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Rand Paul and Foreign Policy

Robert Golan-Villela talks 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 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 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. 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 that he was opposed to the new sanctions bill while negotiations are ongoing. He said:

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.

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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