A Teachable Moment for Rand Paul?

 

We now have on our hands Barack Obama’s War, for our latest Middle Eastern war belongs entirely to him. And someone — let it be me! — should alert Sen. Rand Paul to this teachable moment, for Obama’s War (which Rand Paul supports) was brought on by the very policy of non-intervention that he, his father, and the Cato Institute all championed. As Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has testified in word and deed, there is essentially no difference on foreign affairs between left-wing Democratics and arch-libertarians who sometimes vote Republican.

This war might have been avoided. Had Obama taken the trouble to arrange for a few thousand American soldiers to remain in Iraq — as he easily could have — the Iraqi’s coalition government between Shia, Sunni, and Kurd would have held, despite Maliki’s perfidy. That, in turn, would have prevented al-Qaeda’s reemergence in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq. Moreover, ISIS would not be in control of great swathes of Syria had the president followed the advice of his advisors and allies and backed the secular-minded opposition to Bashar al-Assad from the start.

If a statesman wants to protect the interests of his country and minimize loss of life on the part of his compatriots, he needs to do what he can to shape the international environment. For this purpose, the doctrinaire non-interventionism of the arch-libertarians is as foolish as the doctrinaire interventionism of the Wilsonian internationalists. Just as we cannot police the whole world — and certainly should not attempt to do so — we cannot afford to let things spin out of control. Both the progressive internationalist and the libertarian isolationist philosophies are pipe dreams. What is required is, instead, a prudent patriotism: a focus on the interest and security of our own country, informed by foresight and a knowledge of the ways of the world.

We cannot afford to avert our gaze. Given our size and power, the character of our economy, and the propensity for thugs of one sort or another to take over large parts of the globe, we will find ourselves involved in fights in far-away countries of which we know little. The British and the French had learned this the hard way by 1940, but time has passed and memory fades.

By the same token, however, it is not true that every fight should be ours. Only prudence can distinguish between struggles that should concern us from those we should ignore; hard-and-fast, utopian doctrines can never be a substitute for discernment and judgment. Indeed, embracing such doctrines rules out discernment and judgment. No one should be a categoricial interventionist or a non-interventionist.

If Rand Paul really wants to be President of the United States — as, I think, he does — he has to jettison the doctrinaire mindset of his father, who was only ever interested in stirring the pot. He has to remove the ideological blinders crafted by the arch-libertarians, study the actual history of international relations and great-power politics, and ponder the dictates of prudence, the limits of our resources, and the means of leverage at our disposal. In our system of government, the chief task of the executive is to defend the Constitution, the country, its way of life, and its interests to the very best of his abilities. A President who fails to take that task seriously and to address it with vigor and dispatch is guilty of malfeasance, as is the present occupant of the office.

I should say a final word about the scope of our interests. There is an international order of sorts, and it is now — and always will be — fragile. Though we did not create it on our own, we have been its chief proponent for the last 70 years and remain its mainstay. If we depart the scene, the order loses its guarantor and anarchy returns. We are, as Bill Clinton once observed, indispensable.

This international order has served us well. The trading regime we fostered and the freedom of the seas that we defended have made us (and most of our allies) wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of anyone who lived before the 1950s. The structures and practices we encouraged in Western Europe turned Germany and France into allies, brought an end to the great European wars that had proved our bane, and prepared the way for the collapse of communism and the dismemberment of the Soviet Union.

This achievement cost us time, patience, and treasure, and there were lives sacrificed. But they were as nothing when compared to the lives and treasure we spent in the Second World War, and they were insignificant when measured against what we gained by them. I cannot think of any period in human history in which a great power was as successful in shaping its external environment as we were in this period.

Think about it. We engaged in a long, twilight struggle with a rival coalition. That struggle went on for almost half a century, but ended without a major war and in a complete total victory for our side. Even when we found ourselves involved in skirmishes like the Korean and Vietnam wars — and that is what they were when viewed in comparison with our great wars — we lost fewer men each year on the battlefield than we sacrificed for the sake of sustaining commerce and communication on our highways. This epoch was our finest hour.

