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Piecing Together Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy

Leon Hadar found Rand Paul’s speech last week to be too lacking in specifics:

It was nice to get to know Senator Paul’s worldview. But here is the main problem I had with his address: Where is the policy beef, Senator? Provide us with the links between your worldview and the policies you would support and pursue.

Hadar is right that the speech was very light on details, and it comes across as more of a brief survey of a few main ideas that inform Paul’s thinking. It was noticeably shorter than the Heritage speech he gave last year, and despite coming after the interim deal with Iran this speech included even less discussion of Iran and related issues. Based on his general statements about diplomacy, it would be reasonable to assume that Sen. Paul approves of the interim deal with Iran, but that is not explicitly stated anywhere. Since Paul is one of just two Republicans in the Senate that has not endorsed the new sanctions legislation (the other being Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake), it is possible that he believes that threatening additional sanctions is a mistake, but he didn’t affirm that last week. He has previously said that he hadn’t ruled out supporting the Senate bill.

Nonetheless, there are several hints in the speech that Paul rejects setting the sort of maximalist conditions that the Senate bill includes. He talks about the need to leave an opponent an exit, and he emphasizes the importance for weaker states to be able to save face when negotiating with a superpower. Furthermore, he mocks those that insist on “unconditional surrender” as the only acceptable outcome. All of this would seem to apply directly to negotiations with Iran and it should mean that he opposes the push for new sanctions, and yet he leaves it to the audience to guess at those connections for themselves.

Sen. Paul’s speech contained some encouraging signs that he has good instincts on foreign policy, but as Hadar says he still needs to add a lot more substance and detail to the rough outline that he has offered so far.

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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