Special Report

Ron Paul's Foreign Policy

Congressman representing Texas's 14th District

Foreign-policy credentials: Paul served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force in the 1960s, spending time on the ground in countries like Ethiopia, Iran, Pakistan, South Korea, and Turkey. He also sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Overview: Paul's libertarian, noninterventionist, empire-shunning foreign policy is often described as Tea Party isolationist, but he sees it as defending and strengthening the homeland within budgetary and constitutional constraints. "Isolationism is -- is something that the protectionists want," Paul explained in June. "They want to close borders for people coming in, and they want to close trade, and I have no desire to do that all because I'm a free trader and I want as much travel and communication with other countries as possible. This is what the Founders advised. We were never given the authority to be the policemen of the world."

Advisors: The campaign hasn't released much information about who's advising the congressman on foreign policy, but it did announce in August that it had hired constitutional and international-law expert Bruce Fein to advise on legal matters and the "dangers to national security of an increasingly interventionist foreign policy."

On the Issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: As part of a larger cessation of military operations abroad, Paul wants to swiftly withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and transfer power to Afghan officials. "We'll have less danger to us if we don't occupy foreign countries, because that's the top motivation for the desire to come here and kill Americans," he contends. He views the U.S.-Pakistan relationship as an "impossible situation" and worries that Pakistan will be the "next occupation." Paul also condemns drone strikes, which he says are inciting anti-Americanism and civil war in Pakistan. "For everyone you kill," he observes, "you probably create 10 new people who hate our guts and would like to do us harm."

Military spending: Military spending and defense spending are two different beasts, according to Paul. "We can spend money on defense -- that's OK -- but we just can't afford all these hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars we're spending on all these wars," he argues.

Immigration/borders: Paul's top national security priority is securing the United States' borders. He opposes amnesty for illegal immigrants and granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States. But he's not a fan of a "barbed-wire fence with machine guns," which he claims could actually keep Americans penned in rather than prevent illegal immigrants from entering the country. "I think this fence business is designed and may well be used against us and keep us in," he declared in September. "In economic turmoil, the people want to leave with their capital, and there's capital controls and there's people controls."

Israel/Palestine: Paul thinks the United States should stay "friends" with Israel but cut off foreign aid, which he says harms Israel's national sovereignty. In a floor speech reproduced in his book, A Foreign Policy of Freedom: Peace, Commerce, and Honest Friendship, Paul recommends staying neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "[I]f we have solidarity with Israel, then we have hostility to the Palestinians," he explains.

China: If the United States wants to maintain peaceful relations with China, Paul maintains, it is "much better off talking to the Chinese and trading with the Chinese." He adds, "In some ways, they embarrass us, because they're more capitalistic than we are.… But I blame ourselves for that."

Foreign aid: Paul wants to cut all foreign aid, which he has described in the past as unconstitutional and misguided. "Foreign aid is taking money from the poor people of a rich country and giving it to the rich people of a poor country," he declares.

Iran/nukes: Paul has compared the government's concern over Iran's nuclear program to the "war propaganda that went on against Iraq" and has argued that it's "not worthwhile" to go to war with Iran. "If you do," he adds, "you get a declaration of war and you fight it and you win it and get it over with." He opposes sanctions on Iran, thinks the Iranian nuclear threat has been exaggerated, and proposes offering Iran "friendship."

Trade: Paul is a firm believer in free trade -- a conviction he cites to prove he's not isolationist -- but not free trade agreements or multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization. That's why Paul thinks America's "best friend" is not Israel or France or Britain -- but Canada. "We trade more with them than anybody else … and we give them no foreign aid," he explains.

War on terror/detainees: Paul has called waterboarding torture and torture "un-American," has opposed the Patriot Act and the Guantánamo Bay detention center, and has argued that terrorism suspects should be tried in civilian courts. He claims that waging war "against a tactic" has enabled the president to flaunt the law and become the "prosecutor, the executor, the judge, and the jury," as in the case of the targeted killing of U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. Paul did, however, support the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Environment: A growing climate-change skeptic, Paul has deemed global warming the "greatest hoax" in years. He wants to remove restrictions on drilling, coal, and nuclear power; repeal the federal gas tax; eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency; and offer tax credits for alternative-fuel technologies.

