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Rand Paul and “Muscular Positions” on Foreign Policy

Jennifer Rubin doesn’t seem to understand what Rand Paul means by adopting a “less aggressive foreign policy”:

Moreover, he claims his civil libertarian positions don’t weaken his commitment to national security, but we’ve yet to see him assert a muscular position on any foreign policy issue, even when it comes to Iran.

Yes, that’s the point. Sen. Paul is betting that promoting a less aggressive foreign policy is not only the smart thing to do as a matter of policy, but that it will also make Republican candidates more appealing in places where the party has become weak or irrelevant. Taking a “muscular position” on Iran or on anything else undermines that effort, and makes it that much harder for Paul to distinguish his ideas for the party from the rest. He may be right about that in some parts of California, for example, and it might not work in other parts, but it’s reasonable to assume that continuing to defend Bush-era failures and embracing reflexive hawkishness on every issue will be rejected by most voters. Rubin’s “muscular positions” on foreign policy are among the many things dragging down the Republican Party in states where it used to be competitive. Needless to say, “muscular” here doesn’t refer to belief in a strong defense or willingness to defend U.S. interests, but refers to the sort of reckless and hard-line policies with which the party has identified itself for the last decade.

Consider the question of intervention in Syria. Like every other polling organization before it, Gallup finds that the public is overwhelmingly opposed to U.S. military action in Syria. 68% oppose such action, and only 24% support it. Even among Republicans, support for military action is an anemic 31%. When the Menendez-Corker bill approving funding for arming the Syrian opposition came up for a vote in committee earlier this month, Paul was the only Republican to vote against the bill, and to date he has been the only member of his party in the Senate to reject any greater U.S. involvement in the conflict. At the moment, he appears to be the only Republican in the Senate taking the side in the Syria debate that is favored by the vast majority of Americans and most Republicans. He is betting that his dissents from the party’s reflexive hawkishness are some of what will appeal to most Americans, and that “muscular positions” on foreign policy are exactly what most of us want Republican politicians to abandon.

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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