Among a dreary cabal of shopworn politicos running for US president, one provides hope for the Middle East, but does he have a chance, asks Eric Walberg
22/11/7 -- The 2007 primaries displayed to the world its range of possible new leaders. The US media first latched onto Democrat New York Senator Hillary Clinton, who supported President George W Bush's invasion of Iraq and continues to support the occupation (Bush lite), and the Republicans on New York ex-Mayor Rudy Giuliani who thinks Bush is a wimp and can't wait to attack Iran (Bush on steroids). The latter, despite his support for abortion, has just been endorsed by TV evangelist Pat Robertson, who argues that "the overriding issue before the American people is the defence of our population from the bloodlust of Islamic terrorists." Both potential presidents put service to Israel at the top of their agendas.

Whoever wins, we are faced with Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, though these Alice-in-Wonderland characters are far from harmless. No one else has the blessing of the media and the other behind-the- scene controllers of American life (OK, AIPAC). The only two contenders who call for immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and forswear any attack on Iran -- Republican Congressman Ron Paul and Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich -- are dismissed as fringe candidates if not nutcases. Paul is a self-proclaimed Libertarian, and Kucinich, who introduced a motion to impeach Vice- President Richard Cheney earlier this month, is regularly ridiculed as a believer in UFOs, especially by his stab-in-the-back fellow Democrats. The implication is that it would be dangerous to entrust the reins of government to either of these wackos. This, despite Bush's belief that he has a hotline directly to God himself.

For those who object to this conspiratorial view of American politics -- that elections are a farce and that the real power lies behind the throne, in the hands of organisations such as the American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Bilderberg Group and the Council of Foreign Affairs, consider that polls show 54 per cent of Americans want the troops home now, 68 per cent disapprove of Bush's handling of the situation in Iraq, 64 per cent are against the war, 70 per cent believe Dick Cheney has abused his powers as vice- President, and 43 per cent definitely want him impeached. Yet the only candidates who represent the broad majority are dismissed as unelectable.

There are some shreds of hope, though. Neither Paul nor Kucinich have any real dirt clinging to them, unlike both Giuliani and Clinton, who will be slinging mud and having it slung at them every minute they are in the media spotlight, and will ensure that the White House continues to be the home of the most hated person in the world. Also encouraging is that polls show, given the choice between likely candidates from the major parties, voters will vote along party lines rather than for specific candidates, that the Democrat will probably win, and that there is little or no difference between Clinton, Obama, or whoever when matched against Giuliani or Senator John McCain. So if by some miracle one of the so-called fruitcakes got the nomination of their party, he could well go on to win the race for the White House, despite the wishes of the real powers-that-be in America, and represent the real preferences of the majority.

Kucinich ran in 2004 on a liberal Democratic policy of socialised medical care, less military (including creating a Department of Peace), more energy conservation, more support for city renewal, and the like -- all policies which Americans would support -- but his party just barely tolerates him, his campaign went nowhere and he dutifully supported the pro-war Democratic candidate John Kerry. AIPAC shuns him or worse, with good reason. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon last summer, Kucinich offered a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and a return to multi-party diplomacy between the United States and regional powers, with no preconditions. This summer, only Kucinich and Paul voted against the House resolution calling on the United Nations Security Council to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with violating the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention because of his calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. And then there is his motion to impeach AIPAC member-for-life Cheney. So there is little excitement in his repeat campaign this time around and no likelihood that he will clinch the nomination. Knives are out.

What about Paul, a former medical doctor, nicknamed Dr No for his contrarian insistence on "never voting for legislation unless the proposed measure is expressly authorised by the constitution"? Paul is also shunned by the Israeli Lobby. In addition to his vote on the Iran imbroglio, he calls for an end to all foreign aid, including to Israel, and he was pointedly not invited to the Republican Jewish Coalition debate in Washington, DC in October. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) said that Paul was excluded due to his "record of consistently voting against assistance to Israel and his criticisms of the pro-Israel lobby".

But Paul has developed a bit of a Teflon coating. What Kucinich can't get away with, he can. Paul promptly provided a statement to JTA explaining his position on Israel. "I support free trade and friendship with all nations, meaning that my administration would treat Israel as a friend and trading partner. Americans would be encouraged to travel to and trade with Israel."

He boldly argues that past US involvement in the Middle East fuelled 9/11. In a 15 May televised debate sponsored by Fox News in Columbia, South Carolina, he argued, "They attack us because we've been over there; we've been bombing Iraq for 10 years." The Michigan Republican Chairman Saul Anuzis was incensed and vowed to bar Paul from future debates, calling his remarks "off the wall and out of whack," though he later backed off on his threat.

