Rand Paul and Republican Foreign Policy

Rand Paul’s long, and at times seemingly ad hoc, foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation yesterday was a heartfelt attempt to reassert the traditional Republican embrace of realism and skepticism about nation-building over supposedly unnecessarily interventionist neo-conservatism. He was trying to outline, I think, a strong U.S. overseas presence that is not afraid to use force to promote our interests, and which can dovetail with democratic advocacy, but one that nonetheless does not find itself in perpetual interventions that do not play to our military strengths and may prove counter-productive in the long-run. Who could not support that vision?

The speech did suffer from some mistaken notions. For example, we did not arm Osama bin Laden. His tiny Arab brigade played no real role in the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Through post facto myth-making and his own fortune, bin Laden took advantage of a very non-neoconservative, but very realist, U.S. policy of arming enemies of our enemy, the Soviet Union.

Also, George Kennan, who Paul repeatedly referenced in the remarks, was actually a blue-blood elitist whose saw foreign policy as the proper domain only of properly credentialed grandees quite different from someone like Rand Paul — Ivy League types who were above populist “jingoism,” which helps explain why Kennan was opposed to Reaganesque rollback and, even earlier, the hard containment policies of Dean Acheson.

I don’t think support for the removal of Saddam Hussein (authorized on 23 writs by both houses of Congresses, and supported by a wide array of liberals from Thomas Friedman and Andrew Sullivan to Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as well as conservatives from George Will to the late Bill Buckley; cf. the Clinton-era support for regime change) is synonymous to a neoconservatism that is caricatured by the idea of endless war or supposed lockstep support for the Likud Party. Many of us who supported the Iraq war did so to rid the world of a maniacal dictator far more dangerous and genocidal than Slobodan Milosevic, and yet did not support intervention in either Syria or Libya, and not because Barack Obama would be the architect of such adventures.

We did not get congressional approval to go into Libya (but instead sought it from the Arab League and the UN, a first in the last 60 years) and would not have gotten it for Syria. Paul is right that we should have authorization for substantial military operations. The lesson of the Arab Spring is that, without U.S. ground troops, we have no control over the future of the post-dictatorial state; while the lesson of Iraq is that the American people and its political class do not believe that escalating costs to have such requisite control by the presence of U.S. troops is worth the eventual outcome.

The world is a far better place without Saddam and the Taliban. Historians and the future of both countries will adjudicate whether the result was worth the costs. We should also remember that a vast majority of Americans (and nearly the entire political class) supported the war in Iraq, then turned on it when things went downhill (rather than because of the absence of stockpiles of WMD [cf. the October 2002 23 writs for intervention passed by the Congress]). They then opposed the surge and the efforts of David Petraeus, and they now pose as if they were principled opponents from the beginning. Coincidentally, their flip-flopping was made consistent by “initial suspicions” that remained remarkably quiet at the time.

In any case, the key is to find muscularity without paralysis, to avoid both isolationism and Wilsonian zealotry. Rand Paul is right about that too. The key, though, is also to remember how policies arise—usually as a reaction to past failed policies. The 2003 war to remove Saddam (and to stay on to leave something better) was seen, in a post-9/11 climate, both as a corrective to the unhappy end of the 1991 war that had led to the mass murder of the Kurds and Shiites; and to the 12 years of no-fly zones whose enforcement was eroding. The imperative, rightly or wrongly, was also not to do what we had done by simply ignoring post-Soviet Afghanistan in the early 1980s—which was buoyed by a seemingly quick, successful war in Afghanistan and the rapid establishment of what was thought, in 2002, to be a consensual, stable Karzai government vastly superior to the Taliban.

In short, Paul, I think, was trying to distance himself from both caricatured neoconservatism and the impressions of his own father’s libertarian isolationism, and searching for a bipartisan sobriety that would protect our allies but not intervene on behalf of unsure insurgents. I applaud his efforts — as long as we realize that the Iraq war did not lead to endless subsequent neoconservative interventionism and that no-nonsense realism often leads to things like the Taliban in Afghanistan and the mess after the 1991 war.

  1. BrentB67

    Great analysis. Thanks for sharing. 

    It seems our foreign policy and military action is trying to untie itself from the Powell doctrine that if we break it we own it.