Russia: Paul has said little about Barack Obama's policy toward Russia or the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement, but he did recommend during his 2008 presidential campaign "not threatening Russia in any way because I don't think it's necessary. If we're friends with Russia and we trade with Russia, I think there's a less likely chance that we'll ever fight with Russia."

Arab Spring: Starting from the premise that the United States can "no longer afford to police the world," Paul denounced the Libyan intervention as costly, unconstitutional, and potentially "devastating" for the Libyan people. In explaining why he wouldn't intervene in Syria, Paul noted that "there's been a lot of people killed throughout the world in the last century. You know, the Soviets and the Chinese killed hundreds of millions. But we didn't feel compelled morally to try to stop it." As Hosni Mubarak's regime crumbled in February, Paul blamed the unrest on America's "interventionist" foreign policy. In an op-ed for the Hill he wrote, "We have isolated ourselves from the Egyptian people by propping up their government, as we isolate ourselves from Tunisians, Israelis, and other recipients of our foreign aid," he wrote.

Other issues: One of Paul's less publicized critiques of the war on terror is airport security. Paul pledges to replace the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) with private security firms, prevent the TSA from "forcing Americans to either be groped or ogled just to travel on an airplane," and allow pilots to carry firearms to stymie future 9/11-style attacks.

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Special Report

Rick Perry's Foreign Policy

Governor of Texas

Foreign-policy credentials: Perry lived in Germany and Saudi Arabia in the 1970s while flying cargo planes for the U.S. Air Force in Latin America, North Africa, and Europe. "I saw all of these different types of governments and I made the connections to how the people acted and looked, and it became abundantly clear to me that, at that particular point in time, that America was this very unique place and that our form of democracy was very rare," he told the Abilene Reporter-News in April. As governor of Texas, he has traveled abroad and worked particularly closely with Latin America.

Overview: Perry may appear like an aggressive, American Exceptionalism–trumpeting defense hawk at first glance, but his views on issues such as the Afghanistan withdrawal, illegal immigration, and "military adventurism" complicate the picture. "We respect our allies, and we must always seek to engage them in military missions," he told a gathering of veterans in August. "At the same time, we must be willing to act when it is time to act. We cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies."

Advisors: The campaign recently hired Victoria Coates, a research director for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with a Ph.D. in Italian Renaissance art and history, to advise Perry on foreign policy. The Texas governor told Sean Hannity in November that he also discusses international affairs with Liz Cheney and John Bolton -- people "who actually understand, intimately, where these countries are, why they think like they think."

On the Issues:

Afghanistan/Pakistan: Perry wants to transfer responsibility to Afghan security forces and bring U.S. troops home, but he opposes President Barack Obama's withdrawal timetable and in September quickly walked back from an apparent endorsement of a speedy withdrawal. He thinks Pakistan isn't being "honest with us" and wants to cut off foreign aid to the country. "Their political people are not who are in charge of that country," Perry claims. "It's the military. It's the secret service."

Military spending: The governor hasn't called for defense cuts, but he has warned against a "foreign policy of military adventurism" and declared that America "should only risk shedding American blood and spending American treasure when our vital interests are threatened." Still, he told the conservative Values Voter Summit in October that "we must never put the military on the chopping block for arbitrary budget cuts as part of some political horse-trade." The key question, he added, is "not what we can afford to spend on our military, but what it costs to remain secure and free."

Immigration/borders: Perry has pledged to beef up the Border Patrol and dispatch Predator drones to the U.S.-Mexico border to gather intelligence. During a debate in October, he argued that Mitt Romney was guilty of the "height of hypocrisy" for talking tough on immigration while hiring illegal immigrants -- a charge Romney denies. But Perry's own nuanced record on immigration has left him vulnerable to charges from Republican opponents that he's soft on the issue (Bill Clinton, for his part, praises Perry's stance). Perry has defended his decision as governor of Texas to grant in-state tuition to some undocumented students. "If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," he argued in September. Although Perry wants to construct fencing in "high traffic areas," he ridicules the notion of erecting a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexico border -- or, as he put it, echoing a line from Obama, the idea of building a "double fence" with "alligators between it" and "lava in there."

