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Rand Paul and Foreign Policy

Robert Golan-Villela talks [1] about “the Rand Paul moment”:

The result is that among those in the GOP who don’t support the Bush approach, Rand Paul has become the only game in town. There are precious few, if any, other Republicans of national stature and even semi-realistic presidential aspirations who have anything interesting to say about foreign policy at all. And while there are issues on which Paul and the GOP base might differ on foreign policy, there are also ones on which he channels its views quite well—most notably in his vocal opposition to conducting military strikes against Syria last year. Another example comes in the war in Afghanistan, which has grown increasingly unpopular with the public and in which Paul has long favored a faster withdrawal of U.S. troops.

It seems to me that Paul’s greatest advantage over other Republican politicians is that he has reliably been an early and vocal opponent of unnecessary wars. Unlike every other Republican in elected office today, Paul was on record as an opponent of the Iraq war from the beginning. Today even most Republicans acknowledge [2] that the war was a failure, and there is clearly no appetite for anything like that again. While other Republicans were berating Obama for intervening in Libya too slowly, Paul was opposed to the war, and he was likewise an early critic of attacking Syria and arming the opposition. This has put him on the right side of public opinion and distinguished him from the Obama administration on a few high-profile issues.

At the same time, Paul has been careful to talk about war in a way that so-called “Jacksonians” are supposed to appreciate and understand. When he spoke [3] to the Center for the National Interest earlier this month, he said this:


There is certainly a time for war. But the threshold should be high, and the cause clear [bold mine-DL].

Colin Powell was fond of saying that “war should be the politics of last resort. We should have a purpose our people understand and support.”

When America is attacked or our interests directly threatened, our country should and will defend itself with the force and authority of our collective wills. We will seek no other military objective than complete victory over our attackers.

There are also probably many more Republicans in agreement with Paul’s position on Iran than Dueck believes [4]. The Iran debate gives Paul the distinction of being virtually the only Republican in Congress to argue against undermining diplomacy. Earlier this week, Sen. Paul said [5] that he was opposed to the new sanctions bill while negotiations are ongoing. He said [6]:

I think while they’re negotiating, and if we can see that they’re negotiating in good faith, I don’t think it’s a good idea to pass sanctions while we’re in the midst of negotiations. I think the bottom line is we should give negotiations a chance. My hope is that sanctions will avoid war. We’ve been involved in two long wars in the Middle East. And I think it would be best if we can do anything possible to try to avoid another war now.

Faced with a misleading choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or military action, most Republicans may say that they favor military action, but I suspect that the constituency for sabotaging diplomacy with Iran and making war more likely is considerably smaller. Besides, launching an attack on Iran that makes Iran more interested in acquiring nuclear weapons is exactly the sort of futile military action that “Jacksonians” are supposed to reject. At the moment, Paul is the only Republican in Congress offering his party a clear alternative to the efforts to sabotage diplomacy with Iran, and that is probably going to be appealing to many Republicans and independents that have had no one in the GOP to represent their preferences on these issues.

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19 Comments To "Rand Paul and Foreign Policy"

#1 Comment By Joshua Simeon Narins On January 31, 2014 @ 10:54 am

If only I could elect him as Secretary of State…

#2 Comment By balconesfault On January 31, 2014 @ 11:09 am

Paul, to his credit, does seem to look at some policies on merit.

Whereas a significant chunk of the GOP, which seems to look at any given policy to figure out which side the Obama Administration is on – and then immediately rushes to the opposing side.

I’m certainly not enamored with Rand, since I fundamentally disagree with him on many if not most issues, and he was out there supporting filibusters of relatively uncontroversial Executive Branch appointments suggesting he’s still more concerned with partisan advantage than good government – but it is refreshing to see a Republican doesn’t act as if he can defend any stance he takes with the phrase “we have to stop Obama”.

#3 Comment By EliteCommInc. On January 31, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

“Faced with a misleading choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or military action, most Republicans may say that they favor military action,”

I would actually need some convincing data on this. I am not sure whether the US public cares about Iran and their bid for Nuclear power.

