January 3, 2012 2:26PM

Ron Paul Challenges the GOP’s Irresponsible Foreign Policy

The Iowa caucuses will gather tonight in the first electoral event for the Republican presidential nomination. It is anyone’s guess which way this contest will go.

But the most noteworthy development up to this point may be Ron Paul’s emergence as a legitimate candidate receiving serious media attention. Much of the coverage has been critical, and rightly so on some issues. Yet, despite attempts to dismiss him as a viable national candidate, Ron Paul matters.

Cato’s president Ed Crane explained why in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal and emphasized, among other things, Ron Paul’s appeal to limited-government Republicans and independent voters on foreign policy and military spending. The Republican establishment should rethink its positions and recognize that Ron Paul has been speaking truth to power on these issues.

In the 2000 presidential campaign, candidate George W. Bush argued against nation-building. Unfortunately, President George W. Bush chose arrogance over humility as his foreign policy. Since then virtually every Republican presidential candidates has embraced his philosophy of endless war: in effect, the GOP mantra is "we're all neoconservatives now."

Only Paul (and Gary Johnson, excluded from most of the debates) challenge America's role as World Policeman. Paul observed that conservatives enjoyed spending money, only "on different things. They like embassies, and they like occupation. They like the empire. They like to be in 135 countries and 700 bases."

All of Paul's establishment GOP opponents support defending rich nations around the world. Rick Santorum warned: as commander-in-chief Ron Paul "can shut down our bases in Germany. He can shut down the bases in Japan. He can pull our fleets back."

Why would this be bad? The European nations have a larger GDP and population than America. The U.S. faces fiscal crisis: after 66 years, it is time for the Europeans to defend themselves. Japan, long possessing the world's second largest economy, also could take care of itself.

The other Republican contenders, except Ambassador Jon Huntsman, have mostly defended Washington's endless nation-building exercise in Afghanistan. Santorum demanded that we achieve "victory," whatever that means. Romney said that he would listen to the counsel of the military commanders--as if that would relieve him of making an independent decision as president.

Most Americans agreed with the original objective of wrecking al Qaeda and ousting the Taliban but now want out. And rightly so. No "conservative" should sacrifice Americans' lives and wealth in an attempt to create a strong, effective, and honest central government in Afghanistan, something which never before has existed.

But the most ardent criticism of Paul’s foreign policy is directed toward his position on Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. Paul is against a pre-emptive strike on Iran, an action that Romney and Rick Perry are willing to consider. There are good reasons to try to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran's hands, but the costs of military action likely would be horrendous. Moreover, every additional threat to attack Iran only more clearly demonstrates to Tehran the necessity of developing nuclear weapons.

Paul's willingness to rethink U.S. foreign policy means he is the only candidate to propose a realistic military budget, one that supports the "common defense" of America, not the rest of the world. The other GOP candidates decry nonexistent spending cuts. Military outlays under President Obama are higher than under President Bush. Only in Washington is slowing the rate of increased called a "cut."

Most of the GOP contenders—again other than Paul and in this case Huntsman—endorse torture. For all of their talk about American exceptionalism, the Republicans see the U.S. as a beleaguered, virtually helpless giant, which must sacrifice its very being to survive. This depressing picture is unworthy of America. This may be why service members (at least who have contributed to candidates) have overwhelmingly backed Paul, one of only two veterans in the race.

The response to Ron Paul's foreign policy views raises the question: Can the Republican Party any longer be taken seriously on national security issues? Over the last decade the GOP has needlessly sacrificed Americans' lives, wasted Americans' wealth, overextended America's military, violated Americans' liberties, and trashed America's reputation. As a result, we are less prosperous, free, and secure. If the Republican Party refuses to learn from Rep. Paul, it does not deserve the public's trust.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Huffington Post.