Now that international order — and, like it or not, our prosperity and our security — is endangered: in Europe by a revanchist, quasi-fascist power dismembering its neighbors with impunity; in the South China Sea by another quasi-fascist power trying to construct a new regional order modeled on Japan’s Greater Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere; and in the Middle East by a quasi-fascist religious movement redrawing boundaries and massacring religious minorities.

Whatever wishful thinking the neo-isolationists of the Right and Left may entertain, these are challenges that cannot be ignored. The trick is to confront them in a prudent manner and at acceptable cost; the devil is, as always, in the details.

With regard to the first challenge, we should quietly introduce tactical nuclear weapons into the Baltic States and Poland in order to convey our resolve to Vladimir Putin and NATO. Then, we should join with those allies in using the levers at our disposal to bring down the Russian economy.

With regard to the second challenge — the most important, to my mind — we should quietly forge an alliance of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, and India to contain the Chinese colossus while making it clear that China remains welcome within the existing international trading regime. Put bluntly, the Chinese should be made to choose between isolation and prosperity.

The third of these challenges is a much tougher nut to crack, thanks to Barack Obama’s fecklessness and irresponsibility. We must not lose sight that Iran, with its nuclear ambitions, is a far greater threat than ISIS is ever apt to become. Eliminating the latter without strengthening the former should be our aim. But that is easier said than done. We would have a freer hand were we to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities at the outset.

To date, there is no sign that Rand Paul will ever be capable of assuming the responsibilities attendant on the presidency. If he cares for this country — as, I suspect, he does — and if he is as ambitious as he seems to be, he should set aside those ambitions for a while and devote himself to the study of international affairs. I would suggest that he begin by studying Thucydides (I recommend, for its maps, the The Landmark Thucydides), and then take the time to read both volumes of Winston Churchill’s Marlborough: His Life and Times with attention and care.

They say that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks, and that was surely the case for Ron Paul. But his son? I have my doubts: catch him off guard, and you hear the accents of the old man, and incorrigible ignorance and folly may well be his inheritance. But you never know. He may be a fool, but he is not without intelligence. Then, again, his father is quick-witted as well, and that never got in the way of his lunacy.

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  1. Israel P. Member
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Whatever your position on anything else, I wish people would stop claiming that supporting the secular opposition to Assad in Syria was a viable solution to anything.

    It wasn’t in Egypt either, having nothing to do with State Department perfidy.

    Some times there simply are no good guys with the strength to win and maintain control. Ask Alexander Karinsky.

    This is diifferent, by the way, from Iran where all the bad guys are rolled into one and the good guys had a chance. which Obama killed in its cradle.

    • #1
  2. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    “Obama’s War (which Rand Paul supports) was brought on by the very policy of non-intervention that he, his father, and the Cato Institute all championed.”

    That’s hardly fair. This war was only brought on by non-intervention if you start in the middle of the story, a story written by interventionists. You are blaming non-interventionists for the problems of a quagmire created by interventionism.

    • #2
  3. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Paul A. Rahe: By the same token, however, it is not true that every fight should be ours. Only prudence can distinguish between struggles that should concern us from those we should ignore; hard-and-fast, utopian doctrines can never be a substitute for discernment and judgment. Indeed, embracing such doctrines rules out discernment and judgment. No one should be a categorical interventionist or a non-interventionist.

    Totally agree. I ask, is it possible for a prudent person to conclude this intervention is not worth the likely trouble and results?

    • #3
  4. Israel P. Member
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Whatever your position on anything else, I wish people would stop claiming that supporting the secular opposition to Assad in Syria was a viable solution to anything.

    It wasn’t in Egypt either, having nothing to do with State Department perfidy.

    Some times there simply are no good guys with the strength to win and maintain control. Ask Alexander Kerensky.

