When Ron Paul met Piers Morgan

"Once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

Despite his poor performance in the Republican primaries thus far, Ron Paul spoke to Piers Morgan with characteristic optimism and enthusiasm. Arguably more self-assured than Rick Santorum who appeared on the show two weeks ago, Ron Paul refuted claims that he can't win the nomination, telling Piers Morgan: "I have steady growth -- once you become a Ron Paul supporter you remain a Ron Paul supporter."

In his interview with Rick Santorum, Morgan referred to Ron Paul as "barking". While the Texas Congressman has been criticised for his slightly eccentric views, the one thing he cannot be accused of is flip-flopping, unlike fellow candidate Mitt Romney.

Despite being the oldest candidate in the field at 76, Paul has a significant youth following. "My principles of liberty are inviting to young people," he told Morgan. "Their minds are more open; they won't just accept the status quo."

Morgan went on the attack about health care, telling the Congressman that his view -- that if you can't afford health insurance you should essentially fend for yourself -- is uncompassionate. In his defence, Paul argued that the Soviet system wasn't actually able to medically care for its people because it ended up totally bankrupt. In this respect, for Paul, the worst thing possible would be to depend on the government. Speaking as a child of the Great Depression, he said: "You have to assume responsibility for yourself."

However, he failed to mention quite how people should afford backbreaking insurance prices without government assistance. So, what would vulnerable people have to do in Ron Paul's society to get healthcare? The Congressman dodged the question with the sweeping generalisation that "to produce the best middle class you have to do it through freedom, not through redistribution of wealth."

Morgan asked Paul what he thought about Romney's comment that he "isn't concerned about the very poor" -- a statement that has been taken wildly out of context. Refusing to take the talk show host's bait and go on the attack, which is undoubtedly what Newt Gingrich would have done, Paul said: "I don't have many agreements with Mitt on policy - not on foreign policy, spending policy, bailout policy - but I've ended up defending him on this." Unlike the other Republican candidates, Paul doesn't play dirty politics.

Paul did, however, sum up his political ideology: "Sound currency, limited government, contract rights, don't bail out anyone -- that's when the poor get benefits and jobs will come. I'm as concerned about the poor as much as anyone else, but I don't think robbing from one group works."

On foreign policy, Paul is a stark contrast to the views Rick Santorum expressed on the show a few weeks ago. He categorically denies that he is pacifist, but says he only believes in war when it's justified. "From a strict constitutional viewpoint I don't want to fight any wars that aren't declared and, since World War II, nothing has been justifiable because we haven't gone through the proper process." Paul said that he did not support US forces in Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks because "the country didn't attack us -- a bunch of thugs did."

His foreign policy views stand in particular contrast to the other Republican candidates' with regard to Iran. Santorum, speaking to Morgan a number of weeks ago, said that he would have no qualms about bombing Iran. However, Ron Paul said that a pre-emptive strike would be aggression and "aggression is for dictators." His view on the pre-emptive issue has caused him to appear weak on national security. He said: "Iran is the same principle as Iraq. We were wrong to go in there and we lost 8,500 US lives."

He confirmed his isolationist philosophy by saying that the British should be the ones to "take care of Israel," not America. "Why is it assumed that we are the policemen of the world, that it's our moral obligation? Besides, we're broke!"

Paul's non-interventionist policies are certainly seen as radical and, in many ways, deeply un-Republican. Fellow GOP candidate Newt Gingrich said that Paul's views "are totally out of the mainstream," although this is a little rich coming from the man who is planning a moon colony.

Morgan bizarrely asked the Congressman whether he was "a spanker" with his children. Comparing his parenting and foreign policy views, Paul told him: "I reject the use of force and intimidation with children, as I do with politics."

The interview made for uncomfortable viewing as Morgan rarely let Paul finish a sentence. While his rigidity and firmness in his policy ideas has been praised, Paul did demonstrate a willingness and ability to modify his opinions and bend where necessary. However, the self-proclaimed "conservative liberal" is perhaps the man you want as your grandfather, not your president.

Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

I'm far from convinced by Cameron's plans for Syria

The Prime Minister has a plan for when the bombs drop. But what about after?

In the House of Commons today, the Prime Minister set out a powerful case for Britain to join air strikes against Isil in Syria.  Isil, he argued, poses a direct threat to Britain and its people, and Britain should not be in the business of “outsourcing our security to our allies”. And while he conceded that further airstrikes alone would not be sufficient to beat Isil, he made the case for an “Isil first” strategy – attacking Isil now, while continuing to do what we can diplomatically to help secure a lasting settlement for Syria in which Assad (eventually) plays no part.

I agreed with much of David Cameron’s analysis. And no-one should doubt either the murderous barbarism of Isil in the region, or the barbarism they foment and inspire in others across the world.  But at the end of his lengthy Q&A session with MPs, I remained unconvinced that UK involvement in airstrikes in Syria was the right option. Because the case for action has to be a case for action that has a chance of succeeding.  And David Cameron’s case contained neither a plan for winning the war, nor a plan for winning the peace.

The Prime Minister, along with military experts and analysts across the world, concedes that air strikes alone will not defeat Isil, and that (as in Iraq) ground forces are essential if we want to rid Syria of Isil. But what is the plan to assemble these ground forces so necessary for a successful mission?  David Cameron’s answer today was more a hope than a plan. He referred to “70,000 Syrian opposition fighters - principally the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – with whom we can co-ordinate attacks on Isil”.

But it is an illusion to think that these fighters can provide the ground forces needed to complement aerial bombardment of Isil.  Many commentators have begun to doubt whether the FSA continues to exist as a coherent operational entity over the past few months. Coralling the myriad rebel groups into a disciplined force capable of fighting and occupying Isil territory is a heroic ambition, not a plan. And previous efforts to mobilize the rebels against Isil have been utter failures. Last month the Americans abandoned a $500m programme to train and turn 5,400 rebel fighters into a disciplined force to fight Isil. They succeeded in training just 60 fighters. And there have been incidents of American-trained fighters giving some of their US-provided equipment to the Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda.

Why has it proven so hard to co-opt rebel forces in the fight against Isil? Because most of the various rebel groups are fighting a war against Assad, not against Isil.  Syria’s civil war is gruesome and complex, but it is fundamentally a Civil War between Assad’s forces and a variety of opponents of Assad’s regime. It would be a mistake for Britain to base a case for military action against Isil on the hope that thousands of disparate rebel forces can be persuaded to change their enemy – especially when the evidence so far is that they won’t.

This is a plan for military action that, at present, looks highly unlikely to succeed.  But what of the plan for peace? David Cameron today argued for the separation of the immediate task at hand - to strike against Isil in Syria – from the longer-term ambition of achieving a settlement in Syria and removing Assad.  But for Isil to be beaten, the two cannot be separated. Because it is only by making progress in developing a credible and internationally-backed plan for a post-Assad Syria that we will persuade Syrian Sunnis that fighting Isil will not end up helping Assad win the Civil War.  If we want not only to rely on rebel Sunnis to provide ground troops against Isil, but also provide stable governance in Isil-occupied areas when the bombing stops, progress on a settlement to Syria’s Civil War is more not less urgent.  Without it, the reluctance of Syrian Sunnis to think that our fight is their fight will undermine the chances of military efforts to beat Isil and bring basic order to the regions they control. 

This points us towards doubling down on the progress that has already been made in Vienna: working with the USA, France, Syria’s neighbours and the Gulf states, as well as Russia and Iran. We need not just a combined approach to ending the conflict, but the prospect of a post-war Syria that offers a place for those whose cooperation we seek to defeat Isil. No doubt this will strike some as insufficient in the face of the horrors perpetrated by Isil. But I fear that if we want not just to take action against Isil but to defeat them and prevent their return, it offers a better chance of succeeding than David Cameron’s proposal today. 

Stewart Wood is a former Shadow Cabinet minister and adviser to Ed Miliband. He tweets as @StewartWood.