    I think we can be a forward deployed force for good in select areas, but if the need should arise to use force, we should use all of the force we can muster, quickly and get out just as fast.

    If we break it we should do so because it was absolutely necessary as a last resort and not feel any liability or obligation to repair it.

  2. Sumomitch

    Rand Paul’s speech was strongest in its case for reasserting Congress’ Constitutional role in initiating war. On the day we learn of the legal basis for Obama’s power to place individuals (including American citizens) on a kill list based on suspicion, without any public or Congressional (much less judicial) scrutiny, such sentiments are timely. As Lord Acton said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

  3. Keith

    Thank you for the reasoned analysis!

    (and for not piling on Sen. Paul :-)

    Peace!

  4. The New Clear Option

    While recently prepping for a survey reading class for my church’s adult Christian education program, I came across this quote from the Puritan John Owen, in his “On the Mortification of Sin:”

    “He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work.”

    I remember thinking back to 1991 and the name Gen. Powell came to mind for some reason.

  5. Donald Todd

    BrentB67:  #1  If we break it we should do so because it was absolutely necessary as a last resort and not feel any liability or obligation to repair it.

    If I remember correctly, the humiliation heaped on Germany at the end of World War 1 led directly to World War 2.  I would think that each action should bring about its own considerations, post conflict.

    We haven’t had wars with Germany or Japan in 68 years.  Actually neither Germany or Japan have initiated conflicts in 68 years.  

    I am of the cast of mind that we cannot save everyone everywhere.  I am sorry for the people who will live and die under the sway of the Taliban and similar evils, but it is incumbent on those subject peoples to free themselves, if that is what they really want.

  6. BrentB67
    Sumomitch: Rand Paul’s speech was strongest in its case for reasserting Congress’ Constitutional role in initiating war. On the day we learn of the legal basis for Obama’s power to place individuals (including American citizens) on a kill list based on suspicion, without any public or Congressional (much less judicial) scrutiny, such sentiments are timely. As Lord Acton said “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” · 2 hours ago

    Amen.

  7. doc molloy

    Provocative Weakness defrocked.. Kraemer would cringe.. When you lose the edge by leading from behind.

  8. Quinn the Eskimo

    I appreciate the sentiments of Mr. Paul’s speech and the balance he is searching for.  But I don’t think containment is it.  Nor nation building.   These are the physical aspects of the war against radical Islam.  But I don’t think I have heard a strategy for fighting the ideas behind radical Islam.  The enemy’s dangerous ideas continue to generate willing soldiers.  How do you contain an idea?  And how do material rewards like running water sway people who people that they only true rewards are to be found in suicide attacks against infidels?  We have to fight at the level of ideas as much as anything else.

  9. BrentB67
    Donald Todd:BrentB67:  #1  If we break it we should do so because it was absolutely necessary as a last resort and not feel any liability or obligation to repair it.

    If I remember correctly, the humiliation heaped on Germany at the end of World War 1 led directly to World War 2.  I would think that each action should bring about its own considerations, post conflict.

    We haven’t had wars with Germany or Japan in 68 years.  Actually neither Germany or Japan have initiated conflicts in 68 years.  

    I am of the cast of mind that we cannot save everyone everywhere.  I am sorry for the people who will live and die under the sway of the Taliban and similar evils, but it is incumbent on those subject peoples to free themselves, if that is what they really want. · 45 minutes ago

    Agree that the humiliation after WW1 was a contributing factor and I am not advocating humiliation. Negotiate, go in if required, wreak havoc, leave, do not humiliate.

    I also agree that we can not deliver democracy that has to be paid for by those who seek to be free.

  10. Schrodinger

    The contrast between WWI and WWII is important in this context.

    The Germans were never defeated militarily in WWI. The front lines were still mostly in France and their armies were largely intact. They agreed to the armistice expecting to negotiate an honorable surrender. Instead the French, supported by the British, imposed a humiliating treaty on the Germans. Wilson was right on this issue.

    At the end of WWII Germany was completely destroyed, militarily and economically. They had no choice but to surrender.

    We keep forgetting this distinction as in Vietnam and Iraq.