    This is diifferent, by the way, from Iran where all the bad guys are rolled into one and the good guys had a chance. which Obama killed in its cradle.

    • #4
  5. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    An excellent post, but this raised my hackles:

    Paul A. Rahe: This war might have been avoided. Had Obama taken the trouble to arrange for a few thousand American soldiers to remain in Iraq — as he easily could have — the Iraqi’s coalition government between Shia, Sunni, and Kurd would have held, despite Maliki’s perfidy. That, in tern, would have prevented al-Qaeda’s reemergence in the Sunni-dominated provinces of Iraq. Moreover, ISIS would not be in control of great swathes of Syria had the president followed the advise of his advisors and allies and backed the secular-minded opposition to Bashar al-Assad from the start.

    Those would have been the objectives, but I’m a little wary of assuming that there wouldn’t have been downstream effects or that things would have gone according to plan.  Just as Obama must be held accountable for the (unintended and unforeseen) effects of his decision not to intervene, so too do we have to think through intervention.

    • #5
  6. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Matty Van:“Obama’s War (which Rand Paul supports) was brought on by the very policy of non-intervention that he, his father, and the Cato Institute all championed.”

    That’s hardly fair. This war was only brought on by non-intervention if you start in the middle of the story, a story written by interventionists. You are blaming non-interventionists for the problems of a quagmire created by interventionism.

    Not true. The “quagmire” occurred when the “isolationists” withdrew from Iraq. The “interventionists” achieved a stable Iraq with the surge, which was then wasted.

    • #6
  7. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Israel P.: Whatever your position on anything else, I wish people would stop claiming that supporting the secular opposition to Assad in Syria was a viable solution to anything.

    You may be right. All we know is that Obama refused to take any action in Syria and now Islamic State is ascendant.

    • #7
  8. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    So we have a situation created by rampant interventionism and the only solution is more interventionism?

    • #8
  9. Israel P. Member
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Albert Arthur, 16th Earl of Tuftonboro, etc.:

    Israel P.: Whatever your position on anything else, I wish people would stop claiming that supporting the secular opposition to Assad in Syria was a viable solution to anything.

    You may be right. All we know is that Obama refused to take any action in Syria and now Islamic State is ascendant.

    There may or may not have been a way to prevent that, but the secular opposition to Assad in Syria was never it. (“Never” = the last few years.)

    Saying that Obama refused to take any action THEREFORE the IS is ascendant may be just as correct as saying Lois Lerner lost her emails therefore IS is ascendant.

    • #9
  10. Israel P. Member
    Israel P.
    @IsraelP

    Fred Cole:So we have a situation created by rampant interventionism and the only solution is more interventionism?

    Sounds like a cute argument, but that’s all it is. Surgery gone bad will not be corrected by the pills you could have taken instead of the surgery. Yeah, sometimes surgery gone bad means more surgery.

    • #10
  11. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Israel P.: Saying that Obama refused to take any action THEREFORE the IS is ascendant may be just as correct as saying Lois Lerner lost her emails therefore IS is ascendant.

    Sure, but I didn’t say therefore! ;-)

    • #11
  12. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    I do believe that Obama is an isolationist therefore Islamic State is ascendant. But I may be wrong. All I know is that NeoCons were warning all along that if Obama pulled out of Iraq completely then that country would descend into chaos, and that’s what happened. I know that NeoCons warned that inaction in Syria would have consequences, and that Islamic State is now ascendant.

    • #12
  13. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    Albert, you’re still way in the middle of the story. Once interventionism has started, you can’t turn around and blame non-interventionists when things go bad. A good beginning for this particular story might be the early 50s in Iran. If that’s too far back for you then at LEAST go back to before Gulf War I.

    • #13
  14. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Albert Arthur, 16th Earl of Tuftonboro, etc.: Not true. The “quagmire” occurred when the “isolationists” withdrew from Iraq. The “interventionists” achieved a stable Iraq with the surge, which was then wasted.

