forward.
Paul made time for a brief conversation with Haaretz a few days ago, after an appearance at Des Moines University, in Iowa. He spoke to students before holding a short press conference, and then stopped to talk about Israel a little. Much has already been written about Paul and Israel. Some have accused him of being anti-Israel and have found anti-Semitic sentiments among some of his supporters. A few of Paul's statements have teetered on the thin line between sharp criticism and dangerous conspiracy theories. For example: "The assumption is that AIPAC is in control of things, and they control the votes, and they get everybody to vote against anything that would diminish the [Iraq] war."
Representatives of Israel in the U.S., who make a point of maintaining contact with all of the candidates' campaign headquarters, have not bothered much with Paul. What could they say to a candidate whose supporters believe that Israel plays a central role in trying to provoke a U.S.-Iran war? How much schmoozing could they do with those who want the U.S. to get out of the Middle East?
Still, Paul is polite to the Israeli nudnik attempting to trip him up: "I'm not anti-Israel in any way," he says. Paul has no problem with the idea of America's maintaining good trade relations with Israel, or with with seeing Israeli tourists in the U.S. and vice versa. The suspicions about him, he assumes, come from the fact that he opposes economic and military aid to Israel. But, he stresses, it's not just Israel, it's any country. In fact, Paul explains, Israel only stands to gain from his position. "It's a good deal," he says, since when aid to Israel stops so would the aid to all the Arab states currently enjoying American patronage. It is true that Israel receives more than any of the Arab states, but, Paul notes, it receives less than they do put together. "The enemies would also be denied the money," he says.
"I believe in the sovereignty of Israel," Paul says. If Israel stops receiving U.S. aid, then it could do whatever it wants. If it wants peace, then it will make peace. In any event, Paul is certain that "It will do quite well." Israel doesn't really "need us."