Michael A. Cohen is a regular columnist for Foreign Policy's Election 2012 Channel.
In this year's GOP presidential track meet it seems that everyone gets a turn in front — and this week Ron Paul is the lucky candidate. While still trailing in the national race numbers, recent poll results from Iowa suggest that, two weeks until caucus day, Paul has jumped into the lead there ahead of the water-treading Mitt Romney and the sinking Newt Gingrich.
Paul brings a unusual set of views to the Republican presidential sweepstakes — on almost every core national security and foreign-policy issue he holds a position that is in fierce opposition to the views of mainstream Republicans.
Indeed, his entire philosophy is largely a renunciation of much of what Republicans believe about America's role in the world. He questions the popular notion of American exceptionalism and has argued in his recently published book, Liberty Defended, that the "United States is an empire by any definition, and quite possibly the most aggressive, extended, and expansionist in the history of the world." This is the kind of language that might cause Ronald Reagan to roll over in his grave.
And that's just for starters. He belittles the war on terrorism as a "cliché" that is used to "con the people into thinking that all citizens must cooperate and sacrifice our liberties to 'win' the war." He is openly disdainful of the use of torture and other extrajudicial tactics that have been utilized to fight it. He is dismissive of the need to kill top al Qaeda lieutenants, including Osama bin Laden; blames U.S. foreign policy and meddling in other country's affairs for the "blowback" that contributed to 9/11; and downplays the efficacy of the country's military might. In Paul's view, if the United States simply stayed out of other countries' business we would be left alone. Suffice to say, his opponents in the GOP race have a far more "exceptional" take on U.S. power.
His policy solutions are even more anathema to conservatives. He wants to reduce the military budget, abolish the CIA, pull the United States out of NATO, end financial support for Israel, and do nothing in the face of Iranian nuclear proliferation, which he claims is a legitimate desire for Tehran to have. In Liberty Defended, Paul is unabashed in his criticism of prominent Republicans. He calls former Vice President Dick Cheney a "chicken hawk"; criticized the "lies" of the Bush administration that led the United States to war in Iraq and directly takes on conservatives who don't share his views noting, "Those who consider themselves to be opponents of big government and yet have an uncritical attitude toward militarism and war are either fooling themselves or haven't thought enough about the problem."
According to Bruce Fein, senior foreign policy advisor to Paul, his campaign is "about changing the conventional orthodoxies" that are articulated by the other GOP candidates. In Paul's view, says Fein, the United States should not exercise global leadership by the end of the sword but rather by the "influence of its example." According to Fein, "Ron Paul is the greatest hawk of all when it comes to defending America and Americans. He wants every defense resource focused on defending America and not other countries."