While it would have been nice to have seen more interest on the part of Republican candidates, the fact that Ron Paul was the sole GOP contender to address the conference didn't bother me at all, since he is my candidate! And for sure he left Dearborn with a lot more supporters than when he entered.
Before his talk to the whole assembly, there was a small fundraiser during which a small group of us got to have a rather intimate chat with Dr. Paul. His candor and consistency are so refreshing and frankly, awesome. Naturally, he was speaking to a very friendly audience, as most Arab-Americans (at least the vast majority of us, who don't carry hateful emotional baggage) were staunchly against the invasion of Iraq and are more acutely aware than anyone just how ill-thought the neocons' plans were/are.
However, there was some concern about his position on the UN and his approach to diplomacy. My GOP colleague from New Jersey, Hesham Mahmoud, probed this issue and Dr. Paul's answer was far from isolationist, but rather driven by a desire to protect American sovereignty and not send us to war to enforce UN resolutions. I followed up on this question by specifically asking what role a Ron Paul administration would take in peace talks between Israel and Syria, for example. An isolationist would say, "we don't care what they do," but that was not Dr. Paul's response; rather, he said that we could use our diplomatic facilities to invite people and host peace talks, so long as they did not result in the US subsidizing the participants and effectively buying a peace treaty. Makes good sense.
Then he began speaking about the declining dollar, and I said to him:
"Congressman, I started up an export business in which I send American cars to West Africa, and people question why I'm supporting you given your monetary policy, when a weak dollar is helping my business, because I'm effectively buying in dollars and selling in Euros. So tell me why I'm not crazy for supporting you."He seemed intrigued by the question, and admitted that in certain sectors a permanently weak dollar would have benefits - he cited tourism as an example. But in the auto sector, he explained rather didactically, how ultimately the price of raw materials like steel would increase and how inflation would squeeze an exporter's margins.
I was tasked with escorting Dr. Paul and his staff to their "ready room", where they ate lunch and prepped for his speech to the larger crowd. When we arrived, the AAI photographer took a few pictures of Ron Paul and I (as shown above) and then to my delight he began asking more questions about my export start-up and how I became involved in such an enterprise.
I explained how I made a trip to Baghdad in September of 2003 prior to launching my candidacy for US Congress and met some French journalists who filmed me and then decided to make a full-scale documentary about me, which was then shown on French satellite channel ARTE, seen by viewers in Senegal who contacted me through my website, and the rest is history.
We talked at length about what I had observed in Iraq, plus my view of African economies (he was quite interested in the tariff structure) and I mentioned how the Chinese were doing a far better job following the advice of our Founding Fathers than we were, as they keep their hands out of internal politics and instead sell, sell, sell to everybody. "Isn't that better than doing it militarily?" asked Dr. Paul rhetorically.
It was a lovely chat, and I then left them to their lunch, promising that Murray Sabrin and I would do our utmost to deliver victory to Ron Paul in New Jersey on February 5.
Now for Ron Paul's speech - below is the video plus some key excerpts:
A couple of points:
Somebody asked me whether I had a special speech for your group, and I said, no, it's the same speech I give everywhere. And I'm delighted that so many of you have been interested in the campaign because it's merely standing up for our Constitution and we stand for our Constitution as it protects ALL Americans.
Above all else, how are we going to reverse this trend, under this psychology that we have built up, this fear that we have built up among the American people that everything has to be done because there may be a terrorist around every corner and therefore we are, as Americans, supposed to sacrifice our civil liberties and I don't believe we should EVER have to sacrifice our civil liberties for protection!
For us to be so fearful and so intimidating from a country, whether it's Iraq or Iran, that they might attack us? How are they going to attack us, even if they had a nuclear weapon. How or why would they attack us? This whole thought that all of a sudden Iran is the Hitler of the day and that we have orient ourselves and do everything in attacking this country. That is not for me to defend that country or their leadership, there's a lot of bad people over there, but my concern is making sure that we don't have bad POLICY in this country, that's our responsibility.
Just think, our current President, in the year 2000, ran on a program of no nation building, a humble foreign policy, diplomacy and talking to people. And yet what has happened? Exactly the opposite. And now we're engaged because of the advice of the neoconservatives who have hijacked our foreign policy - that we as Americans are expected that we are so good and so wonderful and so perfect that we have the responsibility of forcing our way on other people, even if it takes killing them to make them live like we do. I think that's an INSANE foreign policy.
Does that mean that we want to be isolationists and not talk to people? No, it's actually the opposite. It's just that we don't want to force our way on people. In Washington, too often we only have only 2 choices: we either bomb people and tell them they'll do as we tell them, or we have to subsidize them and give them all the foreign aid they want. I would say that there's a third option, and that is to talk to people, trade with people, be friends with people - try to influence the world through involuntary means, set good examples.
