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What Rand Paul Didn’t Say

Rand Paul’s foreign policy speech last week has met with mostly positiveresponses with a few exceptions. Dan Drezner acknowledged that it was a significant improvement over previous speeches and “probably better than 95 percent of the GOP’s 2012 foreign policy rhetoric,” but concluded that “it’s still radically incomplete.” Drezner observes:

Paul doesn’t really outline what criteria would justify the use of force in a Paul administration. He doesn’t really articulate how he would mix military statecraft with economic statecraft. He really doesn’t talk about how, if he insists on congressional approval of any use of force, whether this will weaken presidential threats to use force as an instrument of statecraft.

The closest that Paul came to doing the first of these was midway through the speech when he said, “War is necessary when America is attacked or threatened, when vital American interests are attacked and threatened, and when we have exhausted all other measures short of war.” That sounds reasonable enough, but it’s the middle clause of that sentence that potentially commits the U.S. to a great many wars or to very few depending on how broadly one chooses to define “vital American interests.” Despite his nod to Kennan’s distinction between vital and peripheral interests early on in the speech, that’s something Paul didn’t define.

It would have been useful to hear more about whether or not he thinks that Congress should ever actively interfere in ongoing diplomacy. If he believes that it is “imperative that Tehran and Washington find an effective diplomatic solution for limiting the Iranian enrichment program,” that ought to mean that he is firmly opposed to attempts by his Senate colleagues to derail a nuclear deal, but he doesn’t say so explicitly. Granted, it was only one speech, and it isn’t possible to address all major issues thoroughly in a limited amount of time, but these are some of the more important questions that Paul will need to answer at some point.

Drezner continues:

Even if one drills down below grand strategy to focus on concrete policy problems, there are some inconsistencies. For example, Paul states flatly at the outset that, “America shouldn’t fight wars where the best outcome is stalemate. America shouldn’t fight wars when there is no plan for victory.” Okay, sounds clear, until we get to what Paul thinks about what to do about ISIS in Syria…

As I and others havepointed out, Paul’s statements about the wars America shouldn’t fight don’t square with his support for the current war against ISIS. The war against ISIS should be a perfect example of an intervention that isn’t related to defending the U.S. or its vital interests, but it is one that Paul says he supports anyway. Instead of explaining this contradiction, he skated past it.

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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