So I took Ezra Klein's advice.....
.... and read the transcript of Ron Paul's appearance on "Meet the Press". Here is a nugget:
MR. RUSSERT: Under President Paul, if North Korea invaded South Korea, would we respond?
REP. PAUL: I don't--why should we unless the Congress declared war? I mean, why are we there? Could--South Korea, they're begging and pleading to unify their country, and we get in their way. They want to build bridges and go back and forth. Vietnam, we left under the worst of circumstances. The country is unified. They have become Westernized. We trade with them. Their president comes here. And Korea, we stayed there and look at the mess. I mean, the problem still exists, and it's drained trillion dollars over these last, you know, 50 years. So stop--we can't afford it anymore. We're going bankrupt. All empires end because the countries go bankrupt, and the, and the currency crashes. That's what happening. And we need to come out of this sensibly rather than waiting for a financial crisis.
Hmmmm. Are the people of South Vietnam really better off for our leaving than the people of South Korea are for our staying? I mean you can say it's wrong to be involved at all. You can take a position of non-intervention as a given, but Paul is making a cost benefit argument here and saying that the benefits are negative.
Well let's consult our friend the Penn World Tables. In 2003 (the last year with data for all three entities), we find the following figures for per capita income. Vietnam: $2560, South Korea: $17,595, North Korea: $1428 (these numbers are adjusted for deviations from PPP and the variable I use is called RGDPL). So South Korea is 7 times richer than Vietnam and we have the natural experiment of what happened to North Korea. I think you can argue that if we'd left Korea the same way we left Vietnam (during the war), Korea today would look like Vietnam at best. Conversely, if we'd stayed in Vietnam, South Vietnam today quite likely would look like South Korea.
Now you can say, we've been in South Korea long enough, time for them to stand on their own two feet (and with a more than 10x greater wealth than the North, clearly they should). Or you could say despite the amazing success of our policy with South Korea it wasn't worth the cost. But you can't really say what Paul is saying. It doesn't make sense.
Also, I don't think you can say "we can't afford it" and "we're going bankrupt". It's just not true. It's just not even close to true.
I think Ron Paul should stick to "these are my principles, my ideology," and not try some whacked out instrumental arguments for his positions.