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Restraint and Support for Freedom Abroad

A Constitutional foreign policy shouldn't waste American lives or money, but that doesn't mean our hearts don't go out to those who fight for freedom.

A member of the Ukrainian military stands amid debris from a damaged residential apartment block caused after a Russian rocket was shot down by Ukrainian air defences on March 14, 2022 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Most of us who believe in a foreign policy of restraint know John Quincy Adams’ advice by heart:

[America] . . . goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

Less attention is paid to the preceding sentiment in Adams’ Fourth of July address that: “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.”

Quincy Adams was close enough to our Founding, in both proximity of years and in relation to one of the key Founders, to fully understand that those of the Revolutionary generation were united in their belief that avoiding entangling alliances and the perpetual war scene of Europe was a necessary precondition for the preservation of liberty at home.

To a man, our Founders expressed their desire to have questions of war decided by the collective wisdom of Congress and not by the whims of a single President. Madison wrote that the executive branch was the branch most likely to engage in war and, therefore, the drafters of the Constitution deliberately vested that power in the legislature.

These sentiments still ring true to many libertarians, who believe that war should be the last resort, that war should only be fought with a formal congressional declaration, and that America cannot be expected to send its sons and daughters to be sacrificed in every war on the planet, even when the call for war is sought by fellow aspirants for liberty.

But it’s important to clarify that the heart of Quincy Adams—as well as many modern-day libertarians, including myself—aligns with freedom seekers around the globe.

I have not one shred of sympathy for aggressor nations who invade and pillage adjoining countries. None.

A policy of restraint can argue simultaneously that admitting Ukraine into NATO is foolishly provocative and that Russia’s aggression is unjustified, unwarranted, and ultimately will be destructive both to Ukraine and to Russia herself.

With Putin’s invasion, Russia lost much of its moral and persuasive power to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Now, Russia might argue that occupying Ukraine will keep that country out of NATO. Perhaps, but at what cost?

Does Putin really believe that conquering Kiev will end the war? Does Putin really believe the Ukrainians will simply accept an occupation?

I foresee a protracted insurgency with the very real possibility of the destruction of Russia’s pipeline that traverses Ukraine. Ukrainian freedom fighters will find the revenue source of a Russian puppet regime an irresistible target at which to direct their fury. Nothing will prevent Ukrainian nationalists from sabotaging the pipeline.

Like Quincy Adams, our hearts reach out to those who unfurl the banner of liberty and defend their homeland. Our sentiments and sympathy, however, are not blank checks, nor are they acquiescence to Americans dying in another foreign war.

Ultimately, Ukraine survives only if Ukrainians have the will to fight. The Afghan national government, after being propped up for 20 years by the American military and trillions of American dollars, cut and ran once the U.S. withdrew. The Afghan national government ultimately conceded defeat with barely a whimper. The mujahideen, and later the Taliban, fought against first the Soviets and then the Americans. Despite vastly superior firepower, two superpowers ultimately limped away, and Afghans are once again free of foreign “occupiers.”

Russia may be able to defeat Ukraine militarily, but they will ultimately fail if the Ukrainian people resist. To that resistance, to freedom fighters everywhere, go our hearts and prayers.

Rand Paul serves as the junior United States senator from Kentucky. 

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