Among other qualities, a good presidential candidate must be knowledgeable and able to think outside the box; equally important, he must not be naïve or gullible — certainly not swallow everything the enemy says hook, line, and sinker.
During the recent Republican candidate debate, Congressman Ron Paul exhibited his ignorance and gullibility when the panel was asked "Do you plan to decrease Defense spending, to balance spending, or do you believe high spending is essential to security?"
After Paul explained how he was "tired of all the militarism that we are involved in," and his plan on cutting back, he said, "But we're under great threat, because we occupy so many countries…. The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us…. but we're there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we're kidding ourselves."
This is, of course, an old and well known narrative.
By questioning Paul, however, Rick Santorum exposed the latter's problematic foreign policy approach:
On your [Paul's] Web site on 9/11, you had a blog post that basically blamed the United States for 9/11. On your Web site, yesterday, you said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11. Now, Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible. The president of the United States — someone who is running for the president of the United States in the Republican Party should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11. We should have — we are not being attacked and we were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked, as Newt [Gingrich] talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists [full transcript here].
After rejecting Santorum's thesis, Paul made his fatal blunder:
Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing – [audience booing] I didn't say that. I'm trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing.
This exchange clearly revealed Paul's lack of knowledge concerning the nature of the enemy. It's one thing for some Americans to believe that the source of all conflict is the United State's presence in some countries, it's quite another for a potential president to think, and speak, this way.
Ironically, Paul even contradicted himself: minutes earlier, when discussing the need to cut back on the military, he complained that we had a military presence in 130 countries — bringing to mind the question: if U.S. military presence is the source of problems, why haven't these countries lashed out?
But what's worse is Paul's naivety — that he would actually swallow and regurgitate verbatim the propaganda al-Qaeda has been dishing for years, to wit, "Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said"; and "I'm trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing."
Did it ever occur to the Congressman that al-Qaeda could be, um, lying? Had he bothered to juxtapose al-Qaeda's propaganda to the West — which indeed does amount to blaming U.S. foreign policy for their terrorism — with the other things "they wrote and said," he would learn their ultimate motives.
For example, for all his talk that U.S. "occupation" is the heart of the problem, shortly after the 9/11 strikes, Osama bin Laden wrote in confidence to fellow Muslims:
Our talks with the infidel West and our conflict with them ultimately revolve around one issue — one that demands our total support, with power and determination, with one voice — and it is: Does Islam, or does it not, force people by the power of the sword to submit to its authority corporeally if not spiritually? Yes. There are only three choices in Islam:  either willing submission [conversion];  or payment of the jizya, through physical, though not spiritual, submission to the authority of Islam;  or the sword — for it is not right to let him [an infidel] live. The matter is summed up for every person alive: Either submit, or live under the suzerainty of Islam, or die. (The Al Qaeda Reader, p. 42)
This medieval threefold choice, then — conversion, subjugation, or the sword — is the ultimate source of conflict, not U.S foreign policy (see also "Reciprocal Treatment or Religious Obligation" which compares al-Qaeda's messages to the West with its internal messages to Muslims, documenting all the contradictions).
The good news is that, if Paul is ignorant and naïve regarding al-Qaeda and its motives, based on all the loud booing he received, increasing numbers of Americans are not.
Raymond Ibrahim, an Islam specialist and author of The Al Qaeda Reader, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.