Will the media let Ron Paul question US foreign policy?

Republican candidate Ron Paul, unlike other members of his party, is critical of US support for Israel.

republican debate
Polling data shows Republican presidental candidate Ron Paul is now a ‘top-tier candidate’ in Iowa [EPA]

Will the news media let Ron Paul raise serious questions about US foreign policy?

It’s a crucial test case not only of the prospects that the media will serve the interests of the 99 per cent rather than the 1 per cent, but of the prospects for a foreign military and economic policy that reflects the values and interests of the 99 per cent, rather than those of the 1 per cent.

Economist and media critic Dean Baker recently posed this question in a forum at Politico. Politico’s David Mark convened the forum under the headline, “Can Ron Paul Take a Punch?

Now that Rep. Ron Paul is a top-tier candidate in Iowa rivals are likely to gang up. They may target the Texan’s associations with unsavory characters, or a sometimes less-than-pure libertarian stance on congressional earmarks. Middle East politics could also complicate Paul’s presidential bid – he once likened Israel’s defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza to “a concentration camp”.

Can Ron Paul take a punch?

Dean Baker responded:

The better question is whether the media will allow Paul to raise serious questions about the nature of this country’s foreign policy. I recall watching one of the Republican presidential debates in 2008 where the moderator asked whether the president could unilaterally take military action against Iran.

Mayor Giuliani answered first and gave a characteristic Giuliani answer to the effect of the president can do whatever he wants. Governor Romney then gave a conditional this and that answer, and then said that if the question was one of constitutional authority, you would have to call in the lawyers.

At that point, Paul jumped in and said that you don’t need to call in the lawyers, you just need to read the constitution; Article 1, Section 8 says that Congress has the power to declare war.

This is the sort of refreshing alternative perspective that Paul brings to the debate. Paul also was instrumental in forcing the Fed to disclose the identity of the banks who received trillions of dollars in subsidized loans at the peak of the financial crisis. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke and most of the political establishment insisted that this information had to be kept secret.

It would be really great if the media would give some attention to Paul’s ideas and allow the public to make judgments for itself rather than planning how to punch him out if it happens to be the case that the voters in Iowa take him seriously.

[Disclosure: Dean and I are “related” in the sense that Dean is a board member of Just Foreign Policy.]

The example that David Mark gave to invoke the idea that “everybody who’s anybody knows that Ron Paul’s views on foreign policy are politically marginal” is quite telling:

Middle East politics could also complicate Paul’s presidential bid – he once likened Israel’s defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza to “a concentration camp.”

Note how David Mark frames the issue: he doesn’t just say, “Israel’s blockade of Gaza”, he says, “Israel’s defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza”. Just in case anyone forgot what people like David Mark claim is the only politically correct view of the Gaza blockade, David Mark makes sure to define terms.

Well, you may say, it’s not a news article. It’s David Mark’s forum; he can say whatever he wants.

But if that were the whole story, then a writer for the Politico could just as well refer to it as, for example, “Israel’s economic blockade of 1.6 million defenseless civilians, which was denounced by the Red Cross as collective punishment in violation of international law”.

I searched the Politico website, but could not find even one single instance where a staff writer for the Politico ever mentioned the fact that the Red Cross denounced the Gaza blockade as a violation of international law.

Well, you may say, the objection that David Mark is raising isn’t just that Ron Paul criticised the Gaza blockade. It’s also that Paul criticised the Gaza blockade in an extreme way, likening it to a concentration camp. (In the interview to which David Mark refers, what Paul actually said was that the situation was “almost like a concentration camp.”)

But that begs the question: At what meeting was it decided that comparing the Gaza blockade to a concentration camp was beyond the pale of politically correct commentary? Who was invited to participate in this meeting?

Note that the interview to which David Mark referred was conducted in June 2010: right after the Israeli military attacked the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, killing eight Turks and one American, when there was a huge international chorus of condemnation of the Gaza blockade.

Who else has referred to Gaza as a concentration camp? The Catholic Church, for one.

In January, 2009 – more than a year before the Ron Paul interview – the Pope’s justice minister, Cardinal Renato Martino, likened Gaza to a “big concentration camp”, the BBC reported at the time. “Look at the conditions in Gaza,” Cardinal Martino said, “more and more, it resembles a big concentration camp.”

Is David Mark prepared to stand before 700,000 Catholics in Iowa and claim that the Vatican’s criticism of Israeli policies in Gaza was beyond the pale of politically correct commentary?

Or is it the case instead that according to David Mark, it’s ok to say such things if you are the Vatican, but if you are a “top tier candidate” for President of the United States, it is not allowed?

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.