Sanctions don't work. Yesterday I was interviewed and I was quoted as saying and I believe it: sanctions are an act of war. When you place sanctions on a country...I mean, did the sanctions really help Americans or help the Iraqis after 10 years of sanctions on the Iraqi citizens, where children would die because of the denial of food and drugs? No! That's no way to do it. We should be trading with people...this is a much better approach than saying that we can intimidate people. But we do not have to be isolationists. That's a false charge when they say, "oh, isolationism - we want to withdraw". And I don't want to, as a matter of fact I don't like protectionism, I like trade, I like low tariffs - tariffs are taxes. We want to trade with the world and talk with the world.
If Kennedy could talk to Kruschev at the height of the Cold War...that to me sends the message that even with all the misconstruing of what Ahmadinejad has charged, that maybe we can talk to people. I mean, why can't we talk? I think people that can't talk are too weak. They do it from a sense of weakness.
We have a tremendous opportunity right now because it is up to us to decide what kind of government that we want, and to me it's very simple: we want the government that we were given. It wasn't a perfect government, it's not perfect now, but basically it was a very, very good constitution. We've ignored it - the Congress has ignored it, the Executive Branch has ignored it, the Judicial Branch has ignored, but the basic fundamentals are still there. All we have to do is get men of high character enough to go to Washington, whether it's in the Presidency or in the Congress...to actually believe their oath of office, to believe in the rule of law.
We have created chaos over there. There are 2 million refugees that have had to leave Iraq, 2 million that are wandering around in Iraq, half the Christians have had to leave. And you think back, you know that Saddam Hussein was a murderous, bad, evil guy, but boy, if you compare everything that's happened since we invaded versus what was the status quo prior to this, you've got to wonder: how could anybody justify this approach to try to improve the world?
I've gotten more convinced than ever as I've traveled around the country that when you talk about freedom... - and maybe this is one of the reasons the other candidates haven't come - the freedom message brings all of us together, whatever our religion is, or whatever our beliefs are, and wherever we came from, because freedom is not judgmental. It allows people to make their own choices as long as they don't use force to impose their will on us. So this brings people together, and this is what has been happening in this campaign. People from all walks of life are coming together.
We don't have rights because we belong to a group. We don't have rights because we're women, or belong to an ethnic group, or a religious group. We have rights because we are individuals and we should be treated as individuals and we should never get special benefits. But we should NEVER have punishments because we belong to a particular group either. This to me is the essence of what America is all about.
One person called me and said he was pleased with Ron Paul's speech, but felt it was disappointing because it didn't relate specifically to the Arab-American community. I understand that criticism, but merely put it in the context of the remarks made above, about getting back to the true intent of the US Constitution, which will render moot any and all talk about special rights, as well as discrimination.
Another friend whom I met in Dearborn emailed me about pitching the campaign on an "Arab-Americans for Ron Paul" link on the campaign's website, like the one for home-schoolers. I replied:
"The only trouble with that is that it doesn't match Ron Paul's approach - he doesn't 'divide and conquer' like all the other candidates. Whether you're Arab-American or not, you could still be a home-schooler for Ron Paul, or a gun owner for Ron Paul. But if you're not Arab-American, you can't be an Arab-American for Ron Paul."I also wanted to comment on Dr. Paul's "sanctions are an act of war" remark and relate it to his mentioning of the plight of Iraq's Christians. Of course, it was St. "Doubting" Thomas who spread the message of Jesus eastward, to Mesopotamia and as far as India, and nowadays a number of rites are practiced in Iraq, but the country is mostly identified by the Assyrian/Chaldean one. Anyway, Dr. Paul's remarks reminded me of the commencement of bombing in spring of 2003. I was living in London at the time and decided, as a show of solidarity, to seek out the Chaldean mass one Sunday instead of the my usual attendance at the Melkite liturgy over which Oxford Professor and bi-ritual priest Shafiq Abouzayd presides. (Forgive me for boasting, at this juncture, that I have attended services in all 7 rites!)
Apparently I was not the only one with such a thought of solidarity in mind, as the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Westminster also sent an envoy to the Chaldeans that day. But I will never forget what the Chaldean priest, Fr. Andreus, mentioned in his homily:
"The Gospel of Matthew asks us, 'Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?' Well, for 12 years the Iraqi people have been asking for bread. And now, after all this time, we have been given stones; that is, the bombs that are falling on Iraq."So thank you, Dr. Paul, for voting NO and having the courage to speak out against this disastrous war since before its inception.