Israel/Palestine: As the Palestinians pressed their bid for statehood at the United Nations in September, Perry warned the Palestinians that they could lose their U.S. aid and criticized Obama for "moral equivalency," which he charged "gives equal standing to the grievances of Israelis and Palestinians, including the orchestrators of terrorism." He said it was "time to change our policy of appeasement toward the Palestinians [and] to strengthen our ties to the nation of Israel," adding that he supports a two-state solution so long as it stems from direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He has said in the past that "my faith requires me to support Israel."

China: Perry doesn't buy the notion that the 21st century will be the "century of China" and that the United States has had its "time in the sunshine." In a nod to Ronald Reagan's prediction about the Soviet Union's trajectory, Perry thinks the "communist Chinese government will end up on the ash heap of history if they do not change their virtues."

Foreign aid: Perry turned heads during a debate in November by arguing that countries should earn every dollar they receive from the United States, especially slippery allies like Pakistan. "The foreign-aid budget in my administration for every country is going to start at zero dollars," he proclaimed. "Then we'll have a conversation about whether or not a penny of our taxpayer dollars needs to go into those countries." Later, he added, "Obviously, Israel is a special ally, and my bet is we would be funding them at some substantial level."

Iran/nukes: Perry's formulation on Iran is pretty simple: "We cannot afford to allow that madman in Iran to get his hands on a nuclear weapon, period." He says he would support an Israeli airstrike on Iran if there were proof Tehran was closing in on a nuclear weapon. As for a pre-emptive U.S. strike on Iran, Perry says he "never would take a military option off the table when it comes to dealing with this individual."

Trade: "There is nothing more important towards peace on this planet than having arrangements with countries where you're actually doing trade with them," said Perry, a longtime free trade champion, citing Chile, Panama, and South Korea as examples. "Maybe that's one of the ways that you deal with the issue of what's happening in that Afghanistan, India, Pakistan region, and you create a southeastern Asian free trade zone."

War on terror/detainees: Perry has called for a "war on terror" with a "smaller footprint" that relies on high-tech special operations. He has forcefully defended waterboarding (but not "torture"), arguing, "For us not to have the ability to try to extract information from [detainees], to save our young people's lives, is a travesty. This is war."

Environment: Perry has called global warming a "scientific theory that hasn't been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question," a statement that has gotten him in trouble with fact-checkers. He opposes "anti-carbon programs" like cap-and-trade schemes and wants to prevent the federal government from "picking winners and losers" by ending federal subsidies to the energy industry. That agency he forgot in his now-infamous "oops" moment? The Energy Department. As for the Environmental Protection Agency, Perry wants to "downsize and retask" it so that it "no longer torments job creators or gives an official stamp to phony science."

Russia: Perry has called Obama's reset of U.S.-Russia relations a "slap in the face" to American allies in Central Europe and lamented the rise of a "Russia that is increasingly aggressive and troublesome to its neighbors and the former satellite nations that are struggling to maintain their relatively newfound independence." He has said little about the New START nuclear arms reduction agreement between the United States and Russia.

Arab Spring: The Middle Eastern uprisings, according to Perry, demonstrate that America must continue to "be the world's leading advocate for freedom" and speak "the truth to adversaries and dictators in keeping with our democratic values." But he warns that "we have been slow to recognize the risks posed by the new regime in Egypt," specifically regarding its relationship with Israel. He called the fall of Libyan strongman Muammar al-Qaddafi a "cause for cautious celebration."

Other issues: Perry has advocated sending U.S. troops to Mexico to battle drug cartels. "The way that we were able to stop the drug cartels in Colombia was with a coordinated effort," he explains, warning that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state.

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