Despite his supposed anti-Semitism, Paul has a small non-Zionist Jewish following, "Jews for Ron Paul". There is even a "Zionists for Ron Paul" launched by Yehuda HaKohen, an American immigrant to Israel. "We think that Israel should be an ally to the United States but not a vassal to the United States. I don't think it's important for America to defend me. American aid does more harm than good. These are insults to our national sovereignty. If you have Zionists, Muslims and white supremacists supporting him, he's someone who really resonates with people."

Paul's platform flows entirely from his Libertarian credo -- a kind of conservative anarchism. While Kucinich's opposition to the war is inspired by a dovish liberalism, Paul's is inspired by a belief in the supremacy of the individual, private property, and the constitution, which discourages foreign alliances and intervention unless the US is directly attacked. He believes that war must be fought only to protect citizens, it must be declared by Congress, and it must be concluded when the victory is complete as planned. Paul argues that a just declaration of war after the 11 September, 2001 attacks would have been against the actual terrorists, Al-Qaeda, rather than against Iraq, which had no connection to the attacks.

He claims he is not calling for US isolation, but his policies would sharply reduce US interference in other nations' affairs and US involvement in international organisations. He calls for withdrawing from any organisation that overrides US sovereignty, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), the United Nations, the North American Union, the Law of the Sea Treaty, the World Trade Organization (WTO), NATO and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. He is a proponent of free trade, but opposes free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement as "international managed trade" agreements which serve special interests and big business, not citizens. He opposes foreign aid -- including aid to Israel -- as wasteful and unwarranted interference in other countries. The government, neglecting its Constitutional responsibility to protect its borders, has concentrated instead on unconstitutionally policing foreign countries. Paul would "essentially" eliminate the CIA; while retaining functions like intelligence-gathering, and would eliminate operations like overthrowing foreign governments and assassinations. He has called the 9-11 Commission Report a charade: "Spending more money abroad or restricting liberties at home will do nothing to deter terrorists, yet this is exactly what the 9-11 Commission recommends."

His domestic policies would fundamentally remake American society, emphasising a return to local governance. He calls for the elimination of income tax and the Internal Revenue Service, approving of war resisters' nonpayment of taxes and other nonviolent resistance à la Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. He advocated employee-owned corporations in his 1999 Employee Ownership Act, which would have created a new type of corporation (the employee- owned- and-controlled corporation) that would have been exempt from most federal taxes.

Paul calls for the abolition of the Federal Reserve and a return to a commodity-based currency, most likely gold and silver, arguing that current efforts to sustain dollar hegemony exacerbate the rationale for war. Along with vested American interests in oil and plans to remake the Middle East, he argues that the threat to the dollar as world currency has been a contributing factor for the war against Iraq and diplomatic tensions with Iran.

This man is talking sense, cutting through one Gordian knot after another, never missing a beat. Even his calls to scupper the UN, NATO and the WTO are not as crazy as they sound. All these organisations with the exception of the ICC (which past and present US presidents have done everything possible to undermine) are for the most part willing US clients, and if they were to collapse under a Ron Paul presidency, this would in the long run be a boon for the rest of the world, since it would clear the deck for the creation of new organisations based on social justice without the present imperialist baggage. As for foreign aid, Paul argues that most of it is wasted, and humanitarian aid is best left to charities and foundations. The more you consider the supposedly whacky fruitcake Paul, the better he sounds.

And that is exactly how Americans are reacting. He won the Republican presidential candidates' debate in Dearborn, Michigan on 9 October with 74 per cent of votes cast. He went on to win the Orlando, Florida debate with 34 per cent. As one observer put it, "Ron Paul won the Republican debate last week largely because he didn't come across as just another dumb old white guy." "Seventy per cent of Americans want war over with and are sick and tired of big government at home and overseas. They want their civil liberties and don't want the government to spend endlessly and bankrupt us," Paul confidently argued there. If there is any democracy left at all in the US, he should continue to gain momentum, be crowned the official Republican candidate and go on to win the presidency with a landslide. His greatest liability at this point is the horror of the powers- that-be and the continued media blackout about him.

But even that is backfiring in our electronic age. In September, he announced he had brought in $5.2 million in the previous three months, largely over the Internet, putting him ahead of McCain in the Republican money race. He raised $4.2 million on 5 November from 37,000 individual donors who agreed to give as part of a "money bomb" on Guy Fawkes Day. On 16 December, the anniversary of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, the goal is to add $10 million to his campaign chest to protest taxation used to pursue an unpopular war and the sacrificing of constitutional liberties at home, and it looks like he will raise much more.

So to recap: minimal decentralised government, a gold standard, government "by the book", war strictly as self-defence, charity instead of government welfare. But wait! This is very much like Mohamed's vision of a just society, with the Quran as the constitution. Add to this Paul's pledge to end "aid" to Israel, withdraw from the Muslim countries the US has illegally invaded, and stop undermining foreign governments. No wonder there is already a Yahoo group "Muslims for Ron Paul", urging block voting for him in the primaries. Who better to make peace with the Arab world -- the entire world?

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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