Sen. Rand Paul will be delivering his foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation this morning, which can be followed live here. I’ll be commenting on the speech on Twitter (@DanielLarison), and then I’ll follow up with more comments here.
Update: On the whole, I thought it was a good speech that managed to combine a number of familiar realist and constitutionalist arguments in support of a “more restrained foreign policy.” He relied heavily on the Gaddis biography of George Kennan and containment as Kennan understood it, and made a point of distinguishing between what Kennan believed it should have been and what it became under the Truman Doctrine. The comparison between the USSR and “radical Islam” doesn’t hold up very well at all, but I think he was using this comparison partly to justify his discussion of Kennan. The speech will leave a lot of people unsatisfied because it addressed relatively few contemporary issues and overemphasized “radical Islam” to the exclusion of most current issues. I understood the speech to be an attempt to present a general foreign policy vision that was in opposition to prevailing hard-line and interventionist views, and judged by this standard it was mostly successful. Paul did a good job of challenging the Iran hawks that reject containment as an option, and said that “war should never be the only option.” He went through a list of current and former Israeli officials that have expressed doubts about the effectiveness of military strikes on Iran.
The downside of the containment discussion in the speech is that it reinforces the misleading comparison between the Soviet threat and threats from Iran and “radical Islam,” which has the effect of greatly exaggerating the latter. It was important to do more to keep the much smaller, more manageable threat from Iran in perspective, and I didn’t hear that. Paul maintains that his support for sanctions on Iran is an alternative to war, but experience tells us that sanctions don’t produce the desired changes in regime behavior, and at least in the case of Iraq they tend to make conflict more likely in the future than it would otherwise be.
I’ll have more to add after I’ve read through the transcript, but I’ll leave it there for now.