Over at L'Hôte, Freddie argues that the argument over Rep. Ron Paul’s weaknesses has been used as a distraction from the larger critique of American interventions. Robert Farley pushes back some on the specific Indonesian example Freddie raises. While I’m generally anti-occupation I’m not an anti-interventionist, but I think it’s important to keep them part of the discussion.
I’d first like to note a point of disagreement with the post.
Left wing politicians like Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich have embraced discussion of foreign policy and civil liberties, and for their trouble they have been dismissed as unserious by the self-same progressives who now dismiss Ron Paul's ideas…
I do think Rep. Kucinich does tend to be dismissed, but I don't think discussing Sen. Sanders (no relation) is taboo. Ezra Klein interviewed him in August of 2011. Admittedly Klein interviews many politicians, but in May of 2011 he posted video of Sen. Sanders smacking down Sen. Rand Paul. In June of 2011 Klein argued that the moderation of Sen. Sanders proposals, compared to Republican extremism, shows that the national debate is imbalanced. The Senator from Vermont appears to appreciate Klein's work and cited him from the floor of the Senate in June(Source: Fishbowl D.C.). Now that’s just Ezra Klein and is in a domestic context, so perhaps the specific objection is that Sen. Sanders foreign policy views aren’t really discussed.
That objection aside, the question Freddie raises at the end is well worth addressing:
I want those who profess belief in liberalism and egalitarianism to recognize that they are failing those principles every time they ignore our conduct overseas, or ridicule those who criticize it. What I will settle for is an answer to the question: what would they have us do? If you can't find it in you to accept our premises, at least consider what you would do if you did. For those of us who oppose our country's destructive behavior, there is no place to turn that does not result in ridicule…
I think the solution is primary challenges for members of Congress. Matt Yglesias and Freddie have disagreed about this point before but I think the key argument for congressional challenges is that they have a proven track record. The various conservative groups that now make up the Tea Party make regular use of primary challenges and have been rewarded with increasing ideological consistency in Republican Party.
This isn’t to say they haven’t overreached and cost the Republican party seats, it’s a tactic with clear limits. However, I think the experience on the Republican side, see the 1992 election, also indicates that Congressional challenges are far less likely to backfire than Presidential ones. Working on getting state government elected officials is generally a good idea but obviously isn’t that helpful for shifting foreign policy.
I think clear and enforceable red lines are another fairly effective technique. This means picking certain issues where disagreeing with your group means denial of funding or even actively supporting a replacement candidate. Part of the reason there’s such strong pushback against Rep. Paul is that he impressively manages to violate the redlines of almost every member of the liberal coalition. In the 2008 election, I’d say the anti-interventionist made fairly effective use of support for the Iraq war as a redline issue which is part of what got President Obama the nomination. I think that electoral effort deserves part of the credit for the fact that we’re did comply with our treaties and withdrawal the U.S. military (if not contractors) from Iraq.
This is actually an area where a fair amount of popular support is potentially available as both the war in Iraq and in Afghanistan lost popular support well before they lost elite support. Dan Drezner has argued that realism rather than liberal internationalism has more support among the American populace. To be sure, realism is not primarily concerned with preventing U.S. complicity in overseas violence but it is fairly consistently anti-interventionist in a way that does check liberal and neocon hawkery. I’d advise finding one or two policy statements that have support from a strong majority or vehement plurality in a fair number of states or Congressional districts. The anti-war movement probably doesn’t have the clout to raise their own challengers, but such criteria, if publicly applied, could help leverage existing resources by targeting them all at one race.
I think it would also be fair to withhold funding from any candidates, including President Obama, that violate your redlines. While I do have some strong objections to some of President Obama’s actions on civil liberties and foreign policy, I’m still willing to donate to him. However, I think redirecting donations of time or money away from a sitting Presidential candidate, even in a tough race, is a perfectly valid tactic for anti-interventionists. We all have to pick priorities.