As for Sen. Paul’s positions on our Afghanistan cause or any other military foreign policy option — I am unconvinced that he is not merely reading the polls and pandering to what is popular. I remain suspicious of those who are on scene suddenly advocating something as old as the Afghanistan – if I had heard his voice prior to what is now popular when it was not, his positions might carry some import with me —

but as it is —

ok. quite anti-climactic.

#4 Comment By Seth Owen On January 31, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

“I am unconvinced that he is not merely reading the polls and pandering to what is popular.”

Well, given the choice of pandering to what’s popular with the citizenry or pandering to what’s popular with AIPAC I know which kind of panderer I’d like to see more of.

#5 Comment By Clint On January 31, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

Rand Paul,
“We did not declare war or authorize force to begin war with Libya. This is a dangerous precedent. In our foreign policy, Congress has become not even a rubber stamp but an irrelevancy. With Libya, the president sought permission from the UN… from NATO… from the Arab League – everyone but the US Congress! And how did Congress react? Congress let him get away with it.”

#6 Comment By Skipjack On January 31, 2014 @ 4:17 pm

Most Americans have yet to hear Rand Paul make his foreign policy case. They might have heard him or someone like him on a couple votes, but not gotten the bigger picture. It’s out of the mainstream of conservative views, and the people who most seem to share it in the Republican Party are foreign policy wonk types, not broadly representative. Meanwhile it might find a broader audience with some left wing types, but it is also not mainstream in the Democratic Party and further he’s not going to be given free oxygen by liberal supporting media.

I’m not interested in polling on specific issues vis-a-vis Iran or nuclear terrorism, those always seem gamed by the shape of the question. I am however curious how a lot of people would react to really hearing his foreign policy laid out. I think it would get a favorable hearing, especially among the people who are old enough to see the damage of the past few decades and also uninterested enough to really take stock of the situation all along. It might be like a light going on.

I disagree with him on a lot of things, but I can’t help thinking he could make a lot of headway.

#7 Comment By cfountain72 On January 31, 2014 @ 4:24 pm

“I am unconvinced that he is not merely reading the polls and pandering to what is popular.”


He was against the invasion of Iraq well before there was a solid majority against it. He supported the initial purpose of going into Afghanistan, but has long been quite clear that it’s high time we picked up our toys and left. His drone filibuster was they very essence of being against something that didn’t have much popular support. He’s one of…one?…Republican who is against the Iran sanctions bill. He also is against the counter-productive Cuban Embargo. None of these were popular positions for a Republican to take at the time he took them, and indeed, carry a certain amount of baggage along with them, especially with the likes of Lindsey and McCain and Rush and Hannity, et. al. barking in your ear.

I challenge you to find any national, publicly elected individual–in either party–who has staked out all of these positions.

Peace be with you.

#8 Comment By Dan Phillips On January 31, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

“Unlike every other Republican in elected office today”

I know Walter Jones voted for the war, but later had a change of heart, but didn’t John Duncan vote against it from the start?

On that note, a Jones or Duncan candidacy would be nice.

#9 Comment By AnotherBeliever On January 31, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

Not to put to fine a point on it, but he would be the only candidate on either side of the aisle offering an alternative to the foreign policy of the past 20 plus years. The GOP should run with this. Otherwise, barring a crisis, Hillary really is inevitable. Certainly no politician stands to gain by staking out a more interventionist/anti-diplomacy position than hers. If the GOP tries that again, the best they can hope for is that no one will notice.

#10 Comment By Ron Goodman On January 31, 2014 @ 7:35 pm

Hillary was badly hurt, and might have lost the nomination, because of her support of the Iraq war. I can’t imagine voting for a Republican, but she still makes me uneasy as to what she might do in the area of foreign policy.

#11 Comment By William Dalton On January 31, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

Dan Phillips:

I was opposed to the Iraq War before it was launched and, indeed, was skeptical of the Afghan War at its beginning, as well. My views had been formed by following Pat Buchanan for some years, supporting both this runs for the Presidency, and coming to agree with him more and more in his departures from Republican “orthodoxy”. So I, too, looked for Republicans to support who swam against the post-9/11 tide, and found both Ron Paul and John Duncan. The few others who were there fell by the wayside. When Walter Jones joined them he became my North Carolina hero. I twice approached him with others to encourage him to run for the U.S. Senate this year, but his own assessment was that he wouldn’t get the funding to make such a race worth the risk. But he puts up with a lot of abuse from the Republican Congressional establishment.

