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Rand Paul and Reorienting Republican Foreign Policy

Frederick Kagan didn’t understand why Rand Paul emphasized restraint and avoiding unnecessary wars:

America’s foreign policy today is hardly one of militaristic, imperialistic determination to intervene.

To put it charitably, this is an odd thing to say about the current state of U.S. foreign policy. U.S. forces may eventually be leaving Afghanistan, but most of them will still be there for most of the next two years. The U.S. and its allies just helped overthrow the Libyan government less than 18 months ago, and there is constant agitation in support of threatening Iran with attack. If U.S. foreign policy is not as militaristic and interventionist as it might be, that is thanks to the election result last fall.

On Iran, the bipartisan consensus against containment and in favor of “prevention” that there is only one Senate critic of ruling out containment, and that is Sen. Paul. The U.S. isn’t as directly involved in Syria as most administration critics would like, but it hasn’t been for lack of advocates in favor of greater involvement inside the administration as well as on the outside. There is a constant, incessant drumbeat in support of new wars, new entanglements, and interference in other countries’ affairs, and much of it comes from the ranks of Republican hard-liners. The fact that Obama isn’t quite as eager to plunge into new conflicts as his more hawkish detractors doesn’t change any of this.

While Paul’s argument was directed to some extent against hawks in both parties, he seems to have been mainly interested to counter the arguments of Republican hard-liners. Understood this way, there is nothing the least bit bizarre about a call for restraint when the vast majority of his fellow Republicans in Congress show no interest in restraint. Republican hard-liners define American “leadership” primarily in terms of how many foreign conflicts and disputes the U.S. can become involved, and Paul reasonably views this as unsound and unsustainable. It is odd that Kagan is feigning ignorance about all this, since he must know that the leading Republicans support something very much like the knee-jerk interventionism that Paul was attacking in the speech.

Though Paul didn’t identify the people currently in the “Truman caucus” or the “war caucus,” we all know who they are. It is silly to pretend that McCain, Graham, Rubio, et al. don’t support embroiling the U.S. in new wars overseas. That’s exactly what they support, and it’s why they are so well-regarded by the Kagans of the world. Fortunately, the public doesn’t share their views, and for the moment the administration seems to be ignoring them, but that isn’t the point. Paul’s speech was concerned with reorienting conservative and Republican foreign policy, and part of that reorientation requires a repudiation of the constant demand for “leadership” in other countries’ conflicts and internal disputes that we hear all the time from hard-liners in the GOP.

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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