Rep. Ron Paul's foreign policy has been both booed and cheered, vehemently supported and dismissed as crazy. Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace called Paul's foreign policy views "the bridge too far" for Republicans—the thing holding him back from wider GOP voter acceptance in the presidential race.
Since many of Paul's long-held economic policies—particularly on spending cuts and auditing the Federal Reserve—have come into vogue, some pundits believe foreign policy is what keeps Paul's national presidential poll numbers in the 10 percent range.
So are the 12-term congressman's views commonsense ideas Republicans need to consider, or would they threaten U.S. security?
U.S. News spoke with two experts in the field to get their take on a few tenets of Paul's philosophy.
Paul: Let Israel fend for itself.
TAKE ONE: When it comes to the Israel-Palestine peace process, or other Middle East issues regarding Israel, Paul has said U.S. involvement and direction infringes on that nation's sovereignty. Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, agrees, referring to demographic trends that indicate non-Jewish populations are growing swiftly there, one issue Israel faces. "Can Israel maintain their character as a Jewish state in the future?" Preble asks. "But that is clearly a question for the Israeli people, not for the United States; not for the American people." But in any case, he adds, "the United States has far less leverage over Israel's behavior than people seem to believe."
TAKE TWO: Protection of Israel is not just for Israel's sake, says Jamie Fly, executive director at the right-leaning Foreign Policy Initiative, but for the United States' sake, too. Israel is "threatened by enemies of the United States that are doing things to us around the world, as well as to, not just Israel, but our Arab and other allies in the region as well," says Fly, who also worked for President George W. Bush at the National Security Council and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He adds that Israel is a key ally since it is a powerful democracy planted in the Middle East. "I think it's in our interest to do as much as possible to ensure that Israel remains secure."
Paul: End foreign aid.
TAKE ONE: Preble says that foreign aid creates inappropriate dependence on the United States. And, he adds, it is far less effective than private, nongovernmental aid or encouraging private economic investment and trade. "State-to-state foreign aid is distributed, by and large, through existing power structures," he explains. "That is, those rich people in poor countries who have been able to hold onto power through a variety of means." He adds that private aid is more likely to get into the hands that need it, rather than into the coffers of corrupt people and institutions.
TAKE TWO: Fly agrees that eliminating any waste or inefficiencies involved in foreign aid is necessary, but he still believes such aid is vital. "A predominant amount of the aid actually goes to some of what we call frontline states," he says, pointing to Israel, Egypt, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq. "These are all countries where we have security interests as well," he explains. "It's not just giving money to feel good or to feel better about ourselves. It's in support of our broader strategic goals."
Paul: Bring the troops home from Afghanistan ... and everywhere else.
TAKE ONE: If the United States defends a country with its military, that country has far less incentive to build its own military capacity, says Preble, adding that a lot of U.S. foreign military presence is unnecessary and outdated. "World War II ended a very, very long time ago. The Cold War also ended a very long time ago," he says. "Most of our foreign military deployments are a legacy of both of those long-since-gone conflicts." Preble explains that with current capabilities to send troops quickly to new locations with little notice, the United States no longer requires "the foreign presence that we did require to deter the Soviet Red Army or to defeat Nazi Germany."