  11. Nick Stuart

    Good to see Dr. Hanson back at Ricochet. He’s great in this interview with Allen West on PJ TV

    http://www.pjtv.com/?cmd=mpg&load=8006&mpid=517

  12. Donald Todd

    Schrodinger’s Cat:  #10  The contrast between WWI and WWII is important in this context. (re an earlier post)

    The position of the German lines was not so important as the position of the German economy and the position of the German prospects.  The Allies had grown by adding the United States.  The American forces, first the Marines at Belleau Woods, and then the Army, were blooded and had taken the initiative.  

    The Germans could not win and could not overwhelm the Allies in terms of material or manpower.  

    The best they could do is seek to quit the war.  That is when the Germans paid the price for causing the war; and we later paid the price for how the peace was mishandled by England and France.

  13. Simon Templar
    Quinn the Eskimo: I appreciate the sentiments of Mr. Paul’s speech and the balance he is searching for.  But I don’t think containment is it.  Nor nation building.   These are the physical aspects of the war against radical Islam.  But I don’t think I have heard a strategy for fighting the ideas behind radical Islam.  The enemy’s dangerous ideas continue to generate willing soldiers.  How do you contain an idea?  And how do material rewards like running water sway people who people that they only true rewards are to be found in suicide attacks against infidels?  We have to fight at the level of ideas as much as anything else. · February 7, 2013 at 1:44pm

    Concur, but which and/or what kind of ideas?  How do you “deliver” those ideas?

  14. Quinn the Eskimo
    Simon Templar

    Concur, but which and/or what kind of ideas?  How do you “deliver” those ideas? · 9 hours ago

    I don’t have a full program in mind but  I have some scattered thoughts and I’m open to more refined thoughts than mine:

    Idea-wise we are talking about the promotion of the value of life on earth, their own and our own.  That violence against infidels is the resort of those whose ideas are indefensible.   That the backwardness of life in Islamic nations is not the result of Western imperialism, but radical Islam’s rejection of people like Averroes back in the 12th century.  In sum, that radical Islam has made them weak for centuries and continues to keep them weak.  Platitudes about how awesome Islam, the present approach, is like heaping praise instead of criticism on a spoiled child.

    As to transmission, it almost certainly has to be done on the personal level.  Activists/missionaries are going to have to go town by town, person by person.  Setting up a T.V. station is Qatar will not cut it.   Radical Islam did not spread on the cheap and easy.  The same likely goes for fighting it.

  15. Sisyphus

    Evangelizing against Islam in Sharia countries is punishable by death, just as evangelizing in the Communist Bloc for liberty was. In Indonesia, everyones favorite home of “moderate” Islam, it is a fine way to personally experience death by machete. TV, on the other hand, served its subversive purpose in the European Communist Bloc quite nicely. 

    In Ataturk’s Turkey, decades of secular government keeping a tight grip on every word preached in every mosque is slowly but surely unraveling.

    In the West, Imperialist Islam slips in under the protection of freedom of religion. It is as if the Communists had been able to assail McCarthy as an anti-religionist. The failure of the West to grow its population and defend its core culture is an invitation to colonization, an invitation Islam cheerfully accepts.

    My introduction to radical Islam came in the DC area from an American with an easily recognizable accent from a US north eastern city who was a retired assassin for the Muslim Brotherhood. Decades before 9/11. That was the only time I read the Koran front to back, and I found it artless and wholly uncompelling in comparison to the Old or New Testaments.

  16. Quinn the Eskimo
    Sisyphus: Evangelizing against Islam in Sharia countries is punishable by death, just as evangelizing in the Communist Bloc for liberty was.  · 16 hours ago

    I have no doubt that if they caught people trying to sabotage the nuclear programs in Iraq or Pakistan, they would be put to death.  But we would surely be happy with people were trying.  I am suggesting an effort to sabotage one of their great resources, the ideas that motivate people to become suicidal killers.

    And why do we suppose we are only talking about radicals in countries controlled by Sharia as though there weren’t radicals being formed in the United States or Britain?

    As to Cold War parallels, the occupied nations of Eastern European were politically freed from Soviet domination, in part because Communism never delivered on its promise of prosperity and in part because they didn’t want to be dominated by the Soviets.  But we never defeated collectivism or statism.   Based on the last American election, collectivism looks like its winning, even if it is not controlled by the Kremlin.

    In that light,  I think we should be considering new tactics.

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