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Paul’s Foreign Policy Speech

Rand Paul is scheduled to deliver a foreign policy address in New York tonight. Conor Friedersdorf offers a preview:

His remarks (quoted as prepared for delivery at New York City gathering of the Center for the National Interest), were seemingly pitched to Republican voters: the Kentucky Republican dubbed his approach “conservative realism,” criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton, and invoked Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower. But the substance of his speech seems likely to appeal to anyone who believes that U.S. foreign policy has gone astray since 9/11, due largely to imprudent interventions urged by George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

That’s fine as far as it goes, and I’ll have more to say about the entire speech once Sen. Paul has given it, but all of thebuild-up to the speech this week has left me wondering why he is giving it and why it is suddenly receiving so much attention. Based on what I’ve seen in the excerpts taken from the prepared remarks, Paul isn’t saying very much that he didn’t already say in his speech at the Heritage Foundation last year or his earlier address to the Center for the National Interest back in January, so I don’t see the point of giving another version of the same speech to a very similar audience.

It’s true that the January speech was rather underwhelming. Our own Leon Hadar was moved to ask: “Where is the policy beef, Senator?” Perhaps tonight’s speech will be an attempt to answer that question, but from what I’ve seen so far Paul is still so busy worrying about what label to use for his foreign policy views that he isn’t fleshing out the practical implications of his views as fully as he could. The main difficulty for Paul tonight will be to square his larger argument for foreign policy restraint with his support for the current war against ISIS. As Friedersdorf notes, his support for the new war seems to be at odds with his statement that “America shouldn’t fight wars where the best outcome is stalemate.” The war against ISIS should be a good test case for distinguishing between vital and peripheral interests, so it will be Paul’s task in the speech to explain why bombing a group that poses no direct threat to the U.S. is an appropriate use of the American military.

Lauren Fox reports on the politics surrounding the speech:

Paul advisers say the speech, which will be delivered at the Center for the National Interest in New York, is the senator’s opportunity to embrace a moderate Republican foreign policy. As the Republican senator from Kentucky eyes a potential presidential run in 2016, he must prove to the party’s establishment and voters that he’s not as withdrawn from the world as his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, nor is he shifting his positions drastically out of political necessity.

This positioning might seem to make sense at first glance, but it runs the risk of alienating all sides of the intra-party debate instead of reassuring them, and it could leave Paul adopting a mish-mash of contradictory positions. That would be an unfortunate development for the prospects of serious Republican foreign policy reform, and I hope that isn’t what happens.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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