    I’m not sure we can say how long the post-surge peace would have lasted in Iraq.  Surely, it was a vast improvement over what preceded it, and — largely — due to our a much-improved strategy, but there simply wasn’t enough time between the surge and our withdrawal for me to say with confidence that we’d achieved much beyond a temporally stabile Iraq.*  That in itself is a big deal and to our credit, but I don’t want to exaggerate the accomplishment.

    As always in these things — and I’m as guilty as anyone — it all depends on when you start and stop the clock.

    * Which is why I voted for McCain.

    • #14
  15. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    (No 13 is in response to no. 6)

    • #15
  16. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Fred Cole:So we have a situation created by rampant interventionism and the only solution is more interventionism?

    Created by rampant interventionism? Methinks you forget Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Things were ugly in that region before GWB attempted a solution. Non-intervention was never really an option if we had it in mind to look after our interests. The key question has always been: what kind of intervention would have been prudent.

    There is a strong case to be made that, in 2006-8, after some initial stumbling, GWB managed to forge a solution.

    • #16
  17. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    Paul, I really doubt Fred means to say that there would be no problems in the world if America weren’t interventionist. But, again, you CAN’T blame non-interventionists for the quagmires of intervention. You can debate non-interventionists on the merits of intervening vs. not, but you can’t blame them for interventionist quagmires.

    • #17
  18. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    (And btw, Obama was never a non-interventionist. Didn’t he came into power saying that Bush was intervening in the wrong country? That it should be Afghanistan rather than Iraq? Obama is an interventionist, just not a very good one. Which brings up one huge problem with interventionism. Assuming you actually CAN figure out what the right policy is, what are the chances that electoral politics will choose the right man to carry them out? Answer: the chance are not great for any single election and the chances are zero that we will always have the right man.

    • #18
  19. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Matty Van:Paul, I really doubt Fred means to say that there would be no problems in the world if America weren’t interventionist. But, again, you CAN’T blame non-interventionists for the quagmires of intervention. You can debate non-interventionists on the merits of intervening vs. not, but you can’t blame them for interventionist quagmires.

    It was a quagmire for us even before we intervened. Whether our intervention solved the difficulty is another question, of course. So the real question is how to intervene, not whether to intervene.

    • #19
  20. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Matty Van:(And btw, Obama was never a non-interventionist. Didn’t he came into power saying that Bush was intervening in the wrong country? That it should be Afghanistan rather than Iraq? Obama is an interventionist, just not a very good one. Which brings up one huge problem with interventionism. Assuming you actually CAN figure out what the right policy is, what are the chances that electoral politics will choose the right man to carry them out? Answer: the chance are not great for any single election and the chances are zero that we will always have the right man.

    You point to a real problem. How good are we at this? Once upon a time, we were not all that bad. Witness Germany and Japan. Now, however, we seem unable to stay the course.

    As for Obama, I think that you mistake talk for deeds. Despite all of the talk about Afghanistan, he cut and run at the first opportunity. His instincts are non-interventionist.

    • #20
  21. user_280840 Member
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Paul A. Rahe:

    There is a strong case to be made that, in 2006-8, after some initial stumbling, GWB managed to forge a solution.

    Except he didn’t because it wasn’t sustainable.  See: ISIS.  We left and it fell apart.  That’s not a solution.  That’s like a house that only stands up if you have a dozen guys holding up the walls inside.

    • #21
  22. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van
    @MattyVan

    “Once upon a time we were not all that bad.” Really? More likely we were just lucky. In any case, it makes my point. You just simply can’t expect electoral politics to continuously choose the right man (assuming there even is such a thing this side of God or his angels, a huge assumption) time after time. Sometimes – probably often – we’ll elect the wrong man. That’s just simple down to earth common sense. I though conservatives were suppossed to be practical.

