All the Trouble in the World: The Ron Paul Doctrine
Jeff Deist: For any readers who are unfamiliar, tell us what the Ron Paul Institute is and what it does.
Daniel McAdams: We do three main things, Jeff. We publish every day three or four articles and they’re highly curated. We want to show people three or four things to think about. And we do the daily Ron Paul Liberty Report with Dr. Paul, Monday through Thursday with me as a cohost and Friday with Chris Rossini as the cohost. The other important part of what we do is conferences. We met this year to discuss the anniversary of Nixon’s closing the gold window. We had our normal Washington, DC, conference, which was our biggest conference ever. We also had the Ron Paul Scholars Seminar for upper-division undergrads and graduate students, essentially a foreign policy bootcamp. We had Thomas Massie, Phil Girardi, Jim Bovard, and Jacob Hornberger. The lineup was terrific, so it was a great event. We focus on foreign policy, but increasingly, these past two years, we’ve absolutely focused on civil liberties, given everything happening with covid.
JD: I had the opportunity to attend your Washington, DC, conference a month or so back and it definitely was eclectic. RFK Jr. [Robert F. Kennedy Jr.] talking about health freedom was really fascinating to me. Kudos to you and to Ron Paul because I think dollar for dollar the Ron Paul Institute punches well above its weight in terms of influence. The Ron Paul Liberty Report, of course, is a daily go-to for a lot of people.
DM: We’re encouraged that so many people tune in.
JD: Let’s touch briefly on your past. When I met you, you had been living in Europe for several years, in Hungary. I’m told you even had some neoconish tendencies at one point. Tell us about your background.
DM: Well, I don’t know that it was neoconish tendencies, really. When the Cold War ended, I had just finished up at UC Berkeley with a degree in English literature, which is, of course, as we all know, the most useful degree on earth, right? We’re in a recession in ’88 and I had an English degree. I had always wanted to do foreign affairs and politics but was not able to do it. So I decided to go back to grad school and study international relations, which in some ways was a dumb move, but in some ways it was a very fortuitous move, but not necessarily neocon.
When I went to Europe I watched the Clinton administration supporting the so-called Reform Communists, I was pretty naïve back then, I’ll admit it. I thought, These guys, they must not know what’s going on. They must not know the good guys and the bad guys. We have to support the good guys, not the guys that have been exploiting people for decades. A lot of it’s philosophical, Jeff, because there are two ways of looking at the Communist era. One is that it’s an aberration in history. It’s something that became unique, in a nonorganic, nonevolutionary way. If you look at it like the cancer that a lot of us believe it was, if you cut out that cancer, then you have two threads of history that are separated by several decades—in the Soviet Union’s case, many decades. The question is do you rejoin those threads of history and move on in sort of a social evolutionary manner or do you view the Communist era as a part of a normal evolution process, and not an aberration of history, but just another part of history? I had fallen clearly on the side of it being an aberration, of it being a cancer. I and a lot of the people, certainly in Hungary, that I worked with, people in the Hungarian Democratic Forum (which was the first party to win the elections after communism), they looked at the traditions of precommunism and wanted to revive a lot of those traditions. For the US embassy that was anathema. It suggested the dark days of anti-Semitism, which of course it wasn’t at all. It was a thousand years of Hungarian history. That’s the philosophical breaking point of how you view this sort of storyography of twentieth-century central and eastern Europe.
JD: While you lived in eastern Europe you worked with the British Helsinki Human Rights group. Talk about that—why are they controversial? The interventionist regime change types don’t seem to like them.
DM: No, they don’t and, of course, those regime change, democracy-for-all people are now firmly ensconced on our shores. This is something we called thirty years ago, twenty-five years ago. We saw this machine taking on a life of its own and eventually coming over to the West. I was exposed to the British Helsinki Human Rights group in a pretty simple way. I was at the time writing off and on for a newspaper called the Budapest Sun, which was the largest English-language paper in central and eastern Europe. I eventually became the editorial page editor. Early on I’d noticed there was a good conservative writer, Jonathan Sunley, a brilliant British scholar who had studied under Professor Norman Stone. We became friends. It turns out that Jonathan was involved with a group that was doing a lot of work in Hungary and who were skeptics of the received conventional wisdom there. A lot of it has to do with the last answer I gave, the view of history and the view of whether or not, if you or your family were involved in the implementation of communism, you have a right to remain in the vanguard of the change away from communism. And that’s of course, exactly what they all believed that they had the right to do. That’s why they’re the ones, to a large degree, who managed the transition. In Hungary it’s called the Rendszerváltás: the transition was managed by the same people who brought communism in.
I spent a brief period in the State Department in intelligence, and by pure happenstance I was handed the Albania account in the State Department’s Intelligence and Research division because the person who was doing it was following Czechoslovakia’s breakup very closely and didn’t have time for Albania. It just fell in my lap. I wrote several items for the Secretary of State’s Morning Summary briefing book just because nobody else wanted to do it. Then I was asked in 1996, Do you want to go to Vienna and testify at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe] and take a trip to Albania and see the coup that was beginning? I was invited to Vienna by like-minded people of the British Helsinki Group, and then it was off to the races.
JD: You returned to the US a year or so before 9/11 or thereabouts. What did you know about Ron Paul at the time, and how did you come to work for him as his foreign policy staffer?
DM: I mentioned in a speech I gave a couple of weeks ago my gateway drug was Justin Raimondo. It was through finding Justin and, I’m somewhat reluctant to say it now, but I was on a website back then (kiddies may not remember that there weren’t really websites as we know them now) called Free Republic. It was basically a right-wing site, wingnut site, which hated Clinton. I was not necessarily a right-winger, but I hated Clinton for a lot of reasons. There was this guy that kept putting his articles up on Free Republic and being absolutely pummeled by these right-wing wingnuts, but it never deterred him, and that was Justin Raimondo. He responded and responded and responded, and so I started reading Justin and I started realizing, of course, in the late ’90s, how right he was about what was happening in the Balkans because I was literally next door. It was through Justin, thank God, that I discovered Lew Rockwell and Ron Paul and so many of the other people who were saying the same thing. Indeed, it was thanks to Justin Raimondo that I started really questioning my idea that we’ve got to help the good guys because the bad guys are winning. And I started realizing that we should not be helping any guys, and that was my big revelation.
JD: At that point could you have imagined the Ron Paul revolutions of 2008 and 2012?
DM: No, not at all. In fact, at the time, it was a shock to me because I wasn’t awfully interested in politics. I was involved in Republicans Abroad and it was mostly a social club because I was trying to find a way to get some connections and make some dough. We did have the Gingrich Revolution when I was over there so I foolishly thought, Oh, the good guys are going to start doing really good things and, of course, I was wrong.
Then here’s this obscure Texas congressman who didn’t seem like a right-winger. I couldn’t peg him because I didn’t understand libertarianism at the time. I remember my father-in-law used to always say that he was libertarian and I didn’t know what it meant, except that he thought we shouldn’t be put in jail for drugs, which I disagreed with at the time. So no, I never could have foreseen it, even having worked for him for six or so years before the Ron Paul revolution took off. We were fighting rearguard actions, we were throwing metaphorical bombs into the machine to try to slow things up and to try to at least make some points. The idea that all of this would coalesce into a worldwide historic movement that will be written about and is written about in history books, it never would have really occurred to me at the time.
JD: During your years working for Dr. Paul he had a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Henry Hyde was chairman of that committee during some of those years. What was Ron’s impact on that committee? Why did they (the GOP leadership) let him have a spot on a committee dealing with foreign affairs?
DM: He was on the committee before I was hired. I had been writing for Lew Rockwell and Antiwar, and I think that’s what helped me. Our good friend Joe Becker, who’s now with you guys at Mises, he wanted to move on and they needed someone that could handle Ron’s foreign affairs stuff. So it was dumb luck. I just fit the bill. It was not easy for Ron to get on the Foreign Relations Committee. He had tried before and he was told that he wasn’t sufficiently loyal to a different state, which is Israel, to be considered acceptable to be on the committee, but eventually he was offered a position there. I think they probably regretted it, particularly as we faced the run-up to the Iraq War, the years of the Iraq War, the PATRIOT Act, etc., etc. They probably regretted letting him on the committee.
JD: But it did provide him several excellent opportunities over the years to make his case.
DM: Yes, every time it came to his turn, the eyes were rolling. This is not going to be easy; here he goes again. But over and over again, he just made such crisp points, such perfect points. He never let anything slip by him, and as everyone knows, he did it in his calm manner. He wasn’t pounding the table. He wasn’t acting like a buffoon, like so many other members. He just simply assailed them with facts and with analysis, and that’s why they hated him the most, especially Tom Lantos, who was the chairman for a brief period of time.
JD: Ron Paul was motivated by two things in deciding to run for Congress: foreign policy and monetary policy. He was able to dovetail those two things. He understood that interventionism abroad is a cousin of interventionism at home in the economy.
DM: This is something that the neocons and most conservatives never understand. Those same people believe that six thousand miles away, all of a sudden the government becomes omniscient and omnipotent, there’s a huge disconnect and the reason is very simple. They never have to live with the consequences of the policies that they promote overseas. They never have to live in a Ukraine that’s been destroyed by the Maidan. They never have to go back and live in Libya, which has been a nightmare since we “liberated” it. They never have to face the consequences of the policies that they support and promote, therefore they continue to promote them until the whole thing comes down, which, who knows, may be imminent.
JD: If you look at the Constitution, there’s no distinction made between foreign policy and domestic policy. Yet up until recently there was a gentleman’s agreement in Congress that politics stops at the water’s edge. This allowed for a lot of interventionism to go unremarked, with bipartisan support.
DM: You’re absolutely right. It was a very convenient tool for the interventionists because, after all, those were our boys over there and anything you say that might put them in danger questions your patriotism, so that was used a lot to solidify support for intervention overseas. There’s no question about that.
JD: In your mind, is there a Ron Paul doctrine for economics and foreign policy? I recently reread Mises’s Liberalism, and his prescription for a liberal society or even a liberal nationalism was very much in keeping with Dr. Paul’s longtime message. Mises advocated laissez-faire at home, along with self-determination for political minorities up to and including secession. Liberal foreign policy means free trade, which prevents the problems of autarky, and a strictly noninterventionist military approach. These four elements give us Mises’s prescription for a liberal society. Those same four elements are a good description of what we might call a Ron Paul doctrine.
DM: That’s a very good point. I think at its core a Ron Paul doctrine would be resisting the temptation of authoritarian impulses, because they’re there, they’re everywhere. The thing about Ron (and I work with him now a lot more closely than I did on the Hill; as you know, we only went in there when we had an issue. Normally we left him alone.), and it’s evident in every aspect of his life, including his interpersonal relationships, is resisting the impulse to authoritarianism or to any kind of intervention. And sometimes that’s been a little difficult. Sometimes there were staffers who needed a little more intervention. But Ron would always hope that they would straighten up and fly right, and he always hoped that people would do the right thing, but he would always want to tell people what that right thing was. I think it could be encapsulated in bumper sticker simplicity: Well, what should I do? Well, do what you want to do. What should I do to promote liberty? Well, do what you want to do. Do what you’re good at. I think that is at its core. I don’t know if it’s a kind of Protestant work ethic or if it’s the way he was raised, in circumstances where hard work paid off to a successful career, to a successful life, one that started in very difficult circumstances. If you know about his past and about how his ancestors came over from Germany with literally nothing in their pockets and hard work provided them the American dream, I think that’s really kind of who Ron Paul is because he understands what that’s like.
JD: Some of his critics should deliver four thousand babies before they opine.
DM: Or ride in a horse-drawn carriage delivering milk at seven years old! (laughs)
JD: There has always been a split between what we might call DC libertarians and Ron Paul libertarians favorable to the Mises Institute. A tougher name would be regime libertarians. Some people in those circles say, Oh, Ron Paul ends up making apologies for foreign dictators because his noninterventionism is so reflexive. You have also been on the receiving end of these criticisms.
DM: Well, it’s the issue of staying out of other people’s business at home and abroad. You know, there is sort of a Trotskyist faction of libertarians who believe that a libertarian government overseas imposed by force in a permanent revolution is the only way we can have freedom in the world. There are these type of liberal messianic interventionists who do want to have libertarianism here first but who do also ultimately want to export that overseas. And then there are what I call the live and- let-live libertarians, which understand that people in a country, for example, Iran, may want to live under a theocracy and it’s just none of our business if they do. I say, just as a sort of pressure relief system, you might let some more immigrate who don’t want to live in a theocracy but otherwise people should be free to live as they wish, even in Venezuela, if they want to have a socialist system. There are always evolutionary changes, of course, and unfortunately, our evolutionary changes are not going in the right direction, but when you subject that external pressure, you move from evolutionary changes to revolutionary changes, which there’s no example in history where us being a vanguard of democratic revolutionary change overseas has ever produced positive results. All of this comes from understanding the Ron Paul doctrine, as you say, and how Ron Paul views the world. Anyone who follows him knows that he’s not bashful about criticizing Venezuela’s economic policy, but it’s just he doesn’t take it to the next step of calling for us to liberate the people there.
JD: Justin Raimondo received a lot of grief for this over the years too.
DM: Oh yes.
JD: It strikes me, Daniel, how much economic ignorance resides in the neoconservative worldview. We don’t have the money for wars and nation building. It’s all debt financed. If people really understood economics they would know a grandiose foreign policy is flat-out incompatible with so-called limited government—supposedly a conservative shibboleth.
DM: That’s absolutely true, and the more I understand how things work, the more I also understand that it’s not necessarily ideological. You know, people like Bill Kristol live very good lives because they do the bidding of the defense contractors in the military-industrial complex. And we’re seeing so much of that now. We’re looking at now the medical-industrial complex, the pharma-industrial complex. These are special interests that literally have Congress in a chokehold. They probably produced the Cold War itself, if we want to be revisionist, but certainly the post–Cold War era and the maintenance and expansion of the US empire has all been driven by the weapons manufacturers. So, it’s partially ideological, but that ideology is awfully convenient when it leads you to live a better life than normally you would live as a humble scribbler, like Kristol would have been.
JD: Here’s something to consider. There is obviously crossover between a Liz Cheney and a Joe Biden on foreign policy. The Mitt Romney types agree with the Hillary Clintons and the Terry McAuliffes, who fortunately just lost the race for governor in Virginia. But we have interesting left and right crossovers on our side too. In other words, there are voices out there like Dennis Kucinich and Jimmy Dore and Caitlin Johnstone down in Australia aligning with people like you and the aforementioned Raimondo and Dr. Paul. I do think there’s an opportunity there. These endless foreign wars have no natural constituency and are not popular outside the Beltway.
DM: Yes, foreign policy during this entire year and a half or two years of covid tyranny has exposed a lot of the people that I was worried might come down on the other side, because they were progressives. I have been reassured with people like Glen Greenwald, slightly a latecomer to the whole thing, but Matt Taibbi, as you say, Jimmy Dore, who’s so terrific on this issue, some of the people that I’ve known on foreign policy, Vanessa Beeley and her group, Whitney Webb. These are great writers and they’ve all come down as antiauthoritarians where most of their allies or once allies on the left have firmly come down in the camp of the CIA, of the PATRIOT Act, of don’t question … you are in a resistance, but don’t you dare resist the authorities. Thankfully, these ties, these cross-aisle, as you would say, ties, have not only managed to survive the covid tyranny, but they’ve been fertilized by it. So, there is a little bit of optimism for me at least in this point.
JD: I think the covid regime has to be viewed like our interventionist regime overseas. They are part and parcel of the same beast. One thing you’ve mentioned in speeches is the Rockwell Rule, named after Lew Rockwell. We discussed regime libertarians who want to browbeat every tinpot dictator. They may technically oppose actual military interventions, and maybe even oppose economic sanctions, but they demand everyone join the chorus of browbeaters. So what exactly is the Rockwell Rule?
DM: It’s very simply, never, ever, ever in any regime that the CIA wants to overthrow, never ever repeat their talking points. Never criticize any regime that the CIA wants to overthrow, full stop. That is the Rockwell Rule, the Rockwell Doctrine and it deprives the interventionists of the ability to say, see? Even the libertarians agree that Qaddafi is passing out Viagra or that Saddam is eating babies. They can say, Oh yeah, the libertarians, they don’t want to invade, but see? Even they agree. So, deprive them of that ability. Caitlyn Johnstone has a good way of saying it, “Don’t be a CIA mouthpiece.” I think that is very, very important and it’s so funny because you do see these things at exactly the right moment that the CIA and the regime change machine wants you to say them. When they’re ramping up the heat on Iran, for example, all of a sudden, you’ll have some young libertarian gal come out and say, Iran is horrible, a despotism, they’re socialist in their economy. It always comes at the exact right moment. If you’re a libertarian and you participate in this, you’re a dupe or worse.
JD: There is a tremendous amount of hubris in the West today. The whole world has to share our principles and our form of governance, essentially social democracy. And this should be maintained through international governance in the form of the United Nations or the World Bank or whatever. From my perspective this is just the twenty-first-century version of imperialism and colonialism. It is ideological colonialism.
DM: Yes, and worse because we can kill a lot more people a lot quicker. The people that jump on the bandwagon, We’ve got to do this, we’ve got to overthrow X, you are living in a country whose foreign policy and military leadership are responsible for the deaths of millions. You have a president who just droned a family and then lied about it, started wars, who’s now holding nearly a hundred people in a gulag in DC because they happened to set foot in the Capitol building on January 6. This is one of the most repressive regimes in the world, and if you doubt that, step out of line. Yet nevertheless, if there’s a bad guy overseas, we’re going to jump in and join the chorus and join the two minutes of hate against him, to keep this evil regime up and running, to keep the dollars flowing to the overt and covert regime change mechanism here at home. The thing is, just don’t buy into it. Bite your tongue. OK, the guy’s a jerk overseas, probably true, but we have bigger jerks running the State Department, running the military, running the military-industrial complex, right here at home.
JD: Give us your take on some current issues in foreign affairs. Let’s start with China and Taiwan. I’m interested in Biden’s saber rattling. His administration’s talking to the Japanese about potential joint naval exercises. I wonder what millions of Chinese Americans would think if Biden joins forces with the Japanese over Taiwan.
DM: That’s an interesting point and it’s a variable I don’t think has been considered much. Now I may be wrong, but from my experience, I think the Chinese Americans in the US tend to be rather apolitical. They’re not as involved in politics as other immigrant groups, at least to this point they have not. This is a sweeping generalization, but they tend to keep their heads down and become very successful in business and academia, but there might be some triggers for that. You have a lot of Chinese in the US, and they have ties to their homeland and they retain those ties, so I think you could see some pushback. It would be something that would be very new, but it might be something that does eventually come about.
JD: But given our recent problems in Afghanistan, for example, is the United States military really equipped at all to take on China?
DM: No, and a lot of Americans on the Right are falling out of love with the military and that’s a very good thing. They’re stopping this military worship and it’s because of the wokeness that’s gone on within the armed forces, but that is a good question. Are we really going to provoke a war with China when we can’t beat a bunch of barefooted people after twenty years of war? Well I think that’s all by design too. They didn’t want the Afghanistan war to end because it’s the gravy train, whereas I think a war with China would be pretty quick and decisive. So, are they equipped? No, but they weren’t equipped for Iraq, they weren’t equipped for Afghanistan, they’ve not been equipped for any war, frankly. You could go back to World War I and II. We came in at the end of World War I, when things were pretty settled, so the whole thing is a complete scam, Jeff. It’s a huge ripoff, it’s a huge psyop against the American people.
JD: But even among libertarian audiences there are people who say China is a real threat to the United States. China is biding its time and hoping we suffer an economic fall here. Those people at the Mises Institute who talk about secession would simply open the door for a weakened America to let the Chinese lion in.
DM: What would they do? Take California? I had lunch with my good friend Colonel Douglas McGregor and he said, our military is still fighting the idea of territorial warfare. The rest of the world has given up on this idea. You don’t go and fight and take over. Right now, we’ve taken over 30 percent of Syria. What are we doing there? Nobody knows. We’re the only country in the world that goes around looking to put in bases and get territory overseas. What does it give us? It seems to me the last thing that the Chinese would ever want would be to “own” most of the US. You know, first of all, it’s a basket case. They’ve got their own basket case because of the economic problems they have. Why would they want to inherit something worse? It would be a disaster. The real Chinese threat is that the Chinese do capitalism better than we do. We go overseas and we overthrow governments, we take over media, we push people around, we push gay rights. The Chinese go overseas and make business deals in foreign countries and they get the stuff they want. They get the rare earths. They build factories. And that’s the real reason that the Chinese will certainly outpace us in the future. But instead of addressing that aspect and returning to a noninterventionist foreign policy at home and abroad, domestic policy and foreign policy, we actually are doing things that make it more likely that they will overtake us in the one area that they’re outperforming us. So, scratch your heads on that one really.
