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Rand Paul and the Republican Foreign Policy Debate

Leon Hadar points out the pitfalls for Rand Paul in trying to split the difference between hard-liners and non-interventionists in the GOP:

But more likely, if he follows this strategy, Senator Paul will not gain the approval of either side. He will never be able to win the support of those Republican pro-interventionist strategists and pundits who continue to dominate the foreign policy discourse in the party. But he will also fail in outlining a coherent message that stresses the need to reduce the military role that the United States is playing today in world affairs, and fail to clearly establish himself as an alternative to the likes of John McCain, or for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

Hadar is right that this isn’t likely to work as a political strategy, and it involves a lot of unnecessary and undesirable hedging on a number of issues. On some of those issues, it leads Paul to endorse policy ideas that don’t make sense (e.g., reviving Bush-era missile defense plans to “punish” Russia) in order to appear “tough.” On others, such as Iran and the nuclear issue, it causes him to leave everyone in doubt as to what his position really is. He says he isn’t for containment of Iran, but he is also against ruling it out. Especially on any issue related to Israel, he has tried to have things both ways without success. He hasn’t persuaded “pro-Israel” Republicans that he is one of them, and his attempts to do so have puzzled and annoyed his most likely supporters. It has left him adopting a strangemish-mash of positions, several of which are deeply flawed on the merits. Before Sen. Paul can go on “the offense” in intra-party debate, it will be necessary to sharpen and clarify his positions on these and other issues. This is necessary not only to rally potential supporters, but also so that he will be able to make stronger and more persuasive arguments in future policy debates.

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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