Ron Paul’s Critique of U.S. Foreign Policy Draws Debate Jeers

By Patrick Goodenough | September 13, 2011 | 4:55 AM EDT

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) makes a point during the Republican presidential debate on Monday Sept. 12, 2011, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

(CNSNews.com) – Judging from the jeers from a conservative audience, Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul may have crossed a line for many during Monday night’s CNN/Tea Party debate with his comments about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Certainly he crossed a line for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who accused Paul of saying that American actions “brought about the actions of 9/11.”

The Paul-Santorum clash over al-Qaeda and 9/11 echoed an earlier one, during the Aug. 11 GOP candidates’ debate in Ames, Iowa, when Paul said that it was understandable for Iran to want a nuclear weapon capability and accused Republican hawks of “war propaganda.”

In Tampa, Fla. on Monday night, the libertarian Paul opened the fray by saying that America was “under threat because we occupy so many countries.”

“The purpose of al-Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there where they can target us – and they have been doing it,” he said, adding that there have been more attacks against U.S. interests each month “than occurred in all the years before 9/11.”

“We’re there, occupying their land,” Paul continued. “And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?”

Santorum shot back, “Someone who’s running for president of the United States [for] the Republican Party should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11.”

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum gestures during Monday night’s presidential debate in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

“We are not being attacked, and we were not attacked, because of our actions. We were attacked, as [former House speaker] Newt [Gingrich] talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists,” he said. “And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for.”

Given the opportunity to rebut, Paul responded, “This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true.”

“Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda have been explicit,” he said, as boos erupted from the audience. “They have been explicit and they wrote and said that ‘we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians a fair treatment …’ ”

As the booing grew louder, Paul said, “I didn’t say that. I’m trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing.”

“At the same time, we have been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for ten years,” Paul concluded as his time ran out. “Would you be annoyed? If you’re not annoyed then there’s some problem.”

A blog posted on the Ron Paul campaign Web site later Monday night said that Santorum as president would make America “less safe” by following the foreign policies of Presidents Bush and Obama.

“Bush-era Republicans like Santorum have learned nothing in the last decade,” it said. “Ignoring that 9/11 was caused primarily by Islamists seeking retribution for constant U.S. intervention in their ‘holy land’ – something Osama Bin Laden made perfectly clear – Bush launched a war in Iraq, giving al-Qaeda its best recruiting tool in its history.”

On Sunday’s 9/11 anniversary, a statement on Paul’s Web site included a blistering attack on the Bush administration’s response to the 2001 terrorist outrage.

“We should never forget those in our government who used the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history as an excuse to launch completely unrelated wars, to do unprecedented damage to Americans’ historic liberties, to run roughshod over the Constitution, and to betray the Founders’ vision by savaging some of our most deeply held values,” it said.

“The last decade has been a tragic one in countless ways. Few if any Americans would like to see it repeated.”

(A Paul Krugman column in the New York Times on Sunday expressing a similar sentiment prompted former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to announce on Twitter that he was canceling his Times subscription. Krugman wrote that the 9/11 attack “was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.”)

‘Hundreds of thousands?’

During Monday night’s debate Paul said that the U.S. has “been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for ten years.”

According to Iraq Body Count (IBC), a nongovernmental database of Iraqi civilian deaths based on media reports, official figures and other sources, between 102,000 and 112,000 Iraqi civilians have died from armed violence since the March 2003 invasion.

A peer-reviewed academic study of IBC figures for the March 2003-March 2008 period (when the database numbered 92,614) attributed 11,516 of those deaths to coalition forces. The study was published last February in the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine.

IBC recorded 630 “non-combatant Iraqi deaths resulting directly from actions involving U.S.-led coalition forces” in 2008, 80 in 2009, and 32 in 2010.

Thus a correlation of the figures in the PLoS Medicine study and IBC figures for 2008-10 indicate that around 12,260 Iraqi civilians were killed as a direct result of U.S.-led coalition actions, between the war’s start in March 2003 and the end of 2010.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow