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Paul’s Foreign Policy Is Truly Outside the Mainstream

As the race to win the Iowa caucus comes down to the wire, Rep. Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy have rightfully come under attack. Paul, who proudly touts his willingness to slash the defense budget, end the war in Afghanistan, and bring U.S. troops home from Europe and Asia, does have a group of hardcore supporters, but is he fit to be commander-in-chief?

Paul is often described as an “isolationist,” but he and other libertarians resist that label. In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Saturday, Blitzer asked Paul about his objection to the term. Paul responded:

An isolationist is a protectionist that builds walls around the country. They don’t like to trade. They don’t like to travel about the world. And they like to put sanctions on different countries. . . . Nonintervention is quite a bit different. It’s what the Founders advised to get along with people, trade with people, and to have — practice diplomacy, rather than getting — having this militancy of telling people what to do and how to run the world, and building walls around our own country. That is — that is isolationism. It’s a far cry from what we believe in.

Libertarians like Paul who run away from the isolationist label do so because they realize that it is an unpopular position not shared by most Americans. After ten years of the War on Terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s easy for politicians to rail against overseas commitments. But Paul’s “nonintervention” is no more within the American mainstream than isolationism is.

As Robert Kagan wrote in The Weekly Standard a year ago, the United States has undertaken 25 overseas interventions since 1898 (now 26, if Libya is counted). Kagan noted:

That is one intervention every 4.5 years on average. Overall, the United States has intervened or been engaged in combat somewhere in 52 out of the last 112 years, or roughly 47 percent of the time. Since the end of the Cold War, it is true, the rate of U.S. interventions has increased, with an intervention roughly once every 2.5 years and American troops intervening or engaged in combat in 16 out of 22 years, or over 70 percent of the time, since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

American administrations of both parties end up intervening in foreign conflicts and supporting our allies with overseas deployments because doing so is in our interest and because it embodies the values upon which our nation was founded.

If Paul and his fellow libertarians want to be viewed not as isolationists but as prudent noninterventionists, what are the instances in which they would use American military power? Paul often says that he supports a strong national defense, but who does Ron Paul think the American people need to be defended from? It isn’t al-Qaeda or fundamentalist Islam, since he wants to end our engagements in the War on Terror and has expressed concern about acts that don’t even involve significant troop deployments, like the targeted killing of U.S. citizen (and terrorist) Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

He told Wolf Blitzer that the real protectionists are those who “don’t want to trade with Cuba and they want to put sanctions on anybody who blinks their eye at them.” This is a telling statement about how high Paul sets the bar for designating a country an enemy of the United States. He has previously expressed his opposition to U.S. sanctions on Iran, which has killed Americans, as well as the citizens of allies such as Israel, for decades. To Paul, though, the mullahs have only been “blinking their eyes at us.”

His son, Sen. Rand Paul, defeated Trey Grayson in the 2010 Republican primary in Kentucky, in part by trying to differentiate his foreign policy views from those of his father. Rand Paul is now a lead surrogate for his father’s presidential campaign and as senator over the last year, he has hewed to the family line. He’s proposed massive cuts to the defense budget, called for significant cuts to foreign aid, including to Israel, and blocked routine Senate resolutions condemning brutal crackdowns in countries such as Syria as well as statements of support for key allies, such as the Republic of Georgia.

So who do Ron and Rand Paul think threatens the United States? If not Iran, Syria, Russia, or even China, then who? Or is their plan to reduce American military capabilities to the point where the American people can only be defended from an invasion by Mexico or Canada?

Also troubling is the fact that people who call themselves constitutionalists, such as the Pauls, argue that their foreign policy would be the type of foreign policy espoused by the Founders. They are obviously overlooking the inconvenient fact that there is no way that those men gathered in Philadelphia in 1776, who faced death if captured by the British, meant the words of the Declaration — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — to apply to just those thirteen colonies at only that time. Anyone who doubts this should look no further than Thomas Paine’s comment at the time that “the cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind.”

That’s actually the greatest problem with Representative Paul’s views. He doesn’t grasp what America is, what we have always stood for, and what our global responsibilities are as the world’s sole superpower, and he clearly has no sense of who actually threatens our way of life. A country governed by a Paul administration would lead to a much more dangerous world, embolden our enemies, and likely result in significant American casualties.

As Ronald Reagan eloquently put it in his speech at Pointe du Hoc on the 40th anniversary of D-Day:

We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace, than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We’ve learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.

Ron Paul has not learned that lesson. Lucky for the country, he’s unlikely to become president, but it’s heartening to see his rivals have begun to point out, as Newt Gingrich recently did, that “Ron Paul’s views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American.”

The same should be said of those who support him, regardless of what happens in Iowa. The Republican party does not need these voters, many of whom are independents or Democrats unlikely to support the eventual nominee. The libertarian policies they advocate, whether isolationist or noninterventionist, only serve to undermine the party of Reagan’s tradition of peace through strength. This is a tradition which, thankfully, all of Paul’s competitors have embraced, and it is the tradition that will guide the foreign policy of the next Republican occupant of the White House, whoever that may be.

— Jamie Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

New on The Corner. . .



: 01/03/12 08:44

Anyone else notice how the Paulistas dominate these boards on weekends and especially holidays?

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willy shoemaker
: 01/03/12 02:58

For crying out loud. You think this is the first time in history that a power junky bunch lost a bid for the world, failed, then had to deal with millions of citizens turning into right wing radicals on a witch hunt for scapegoats to blame? It's archetypal! It always happens. I'm sorry to use the Nazi card but that's exactly what happens. Here it's just less severe because people aren't starving in this country massively. Only one in two is some kind of poor. Look, the founding fathers set up checks and balances as the best solution for governance in an imperfect world. Checks and balances is the correct position between business and government also. Government is not the enemy any more than corporatism is. They can both be the enemy when unchecked. For all you extremist so-called Christians, wake up. Stop doing what your dogmatic churches tell you. Please do what your Jesus said and you won't be extremists. You will be compassionate and very level headed. For all you who can't get into that, get off your extremist bull pucky and come to the center for the good of our nation and balance government with business. If we need a cop on main street we also need a cop on wall street. If you think because a person has money he's necessarily a good guy then you are just another con artist that will destroy our civilization as sure as the Roman Empire was destroyed by the same ilk. By the way, try a little education in your lives instead of yelling "get a horse!"

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: 01/03/12 00:25

Jamie Fly's views are totally outside the mainstream of virtually every decent American. The same should be said of those who support him, regardless of what happens on NRO. The jingoistic policies he advocates are more akin to the bloody, big-government utopianism of Wilson and Lenin than the strong national *defense,* proportionate to the threats we the People actually face, advocated by the Party of Lincoln and Reagan. They reject "peace through strength" and endorse a self-justifying principle of "strength through strength", or even just "war through strength." He and his followers undermine the Constitution, the ideals of the Founders, and, ultimately, the liberty of American citizens and all free Men, everywhere.

They are corporatists and realpolitikal cynics and bloody-minded Romans. They're certainly not conservatives of any strip, paleo-, neo-, or polka-dotted. The Republican party does not need these voters. Indeed, it is injured by them. Whoever the nominee is this fall -- and I am happy to back any of them against our current Commander-in-Chief -- let's please make a New Year's Resolution to ignore the "Foreign Policy Institute" and its trigger-happy ilk during the coming GOP administration.

Two can play the "excommunicate good conservative Republicans" game, Mr. Fly.

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John Hawkwood
: 01/03/12 00:23

The interventionist foreign policy of successive U.S. administrations, Republican and Democratic, has been at the behest of, and in the interests of multinational corporations. Definitely not in the interests of the American, or any other nation's people. Paul is a courageous and independent candidate who has the guts to say what's true. The rest of the Republican field are serial dis-informers. Traitorous prostitutes, entirely bought and paid for by wealthy corporate interests. Particularly the military and petrochemical industrial complexes. It is past time that the One Party (Democratic/Republican) corporate state was swept into the dustbin of history.

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: 01/02/12 22:48

It seems unlikely that the Founders would have endorsed a war to vindicate the liberty of foreigners when they failed to vindicate the freedom of their own slaves, and their successors didn't bother negotiating for the rights of Mexicans in 1848 despite a fair amount of leverage over Mexico following the war.

It's not that they didn't believe freedom was universal. They just had a more cramped view of what freedom was and a far more restricted view of who they would advocate on behalf of. It was John Quincy Adams who said America: "is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

I don't consider myself an advocate of Ron Paul's foreign policy, or the way he sees the world. For my taste he focuses too much on a "Washington's Farewell Address" view of the world. But I appreciate a candidate who has a healthy skepticism of the efficacy of military reconstruction and whose first impulse is always to challenge government, rather than to assume any situation will be improved by the benevolent gaze of Washington (or Paris or London or Beijing or Moscow).

I was a pretty big supporter of the Iraq war at the time it started and even through the surge. I'm not a Republican, but I really hated the argument by people like Ron Paul that somehow Iraqis didn't deserve freedom and that we should only risk our lives and energy for Americans. As a libertarian who doesn't really buy into the concept of nation-states, that just seemed too provincial for my tastes. Borders are political inventions; people on the other side of the US borders are no less deserving of freedom than I am.

But after watching the Iraq war unfold I have to say that I see no reason why government is any better at building foreign democracies than it is at operating AmTrak or administering health care. It's just a really hard thing to do and ultimately economics and trade are more effective at changing societies than anything else. We learned this in Reconstruction, which essentially ended in an exhausted Yankee defeat. The South was a pretty despicable place for black people for another century, until socio-economic changes made it harder and harder to maintain Jim Crow.

The fact that a problem exists does not necessarily mean the government will be capable of fixing that problem. Democrats generally approach any problem and simply assume that the existence of a problem per se means the government can fix it. But sometimes problems are just very difficult to force solutions to, and big governments aren't very good at much besides destruction. So the fact that a country is horrible and lacks freedom does not also mean that a military intervention will improve their lives.

It's a great thing that Saddam is dead and his regime is gone; the same goes for Qaddafi and Mubarak. But who knows what will follow them next year or in ten years? It's hard to say and it's not really up to the US to dictate those outcomes.

My preference is to focus on expanding US trade opportunities. Western businesses and tourists and students should be going to every unfree country where they can move safely. Western goods should be available for sale anywhere. We should accept the citizens of unfree nations into our borders - as students, workers, or tourists. The commerce and interaction will help sway people in a more positive direction.

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alan borrows
: 01/02/12 21:39

It is way outside the Neocon mainstream - but right in the middle of the regular American mainstream!

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: 01/02/12 20:08

"Paul’s Foreign Policy Is Truly Outside the Mainstream"

Well, duh. As someone else on the Corner pointed out, we need a prophet outside the mainstream to tell us when we've gone overboard. It's the mainstream foreign policy that gets us in the messes we're in - an endless, undefined "war on terror," steadily increasing power being concentrated in the executive to fight said war, an increasing national security state, coddling of dictators because "they're our dictators," selling weapons to all sorts of unsavory regimes around the world who use them to oppress their own people or threaten other countries...the list goes on and on and thankfully there's someone outside the mainstream to call us on it when it gets excessive. I don't always agree with Paul but I'm glad he's out there. He's the devil's advocate for everything the mainstream tries to do.

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Charles Burris
: 01/02/12 19:55

Yes, Jamie. Ron Paul’s ideas are “out of the mainstream.” And what is that “mainstream?” In 1944 in the midst of World War II, the heroic conservative journalist John T. Flynn wrote:

“The test of fascism is not one’s rage against the Italian and German war lords. The test is how many of the essential principles of fascism do you accept and to what extent are you prepared to apply those fascist ideas to American social and economic life? When you can put your finger on the men or the groups that urge for America the debt-supported state, the autarchial corporative state, the state bent on the socialization of investment and the bureaucratic government of industry and society, the establishment of the institution of militarism as the great glamorous public-works project of the nation and the institution of imperialism under which it proposes to regulate and rule the world and, along with this, proposes to alter the forms of our government to approach as closely as possible the unrestrained, absolute government. Then you will know you have located the authentic fascist.”

We have become exactly what our fathers and mothers in uniform then gave their lives to oppose. The establishment’s approved and sanctified political spectrum -- stretching from Newt Gingrich to Barack Obama -- advocates fascism. The same special interest predatory elites that supported Mussolini and Hitler now support this "friendly fascism" of the welfare-warfare state, with presidential authorized assassinations and military arrest/indefinite detention.

Ron Paul, like John T. Flynn before him, advocates freedom, peace, and competitive free enterprise – not tyranny, militarism and bailout/subsidies for the Wall Street/DC elites preying on the poor and middle classes to support their hegemonic empire (both at home and abroad). In 1955 Flynn was banned by Buckley from National Review for speaking such heresy. Sadly things have not changed in the 57 years since then. As this article once again demonstrates, National Review is still the leading advocate of such fascism.

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: 01/02/12 19:33

Wow. With a few honorable exceptions such as Scott Wilson (and an intriguingly labled "Milwacko" and a few others), this is a pretty depressing bunch of know-nothing pacifists, ignorant appeasers and a-historic flat-earthers commenting on a putatively conservative site.

The Paulistas' bogus claim to "constitutionalism" resides solely on their insistence on the outdated notion that if there hasn't been a formal congressional Declaration of War, then American foreign military engagement is "unconstitutional".

I've got news for them -- formal declarations of war are as obsolete as buggy whips. The last one was 70 years ago and is not likely to be replicated in the foreseeable future, to put it, you should pardon the expression, conservatively. And yet threats to our way of life and foreign aggression against our interests and those of our allies not only proceed apace, but, in the absence of a credible American global dissuasive force, they metastasize.

Rick Santorum just today compared Ron Paul's foreign/national security policy to that of Dennis Kucinich. But I don't think he does that policy full justice -- you could put one of Paul's speeches on American foreign policy anonymously beside one of Fidel Castro's, and I swear you'd be hard pressed to tell one from the other.

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alan borrows
: 01/02/12 18:06

Paul's foreign policy ideas are only outside of the Neocon mainstream - but right within the American mainstream! Get used to it - we should not have military presence in 100 foreign countries telling them what to do, and should not fight all Israel's middle-east wars with American blood and treasure!

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: 01/02/12 17:17

How does whether a candidate's foreign policy is "outside" or "inside" the mainstream tell me anything useful about its wisdom?

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: 01/02/12 17:01

Yes, Paul is out of the mainstream. And I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the mainstream for spending many billions of dollars, and getting tens of thousands of lives lost and maimed, on the Iraq War against the WMD's which were not there. Thanks, Mainstream.

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complete curmudgeon
: 01/02/12 16:34

What many simply will not allow themselves to recognize is the intrinsic value of the pax Americana.

Let's look at Iran's actions in the Straits of Hormuz. Absent a muscular US Navy the Iranians could blackmail the world at will. Care to guess what the price of oil would be without the American fleet close by? The risk premium contained in the price of a gallon of gas would be driven by the mullahs in Teheran.

And are the mullahs capable of blackmail? Ask Gilad Shalit.

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: 01/02/12 18:10

You talk as if Iran exists in a vacuum, or is located outside our solar system. There are many other reasons why Iran will not block the Straits. Despite sanctions trade by Iran is conducted via neighboring countries such as UAE and Oman. Grey trade also takes place with Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey and Iraq. Russia has oil interests in Iran and the Chinese have interests in Iran as well.

Iran would stand to lose much more if it blocked the Straits. Your US Navy/John Wayne Sheriff analogy is pointless.

Iran is threatening to block the Straits due to our cowboy politicians who are threatening to attack Iran.

If you argue that we are threatening to invade Iran because they are developing nuclear weapons, then maybe they are developing nuclear weapons specifically because we have a muscular US navy in the region as well as US military presence in every single country that surrounds it, bar none.

Is it realistic to believe that Iran, a country that has never invaded another country in a hundred years is likely to attack the US, or is it more realistic to expect the US that is pretty much constantly at war and invading countries will be the country more likely to carry out an attack?

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Bill T
: 01/02/12 15:56

Gee... I don't know what Fly's intention was, but he certainly makes me think...

Over the last ten years, what is the average OUTLAY by the American Tax Payer to cover Military Spending?

How does that TOTAL compare with spending by other countries?

If I knew the answer to these two questions, it would be easy to determine if Ron Paul's desire to close the expensive, unneeded foreign military bases was honorable.

From the little I do know, doing so would probably save enough money to rebuild our infrastructure, secure our own boarders, make Social Security Solvent again, and make a very Hefty payment on our $15, 000, 000, 000, 000 in DEBT.

But that assumes Mr. Fly understands that AMERICA... IS... BROKE.
(Broke in more than just one way!)

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: 01/02/12 15:17

"what are the instances in which they would use American military power?"

Paul says that he would use the military for our defense, and that we shouldn't go to war without a declaration of war. Pretty simple, and hardly "weak" or "isolationist". That's probably why active military prefer him over all of the other GOP candidates combined.

Here's a four-minute video that's a montage of military personnel explaining why they support Ron Paul. Worth watching:

External Link 

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: 01/02/12 16:44

The Paulistas claim that the US should never use force until after bombs have fallen on the US.

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: 01/02/12 15:15

Pl-ease, give me a break! The Military Industrial Complex is so out of control that it's more a threat to our country than all of our "so called" enemies combined. They have turned Defense / the bogus war on terror into a business. All the fat-cats are getting rich on the backs of taxpayers. The Pentagon's budget alone has more than doubled since 2001. Add in all the bogus war on terror spending, and we're spending like 1+ trillion a year on Defense. That's a big jump from the roughly 300 billion in 2001. So where do you think the money is going to come from to keep spending like this? Rob Social Security & Medicare - again? Get rid of the EPA at a time when we're poisoning ourselves to death? Go look at Paul Ryan's last budget, after he makes all of his cuts we'll still have debt of 23+ trillion dollars in 2021 - 9 years. Obama's is roughly the same. And the massive deficits don't stop there, they just say that the deficit to Gross Domestic Product is at an acceptable level. Forget about our deficits after 2021, we'll be bankrupt before we even get to 2021. Then you won't have to worry about defending anything. Not that we're defending anything now. Most of these bases around the world serve no purpose at all. We do not need to bankrupt ourselves to protect ourselves. You don't see anyone else doing this nonsense, do ya? Eisenhower had these war-monger cronies pegged to a tee..

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: 01/02/12 14:54

Irresponsible Foreign Policy: The Republican Establishment, Not Ron Paul

External Link 

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: 01/02/12 14:13

So we are to be comforted that the U.S. "only" gets involved in a militarty intervention every 4.5 years? What sort of perverse thinking is that, expecting that we get involved overseas in a military action as often as we have a presidential election?

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: 01/02/12 15:13

Good point. Note also that he (Kagan, not Fly) only talks about "in combat" which allows him to ignore our non-combat but still expensive and resource-diverting permanent presences in Korea, Germany, etc. You don't have to be actively engaged in major operations to be inappropriately wasting personnel, equipment, and money in an indefinite occupation of Germany.

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: 01/02/12 13:57

"There's very little evidence to make one actually feel threatened, however."

Did America or Britain or France feel threatened in 1938?

The lessons of history fall too often upon deaf ears. For over a hundred years the collectivists have striven to establish world domination. For fifteen hundred years Islam has attempted to conquer the "infidel". National Socialism and Imperial Japan were defeated only at great expense by the few free countries of the West willing to step up and fight. Pax Americana represents one of the most peaceful and bloodless times in modern history. Ignore this at our peril Dr Paul.

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: 01/02/12 13:46

For some years I accepted the Neocon arguments, avidly reading VDH, Hitchens and others in National Review but now I have realized that the "Old" Conservatives were always right. The idea that one can radically transform a non-Western culture into a Western one is a Jacobin illusion. The only different this view has with Trotskyite internationalism is that it seeks to impose a universal global "American" culture rather than a universal proletarian one. Note that VDH has little to say about Iraq lately, other than blaming Obama for getting out too early. Neocons have it easy debating Dems; they fear a real debate with Old conservatives. Paul is a libertarian but he is totally right on interventionism.

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: 01/02/12 13:45

It suddenly dawned on me that the one candidate more dangerous than Obama is Paul.

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: 01/02/12 14:10

Following the constitution is not dangerous.

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: 01/02/12 16:08

His unwillingness to outline how he would use military force with any clarity suggests he is hiding true feelings that would be unpopular with the mainstream: an exit from the world community without discretion. His economic plan says he would leave SS & MC entitlement programs 'as-is' with cuts in "overseas" spending to maintain them. If you totaled up all defense & discretionary spending it wouldn't make a dent in dealing with SS & MC over the long term. So what is he talking about?

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: 01/02/12 22:33

"His unwillingness to outline how he would use military force..."

Your ignorance of his statements to that effect do not mean they do not exist.

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: 01/02/12 23:17

Or it means that he's been a very bad communicator, if I'm being charitable. I've watched all the debates, read the news every day, keep up with all the blogs. Any time the debates touched on foreign policy, I was amazed he wouldn't commit to a criteria for the use of military force. Any criteria. He stumbled like a fool around the subject. I'm no warmonger, but he would be commander-in-chief. Not up the task, best I can tell, as he can't tell us how he'd function as one. That eliminates him from consideration.

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Rick R.
: 01/02/12 19:45

Totally agree. If Ron Paul was a Real Leader, he'd stop being a coward, pick his targets, and tell us what nations he is going to target for wars and assassinations. That's the only way to make the world bow down to America and follow our command structure for global domination and peace.

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: 01/02/12 18:17

The Constitution details when the military resources are used, the President as CIC explains to the military leaders what goals should be to achieve victory. We have got to stop just letting the Executive Branch throw our kids into the maw of war without the say so of Congress. Geez people, the (cough) President just signed the military appropriations bill allowing the secret confinement of citizens. Show me where in the Constitution that is allowed. Free the Constitution!!

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