On the one hand, Texas congressman Ron Paul, Republican candidate for the presidency, is a zealous champion of limited government, free markets and low taxes. On the other hand, he reportedly thinks the U.S. should not have gone to war against Nazi Germany. What to make of this heresy? In a word, a great deal – for it may define Mr. Paul's isolationism.
Imagine for a moment that Mr. Paul, not Franklin Roosevelt, served as U.S. president and commander-in-chief in the Second World War. Imagine that the U.S. went to war against only Japan, that Germany won the war in Europe – and that Hitler was able to keep the death camps running through the Age of Aquarius.
Mr. Paul justifies his isolationism on strictly fiscal grounds. Wars cost money. End the wars, end the taxes required to wage them. For some Americans, this seems a reasonable proposition. But this is almost certainly an evasion. Mr. Paul's isolationism extends beyond fiscal restraint – and reaches implicitly to global surrender.
In his 2011 book Liberty Defined, for example, Mr. Paul cites Israel as a racist state that threatens American freedom. In a Boxing Day blog, former senior aide Eric Dondero – just fired for insubordination after 12 years of service – elaborated: Mr. Paul "most certainly is anti-Israel, and anti-Israeli in general. … His view is that Israel is more trouble than it is worth, specifically to the America taxpayer. He sides with the Palestinians, and supports their calls for the abolition of the Jewish state, and the return of Israel, all of it, to the Arabs."
The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal, quoted Mr. Dondero further: Mr. Paul "does not believe that the United States had any business getting involved in fighting Hitler. He expressed to me countless times, that 'saving the Jews' was absolutely none of our business." A few days later, Weekly Standard reporter John McCormack asked Mr. Paul four times to respond: Was Mr. Dondero telling the truth? Four times, Mr. McCormack said, he "remained silent." Mr. Paul's campaign staff subsequently clarified Mr. Paul's silence: If Congress had declared war on Germany, Mr. Paul, as commander-in-chief, would have felt constitutionally obliged to wage it. (Germany, in fact, declared war on the U.S. before the U.S. declared war on Germany.)
This apparent reluctance to wage war on Nazi Germany goes beyond Mr. Paul. In his 2008 book Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, controversial author Pat Buchanan (who himself once ran for the Republican presidential nomination) documents this dark, enduring niche in American conservatism. Mr. Buchanan blames Churchill, not Hitler, for the Second World War.
In fact, though, Mr. Paul gets even his economic argument wrong. The essential obligation of any state is defence – which doesn't come free. Mr. Paul would take the U.S. out of NATO; would close American bases around the world; would end American foreign aid. But the U.S. cost of self-defence would inevitably rise, not fall, with each of these retreats into Fortress America. Would the U.S. Navy have use only of American ports? How long would international waterways remain open to unrestricted global commerce? What's the ultimate financial cost of long-term appeasement?
U.S. defence spending is already at a record low, or very close to it, relative to GDP. U.S. military spending has increased 90 per cent since 9/11, yet remains far below its historical share of GDP. The U.S. spent 40 per cent of its GDP, for three years, to win the Second World War. The U.S. fought the Cold War for 30 years at a GDP cost of 10 per cent a year. By 2000, though, U.S. defence spending was costing only 3.6 per cent of GDP: 3.6 cents per dollar of the national economy.
By 2010, this cost almost doubled – to 6 per cent (all war costs included). But this cost is already falling. The Congressional Budget Office says that, with an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the country's defence cost will fall back to 4.6 per cent within three years.
People who balk at paying four cents on the dollar for a nation's defence (or, in Canada's case, 1.5 cents) need to know exactly what wars they would fight and what wars they would skip. The Second World War wasn't the first absolutely essential moral war in human history – and it won't be the last.