NOTE: Since writing this article, the author has revised his understanding of economic and political theory and now questions whether there is truly a clear theoretical distinction between, on the one hand, “free” and “non-free” markets, and between, on the other hand, one nation and another, given the absolute inter-connectedness of all entities and the consequent relative vacuousness of ideas like “force” and “authority”. However, despite this minor theoretical issue, the general gist of the article is still correct.
The January 16 GOP debate in South Carolina began in a manner that has now become customary of the Republican debates: the candidates spent a large chunk of time berating each other on their past records and quibbling like school children.Some of the allegations were substantive and meaningful, but many were not, such as the criticisms that Mitt Romney received regarding his business record, particularly his time at Bain Capital.
Newt Gingrich has been using Romney’s business record as a campaigning meme for the last few weeks, accusing Romney of being a “vulture capitalist,” among other things, while at the same time paying lip service to the principles of the free market. What he does not seem to understand is that the free market depends entirely on the principle that Mitt Romney’s business record exemplifies; as Milton Friedman has stated, the sole purpose of a corporation should be to maximize profits for its shareholders.
Although it may at times seem callous, the restructuring process is an inherent necessity of the free market process, and this process sometimes involves firing lots of people, selling assets, and liquidating debt, as Mitt Romney did at Bain.
The opposite process, which is to continue funding an inefficient process through debt in an attempt to secure some social good, is the cornerstone philosophy of liberal economics and the exact practice to which Gingrich is nominally opposed. What this demonstrates is that Gingrich does not really understand the principles of the free market, which ought to have been obvious when, in past debates, Gingrich defended his work with Freddie Mac as a “free-market endeavor.”
But the most contentious part of the debate was foreign policy. As usual, Ron Paul was the philosophical pariah on this topic, acting as the sole voice of reason amid an overly-hawkish group of Republican contenders who favor an even more lavish and aggressive foreign policy than does President Obama, whose foreign policy is already more aggressive than that of his predecessor.
However, the tension was especially high during this debate, due to a highly vocal crowd that was especially critical of what Ron Paul calls a “non-interventionist” foreign policy, which essentially means limiting the American military’s activities to protecting the United States at home, rather than promoting democracy abroad. That would mean closing the 900 American military bases worldwide, ending the military wars in the Middle East, and ending military subsidies to foreign nations. In Ron Paul’s words, “ I consider it waste…you need to understand that there is a difference between just military spending and defense spending…We are supposed to be conservatives. Spend less money.”
As usual, the other candidates disagreed. Capitalizing on the ability to easily demagogue the issue, Gingrich told Andrew Jackson’s life story and said, “Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them.” Of course, the audience recognized the profundity and relevance of this statement and applauded him wildly. Romney charged, in response to a question about negotiating with the Taliban: “Of course not. Speaker Gingrich is right. Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are… The right thing for Osama Bin Laden was the bullet in the head he received.”
Of course, Dr. Paul does not disagree with using the military force to take out America’s enemies; in fact, as he pointed out, while in congress he not only voted for the authority to pursue Osama Bin Laden, but also introduced The Marque and Reprisal Act of 2001, which would have shifted the focus in Afghanistan to pursuing the terrorists responsible for 9/11, rather than George Bush’s policy of rebuilding the entire country and trying to restructure the government.
However, Paul does not agree with confusing the terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, with the Afghani political organization, the Taliban, which, as Ron Paul pointed out, “used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians. The Al Qaeda want to come here to kill us. The Taliban just says we don’t want foreigners.“
Neither does he agree with the way that Osama Bin Laden was captured: without the cooperation of the Pakistani government, and in violation of their law. He explains, “What I suggested there was that if we have no respect for the sovereignty of another nation, it will lead to disruption of that nation…now there’s a civil war going on, and the people are mad at us.” Paul’s suggestion to treat Pakistan with respect really is actually pretty reasonable, considering that they have approximately 100 nuclear warheads.
However, the audience was not on his side, and in an attempt to defend himself, he invoked the Golden Rule laid out in the Gospel of Matthew: “So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want to have them do to us.” One would expect South Carolinan conservatives, 60% of whom describe themselves as Evangelical Christians, to react respectfully towards Biblical principles, but instead the comment was booed and jeered. This only emboldened Paul, who continued, “We endlessly bomb these countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us? And yet it continues on and on….”
This is perhaps Paul’s most controversial idea. Paul claims that terrorist attacks against the United States are motivated by our foreign occupation of other nations – both direct and in the form of military bases, our meddling in their governments, and our military support of Israel. To back up these claims, Paul often cites the research of University of Chicago professor Robert Paper, which demonstrates that 95% of suicide attacks since 1980 were in response to foreign occupation – and not for religious or ideological reasons – according to the terrorists themselves, along with the fact that 15 out of 19 of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis angered at our military presence in their country.
The other candidates hold the opposing view: that our military presence around the world is too weak. As Romney explains, “The right way, Congressman Paul… is to have a military so strong that no one would ever think of testing it.” Considering that the United States already spends nearly 700 billion dollars a year on its military, more than the military spending of China, France, the UK, Russia, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Italy, India, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, Australia, Spain, the UAE, Turkey, Israel, the Netherlands, and Greece put together, one has to wonder just how strong a military Governor Romney is implying, and whether or not we can afford it, considering our current debt situation.
It also makes one wonder why, if an overreaching military is necessary to preserve national security, countries like Switzerland and Sweden, with very little military presence abroad, are almost never attacked by terrorists, and why the United States is attacked far more than any other nation in the world.
While contemplating these issues, perhaps it is best to keep in mind the admonition of Martin Luther King Jr., whose federal memorial day was celebrated the same day as the debate: “Don’t let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America ‘you are too arrogant’.”