Why I root for Ron Paul

I've been thinking a lot about Ron Paul and the Republican primaries lately. I am a social libertarian but don't like many of Paul's small-government ideas (or, for that matter, that he named his son after Ayn Rand). But I think he has the best foreign policy ideas out there, ones against maintaining an endless empire of US bases in the Middle East and against foreign aid. I really like this argument by Philip Weiss:

Ron Paul represents the opportunity to push an antiwar agenda inside the center-ring political system. His candidacy might actually force Romney and Obama into more antiwar positions. If he disappears, that prospect all but vanishes. An attack on Iran might actually be in the balance. If he sticks around, we might actually have a presidential debate in which candidates openly dispute aid to Israel and an attack on Iran and what Paul has called apartheid conditions on the West Bank, an honesty no other candidate is capable of.

If you care about the antiwar issue, joining with Ron Paul is like seculars joining with the Muslim Brothers to get rid of Mubarak. You needed a broad coalition to push Hosni out. And in the end, that coalition did the impossible; it moved Obama. Obama wouldn't have jumped in if not for Tahrir. He needed political cover. A broad coalition gave it to him.

But what if leftwing secular social-media types had stood around Tahrir Square asking the smart question, Hey what do these folks-- Muslim Brothers and Salafis-- want to do with the role of women in politics? They would never have gotten rid of Mubarak.

I wouldn't stress the Tahrir comparison too much, but there are good reasons to support Ron Paul among the sorry lot of Republican candidates this batch and the frankly unappetizing prospect of Obama being re-elected. Precisely because Paul brings in, along some wacky libertarian ideas, this anti-war, anti-imperialism, "isolationist" element to US foreign policy. It's a strong plus for him, one of the few things that really makes him stand out if you can stomach the other stuff.

The way I see it, there are good reasons to support Ron Paul in the Republican primaries and wait for him to become popular enough to disrupt the nomination process. If he does well enough, the Republican establishment will push through a candidate of its choice but alienate Paul voters, making the chance of a third party or independent campaign by Paul more likely. Since for me, overall, Obama is still more desirable as a president than any of the current crop of Republicans, this ensures he gets re-elected, but probably without a majority. In this situation, the Republican establishment is weakened, the Democratic establishment is weakened, and the candidate who stood on his own values is rewarded even if he has no chance at the presidency. And in the meantime, on foreign policy at least, Paul helps keep people honest in the foreign policy debate. As Phil writes:

And Obama will be a better policymaker the longer Ron Paul is in the process. Paul will actually give Obama more political capital to take on the warmongers and neoconservatives by raising consciousness on these issues. I don’t want Ron Paul's foreign-policy ideas to be in the margins of political life, I want them in the mainstream. That is what he represents.

As an independent who leans progressive (but has a secret Tory heart) and is repulsed at the Democratic party's support for Israel and the warmongering of the last decade, Paul just makes sense — precisely because he has little chance of getting power but some of his ideas deserve better airing. Too bad he came third in Iowa, but I hope sticks around.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.