Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Sticking to the Constitution on foreign policy

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

In the current Republican presidential primary season, there’s one candidate that goes off the normal track and often faces ridicule and insult for it: Ron Paul. Not only is he somewhat marginalized by the mainstream press, he has also been on the receiving end of hostility from members of his own political party.

I recently read a piece by a Republican commentator that compared Ron Paul’s foreign policy positions to those of Neville Chamberlain in the time leading up to World War II. This piece makes a mistake in not fully understanding the ideas that frame Dr. Paul’s understanding of the role of the U.S. government in foreign policy.

It is well established by all candidates for the presidency that there is an essential federal role in foreign affairs. This is dictated specifically by the U.S. Constitution, and it is one of the major reasons for having created our republic in the first place. So far, so good.

How we interact with other countries easily shapes their perception of us. If we rely too heavily on military solutions when dealing with other countries, resentment can easily result. Nobody likes being forced to do things against their will.

A strong, heavily built-up national defense has been championed by both of the major political sides, and especially the Republican Party. Even our national culture seems to survive on a strong military. Therefore, when Paul speaks in a different way on this issue it causes some people to react negatively.

However, in the early days of the United States a vast, full-time army was not ideal at all. In fact, it was one of the things being left behind in Europe. The standing armies of the various countries of Europe were used to oppress the ordinary people. Think about the Third Amendment to the Constitution and how the colonists were aggrieved by the presence of British soldiers in their homes.

The ideal of the early republic wasn’t even to have a full-time army, but to rely upon volunteers and local militias. The idea was that this form of defense was the most consistent with democratic values because not only was governance placed in the hands of the people, but even their military was by and of the people.

This system was dominant even as late as the Civil War. President Lincoln, and, for that matter, Confederate President Jefferson Davis, had to rely upon state regiments to form their armies. The governors of each of the states supplied many of the soldiers for the war effort.

It was only after this time that we began to see a much larger amount of full-time military personnel in America. Even as a full-time army was emerging, it was still the norm to have only limited engagements with foreign nations up through the decades around World War II. Prominent Northampton resident and eventual president Calvin Coolidge would always ensure that the U.S. army was used only for purposes of American defense.

While the Democratic Party insists that the Constitution changes as time progresses, the Republicans have often championed that adherence to the original meaning of the Constitution. Yet when it comes to military and defense, the Republicans have embraced a relatively modern idea that has nothing to do with the original foundation of our republic.

After Social Security and Medicare, the largest expense in the U.S. budget is the defense establishment. Unlike Social Security and Medicare, the defense budget is considered discretionary since it isn’t mandated by law to spend a set amount each year. This contrasts with Social Security, where the benefits are very specific and must be paid to recipients. Of the discretionary parts of the federal budget, defense is the largest line item. Therefore, if Republicans and Democrats are serious about bringing the federal budget under control, then it would make sense to put the defense budget on the table and see where it can be trimmed.

Therefore, it seems that there are three key areas where a return to the ideals of the early American republic in the area of foreign affairs is ideal. First, it increases the democratic spirit of the American people by putting the military affairs into the hand of the people themselves. Second, it allows foreign countries to maintain their independence and freedom from U.S. control. Third, it contributes to sound fiscal policy on the federal level.

There are two options to consider. We can continue in the current course of rapidly increasing armed forces involved across the globe, or we can increase citizen participation in the United States, increase our respect for the sovereignty of foreign nations, and be better fiscal stewards. In favor of the current course stands President Obama and his Republican alternatives, and in favor of a new liberty-centered course is Ron Paul, who appears to be the only one who recognizes how far the United States has moved from our original ideals.

Eric Magazu is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]



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    BrianFeb 5, 2012 at 10:42 pm

    Oh yes, I completely agree with you that Ron Paul wants to move to United States back to its “original ideas” – back to the 18th century, that is. In addition to advocating an 18th century defense policy (which may or may not be good, let’s leave that aside for now), he also wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act, allow businesses to segregate on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or anything else, eliminate women’s rights at work (for example by legalizing sexual harassment), destroy ALL workers’ rights by allowing bosses to fire anyone at any time for any reason, let people die if they don’t have health insurance, destroy public education and thus trap poor children in poverty, abolish FEMA and leave disaster victims without any help… the list goes on.