    • #22
  23. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Matty Van:“Once upon a time we were not all that bad.” Really? More likely we were just lucky. In any case, it makes my point. You just simply can’t expect electoral politics to continuously choose the right man (assuming there even is such a thing this side of God or his angels, a huge assumption) time after time. Sometimes – probably often – we’ll elect the wrong man. That’s just simple down to earth common sense. I though conservatives were suppossed to be practical.

    Not to mention that even experts correctly predict outcomes only slightly better than chance. So you could have the right people making the most intelligent decisions and it still be extremely likely to turn out worse than when you started. But hey, at least you tried, right? Can’t let those bad people do what they do without signaling how much we disapprove, no matter the outcome.

    • #23
  24. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Matty Van: Paul, I really doubt Fred means to say that there would be no problems in the world if America weren’t interventionist.

    Far be it for me to speak for Fred, but I do think that that is basically what he believes.

    • #24
  25. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Fred Cole:

    Paul A. Rahe:

    There is a strong case to be made that, in 2006-8, after some initial stumbling, GWB managed to forge a solution.

    Except he didn’t because it wasn’t sustainable. See: ISIS. We left and it fell apart. That’s not a solution. That’s like a house that only stands up if you have a dozen guys holding up the walls inside.

    No.

    That is like a house that stands up if it has walls. The house had three walls and Bush added a fourth wall to make it more secure. Then Obama removed three walls and the roof collapsed.

    It was sustainable. At least, I believe it was. But Obama removed all US troops from Iraq. You can’t blame Bush for the stability in Iraq not being sustained if Obama was the one who removed the stabilizing force (US troops).

    • #25
  26. user_189393 Member
    user_189393
    @BarkhaHerman

    Random lines drawn by the Brits, Puppet regime and interference y the US, a couple of wars, 10 years in the region and the blame goes to…… Rand Paul.  Bravo for intellectual laziness!!!!!

    • #26
  27. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Mike H:

    Matty Van:“Once upon a time we were not all that bad.” Really? More likely we were just lucky. In any case, it makes my point. You just simply can’t expect electoral politics to continuously choose the right man (assuming there even is such a thing this side of God or his angels, a huge assumption) time after time. Sometimes – probably often – we’ll elect the wrong man. That’s just simple down to earth common sense. I though conservatives were suppossed to be practical.

    Not to mention that even experts correctly predict outcomes only slightly better than chance. So you could have the right people making the most intelligent decisions and it still be extremely likely to turn out worse than when you started. But hey, at least you tried, right? Can’t let those bad people do what they do without signaling how much we disapprove, no matter the outcome.

    Maybe we should all just slit our own throats then? What is your point?

    • #27
  28. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    Barkha Herman:Random lines drawn by the Brits, Puppet regime and interference y the US, a couple of wars, 10 years in the region and the blame goes to…… Rand Paul. Bravo for intellectual laziness!!!!!

    Who blamed Rand Paul for Iraq?

    • #28
  29. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Albert Arthur, 16th Earl of Tuftonboro, etc.:

    Mike H:

    Matty Van:“Once upon a time we were not all that bad.” Really? More likely we were just lucky. In any case, it makes my point. You just simply can’t expect electoral politics to continuously choose the right man (assuming there even is such a thing this side of God or his angels, a huge assumption) time after time. Sometimes – probably often – we’ll elect the wrong man. That’s just simple down to earth common sense. I though conservatives were suppossed to be practical.

    Not to mention that even experts correctly predict outcomes only slightly better than chance. So you could have the right people making the most intelligent decisions and it still be extremely likely to turn out worse than when you started. But hey, at least you tried, right? Can’t let those bad people do what they do without signaling how much we disapprove, no matter the outcome.

    Maybe we should all just slit our own throats then? What is your point?

    Stop hyperventilating and understand that’s not a likely outcome.

    • #29
  30. Albert Arthur Podcaster
    Albert Arthur
    @AlbertArthur

    What’s not a likely outcome?

    • #30

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