Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sen. Rand Paul Gives Major Foreign Policy Address

Sen. Rand Paul spoke today at the Heritage Foundation for 25 minutes on "Restoring the Founders' Vision of Foreign Policy."  His staff had promoted this speech for several days, and Paul did not disappoint.  The title, however, was somewhat misplaced.  There were passing references to Washington and Madison, but the real intellectual force behind the speech was George Kennan.

Kennan was the "father of containment"  -- the doctrine that guided U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War. Paul's premise is that Radical Islam is analogous to Soviet Communism and should similarly be treated with a policy of containment.

Radical Islam, like Communism during the Cold War, requires a "far-reaching and patient response,"  according to Paul. The U.S. needs a "middle path" that is not appeasement but does not bomb countries based on "what they might do."

Containment offers this middle path, Paul explained, because it is neither solely diplomacy nor solely the use of military force, and because containment distinguishes between America's "vital and peripheral interests."

Paul described Radical Islam's only strength as -- like the Soviet Union -- it's endless patience. Some libertarians argue that western occupying forces fan the flames of Radical Islam.  Paul said he agrees with that, but that it does not follow that Radical Islam will go away when the occupying forces leave. This is true, Paul said, because Radical Islam is a "relentless force," not a "fleeting fad."

Perhaps the most important moment of the speech, at leas for a possible Paul presidential candidacy, was when Paul stated that when it comes to foreign policy, "I am a realist, not a neo-conservative nor an isolationist."  As a result of his "realist" framework, Paul says he sees the world as it is, not as we wish it might be.

Paul pointed to Reagan as the best example of a foreign policy that is "robust, but also restrained."  Reagan recognized the advantage of "strategic ambiguity."  Paul argued that it is in America's interest that our enemies be "uncertain."  Reagan resorted to force less often than the presidents who came before him or after him.  Reagan was able to minimize the use of force by keeping our enemies guessing.  Thus, military force should be on the table (as with Iran's nuclear plans) but diplomacy should also be used.

Paul argued for a foreign policy that respects the Constitution and also respects fiscal discipline.  The Framers recognized that the Executive Branch is most prone to go to war; that's why the Constitution vests the power to declare war in the Legislative Branch.  But the Congress has failed to police that power.  Consequently, when it comes to the use of American's military might "Congress has become not even a rubber stamp, but an irrelevancy." Paul said that some Senators have told him that Congress can restrain the Executive Branch's use of force by exercising the "power of the purse."  That doesn't work, Paul responded, because funds will never be cut when U.S. boots are already on the ground. Congress therefore needs to debate, and if appropriate, declare war, beforehand.

It was a thoughtful, well-delivered speech.  Coupled with Paul's recent trip to Israel and his new committee assignment on Senate Foreign Relations, Paul is establishing that he can influence more than domestic fiscal issues. In short, this was the address of someone who plans to run for president as a serious candidate, not a gadfly.  The speech reassured that the foreign policy of a Paul presidency would be neither neo-con nor isolationist, but rather a foreign policy that respects our Constitution and still provides for the common defense.

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