Rand Paul, on foreign policy as well as his views on economics and the Constitution, is his father’s man. He expresses these views with greater circumspection and moderation than the elder Paul, but I have no doubt that if elected he will disappoint his father’s devotees less than George W. Bush let down those who elected him on the basis of his father’s name.

But what both Pauls represent, what Pat Buchanan and those on the masthead of The American Conservative represent, is still far at odds with the received opinion in both political parties. It will take “RevoLution”, to borrow his father’s slogan, for Rand Paul to win the GOP nomination. And unless the stars miraculously so align, even doing so may prove as divisive of the party as was the Goldwater nomination in 1964, with similar results. But whether it is eight or twelve or sixteen years down the road, if we persevere, and God preserves the United States, we will win the victory.

#12 Comment By Bob Wilcox On January 31, 2014 @ 8:10 pm

What about Justin Amash? He’ll be over 35 in 2016. He might make a good VP nominee.

#13 Comment By amspirnational On January 31, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

Paul should not be quoting Powell who lied about WMDs at the UN to help get us into war, his cheif aide Greg Thielmann resigning in protest.

#14 Comment By STJ On February 1, 2014 @ 12:30 am

Powell didn’t lie about WMD’s. The intelligence given to him pointed toward the presence of WMD’s in Iraq. In fact no one lied to get us into Iraq. The head of the Intelligence Community George Tenet told Bush that it was a “slam dunk” that Iraq had WMD’s. Of course, we later found the “slam dunk” was based off of assumptions rather than facts while dissent was footnoted. Cheney and Co. might have cherry picked intelligence in their push for war but no one lied.

#15 Comment By Puller58 On February 1, 2014 @ 6:11 am

Sorry, but this is as bad as the horserace coverage the MSM engages in. Rand Paul is NOT a serious person. (The “Southern Avenger” along with his father’s “newsletter” pretty much puts the eccentric “Aqua Buddah” into the Trivial Pursuit category.) As he has been hammered by the likes of Jennifer Rubin means only that she’s terrified of someone whose father endangered the “special relationship” between Israel and the US. (The notion that Ron Paul did anything of the sort is of course silly.) One would do well to recognize that the Cato Institute is largely a business friendly hack shack that only pretends to be libertarian. So there are no real libertarians to root for in terms of foreign policy.

#16 Comment By Libertarian Conservative On February 1, 2014 @ 1:32 pm


Most people are fair enough and rational enough to not blame Rand for his father’s newsletters. If people want to criticize Rand for having an “association” with his father, they won’t have very firm ground to stand on.

#17 Comment By Clint On February 1, 2014 @ 9:40 pm


Rand Paul is serious and so are old guard Republicans and new generation conservative donors.

“At an Atlanta fundraiser Monday, both old-guard Republicans and a new generation of conservative political givers raised $150,000 for Paul’s Senate re-election committee and gave credence to the argument that establishment Republican fundraisers are looking closely at Paul’s presidential prospects.”

#18 Comment By KXB On February 5, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

While Paul holds a number of positions that can give some of us hope, he has little chance of getting the nomination. These races are won on domestic matters, and for the groups that compromise the most important bloc of voters in the GOP, white Southern evangelicals, he will have to adopt positions that will hurt him with a broader group of voters. The GOP used to do well in suburbs, but much of their cultural program holds less appeal to that group. I’m not sure Paul has the skills to appeal to both groups, or to get enough white evangelicals to come out on his behalf.

#19 Comment By MNP On February 5, 2014 @ 5:55 pm

The question is, do Republicans only see these wars as a mistake because Iraq is over and Obama is president?

It’s much like the NSA stance by Congressional Republicans. I’ll take it while I can get it, but the instant a Republican is in charge I will eat my hat if they keep it.