It’s fashionable to believe that Rand Paul has broken with his father’s views and adopted a more realistic foreign policy that is not based on the belief that the American Empire of the CIA and the Federal Reserve are responsible for all the wars in the world.
Whether that’s true or not remains an open question. Rand Paul’s Heritage Foundation foreign policy speech is a mixed bag that has far more in common with the views of Barack Obama, than anyone on the right.
On the one hand, Rand Paul begins by acknowledging that radical Islam is a real threat, that it will go on existing even if we have nothing to do with the Middle East and that it “is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority.”
That’s a larger piece of realism than most mainstream senators on either side of the aisle have managed to put out there. But most of the speech is a muddled mess of the usual warnings about government overreach and a shortage of practical policies. Considering that Rand Paul appears to be flirting with a presidential run, there isn’t much in the way of a policy there.
Rand Paul spends a while questioning whether Iran is a real threat, using the perfect routine of pretending to look at the issue from the Israeli side. He pretends that he’s challenging some sort of bipartisan consensus, but in practice his Iran policy is that of Obama Inc.
Paul tips a hat to sanctions, warns how dangerous it is to lock ourselves into a war and emphasizes that we need Russia and China’s cooperation to get Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. We could get the same exact policies from a Hillary Clinton speech. Rand Paul even uses Obama’s “all options on the table” line and means it in the same way.
Radical Islam needs to be contained, Paul says, but provides no details of how that will happen. He calls for a “middle path” and “A policy that is not rash or reckless”. But does anyone actually support “rash and reckless policies”? What policies he does support, he fails to lay out.
Like communism, radical Islam is an ideology with worldwide reach. Containing radical Islam requires a worldwide strategy like containment. It requires counterforce at a series of constantly shifting worldwide points. But counterforce does not necessarily mean large-scale land wars with hundreds of thousands of troops nor does it always mean a military action at all.
That’s a paragraph that could easily have come from a speech by Barack Obama. And it actually is Obama’s foreign policy.
Obama hasn’t launched any land wars and he would agree with much of what Rand Paul said, except that he wouldn’t name Islam and would avoid specifics like “containment”.
Rand Paul emphasizes that wars should only be declared with the consent of Congress. Obama said the same thing as Senator. He just didn’t stick with it. No one in the White House has. Maybe Rand Paul would be different, but all he’s saying here is standard boilerplate opposition criticism. It’s not new or different.
Rand Paul attacks foreign aid, which we would certainly expect him to do, and which he has learned to package in populist attacks on shipping firepower to Egypt, but in the larger picture, how does he propose a containment strategy that will utilize minimal US military intervention, without arming the countries that are fighting against Islamism?
That’s the kind of basic detail that Paul doesn’t bother addressing and it raises some questions about the credibility of his containment program.
Mostly Rand Paul doesn’t clarify what he will do or what he wants done. He’s waging a war of ideas against the neo-conservative foe, so it’s not too surprising that he often sounds more like Barack Obama or Chuck Hagel. And those guys are already running foreign policy.
Rand Paul attacks Obama for trying to claim Reagan’s mantle, and then he utters a classical Obama “I really am Reagan” line.
“Everybody now loves Ronald Reagan. Even President Obama tries to toady up and vainly try to resemble some Reaganism. Reagan’s foreign policy was robust but also restrained. He pulled no punches in telling Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down that wall.” He did not shy from labeling the Soviet Union an evil empire. But he also sat down with Gorbachev and negotiated meaningful reductions in nuclear weapons.”
This is the exact argument that every RINO and Liberal who wants to claim that Republicans have gone right since Reagan has used.
Paul’s conclusion is an equally muddled mess.
I recognize that foreign policy is complicated. It is inherently less black and white to most people than domestic policy. I think there is room for a foreign policy that strikes a balance.
This is, ironically, a restatement of how Kerry responded to Paul’s question about arming Egypt during the Senate hearings. Now Paul insists on being the grey area nuance man.
And it’s fine to be nuanced, so long as you do have an actual policy, rather than a lot of talk about being middle of the road, striking a balance and being all complicated about it.
Sometimes we have to bomb places, but other times we don’t have to, Rand Paul says. We should be restrained and careful about the places we bomb.
Again, this is the least original and controversial idea, ever, but it doesn’t come close to defining the specific guidelines on which this middle path works. (Paul supporters will of course say, the Constitution, but that doesn’t answer the question either. Especially since the Paul clan tends to define the Constitution to mean anything they want.) The question isn’t the procedures by which an intervention would occur, but why and where. And Rand Paul buries that in talk of strategic ambiguity, which is fine if, like Reagan, you’re already president, but not fine if you want to run for that office.
The closest Rand Paul comes to specifics is more Obamaisms.
“What would a foreign policy look like that tried to strike a balance? first, it would have less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases. Instead of large, limitless land wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy; strike with lethal force.”
That’s nice. But that’s already the program. Obama is pulling out of the land force and focusing on lethal drone strikes. He’s cutting the military.
All that Rand Paul can offer is that he will be more Obamaesque than Obama. He’s against nation building. So is Obama. He will cut the military even more than Obama. He will intervene less.
It is time for all Americans, and especially conservatives, to become as critical and reflective when examining foreign policy as we are with domestic policy. Should our military be defending this nation or constantly building other nations? What constitutes our actual “national defense” and what parts of our foreign policy are more like an irrational offense?
Rather than concluding with a conclusion, Rand Paul concludes with more questions. We can conclude that Rand Paul would like to defend fewer nations and stop offending others with a foreign policy that’s an… irrational offense.
But he lacks the courage to clearly specify what and where he means. Does he want to pull out of Korea? We don’t know. What about Japan?
Rand Paul asks a lot of leading questions, but he dodges the answers. Ron Paul was a dubious creature, but at least he would say what he believed. Rand Paul ducks and weaves. He invests in ambiguity and complexity. He’s for a middle ground. He’s for being careful, constrained and not upsetting the neighbors. And after a long speech, he never really qualifies what he would do, what his containment policy would look like, which countries he would pull out of and what he would do to contain radical Islam.
Rand Paul has delivered an Obamaesque speech, reminiscent of Obama’s old anti-war Iraq speech in 2002. That speech was also full of hedging, unobjectionable on the surface to its audience, but cautious and devoid of meaningful content. It never really answered the question, “So what would you do?”
Rand Paul hasn’t answered the question either.