JD: Talk about Turkey and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Just ten or fifteen years ago, he was the darling of the West and Turkey was going to join the eurozone. Now he’s a devil.
DM: He is a devil now and he’s pretty wily. He knows how to do business with Putin. He’s not chewing on the sound bites that NATO wants to give him. He purchased the S-400s now and that makes him unqualified to participate in the F-35 project, although we’re still holding a billion of his dollars. We’re dangling some F-16s in front of him. Probably best to take the F-16s over the F-35s, actually. He’s a populist. His support comes from the countryside. He comes from the religious countryside. I’m not particularly a huge fan of his, but I find it difficult to avoid cheering for him when he told those ten Western ambassadors including the US ambassador last week, Hey, you signed a letter dealing with something that we’re dealing with in our internal judicial system. You’re persona non grata. Get out of the country. And it wasn’t until countries backed down, that he said, OK, you guys can stay. But he’s not having it. Russia got it, Putin got it. But a country like Belarus, who’s been on the receiving end of US regime change efforts for so long, still allows Western NGOs in the country? I think Erdogan has woken up to that. He’s woken up to what’s happening. Regardless of how you feel about his policies or his authoritarianism, if you don’t like the US empire because it hurts us or hurts people overseas, you have to have a positive view of what’s going on in Turkey.
JD: How about Iran? Are they actually developing nuclear weapons or just nuclear energy? Or neither?
DM: They’ve been about twenty minutes away from the nuclear bomb for the past thirty years, so either they’re taking a long coffee break or it’s, once again, Israel having a conniption fit as they always do, with the US following suit. Again, it’s the same people driving it, the military-industrial complex. And the Israelis, because we subsidized their military so much, they don’t have an incentive to make peace with their neighbors because they believe that the US has their back no matter what they do. This is not a healthy policy for Israel in any sense of the word and certainly not a healthy policy for us. We subsidize a policy in Israel that’s very dangerous to Israel, and if we didn’t do that, they would have to find a way to deal with their neighbors and find peace. The Iran policy was a disaster under Trump, is a disaster under Biden. The Biden administration is trying to have it both ways. They promised to go back to the Joint Comprehensive Agreement, the JCPOA, but they can’t do it because they’re having a lot of pressure from the pro-Israel faction to get additional concessions and Iran is saying, What are you talking about? We already went through this. We made an agreement. Why would we give up more than what we initially signed on to? The whole irony of it, the humor of it, is that we’re pushing Iran more firmly into the camp of Russia and China. They’re saying, Hey, if you don’t want to deal with us, we’re going to go ahead and sell some oil to China, and China says, OK, we’ll take it. Sounds good. We’re actually the authors of our own demise with our stupid foreign policy.
JD: Finally, give us your take on Russia and Putin.
DM: It was an interesting talk that Putin gave to the Valdai Discussion Club this past week. He talked about the wokeism in the US and he talked about how we seem to be devouring ourselves. He remembers from his own history what happened when the Soviets came and tried to suppress speech and tried to suppress normal life as the wokeists in America are doing now. He’s saying that Russia is probably the last conservative, for better or worse, whatever the word means, conservative country on earth. I know that makes a lot of antiwokeists feel like Russia is the answer, is the paradise. One of the things we’ve seen from covid is that there’s still a lot of authoritarian impulses in Russia that we might not necessarily like. It was a three-hour speech. Imagine Joe Biden giving a very detailed three-hour talk on anything! But, it’s very, very, very interesting and I really highly recommend that the listeners take a look at what he had to say.
JD: In 1959, a long time ago, Murray Rothbard wrote a letter to Ken Templeton at the Volker Fund. He said, “I’ve decided that the war-peace question is key to this whole libertarian business.” What a great quote. Are you familiar with it?
DM: Absolutely. It is the key quote.