Rand Paul’s Balanced Approach to Foreign Policy

U.S. Senator Rand Paul gave a foreign policy speech and the Heritage Foundation that many believe may be a sign of his intention to run for President in 2016. Paul presented a vision of a balanced approach to foreign policy that take addresses our most pressing security problems with unnecessarily over committing our armed forces. The highlights of his speech were summarized in this Reason Magazine article:

* “The elected officials here haven’t caught up with where the public is.” Paul estimated that 70-80% of the public is broadly sympathetic to his more limited and humble conception of U.S. foreign policy, while “the reverse” is true both in the U.S. Senate and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he now sits.

* “If any part of these ideas become part of a national campaign….” Asked about his foreign policy’s appeal to Democrats, Paul singled out for praise Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), stressed that “libertarian Republican ideas” may well have some sway among Democrats, independents, and voters on the coasts, and volunteered the notion of a “national campaign.”

* “I do want to be part of the national debate and the international debate.” Asked about his presidential ambitions, Paul did not say “I’m totally running,” but…he’s totally running.

* “I think the interesting thing about Kennan and containment is that it’s not a passive policy.” Part of Paul’s obvious third-way triangulation here (between “neoconservatism” and “isolationism,” as he put it in the speech) is to marry the complicated and non-conservative foreign policy thinking of George Kennan with the Cold War record of Ronald Reagan. Consistent with that is the notion that Kennan’s anti-Soviet “containment,” which Paul wants to apply to “radical Islam,” can mean both active engagement and deep skepticism about boots-on-the-ground military action.

* “Part of what this speech is intended to do is to spell out where I am, and it isn’t exactly the same [place], there are differences.” Asked directly about how his foreign policy views differ from his dad’s, Paul said that such a “separation” was one of the main ideas of his speech. He will not, he said, be spending the next several years saying which part of Ron Paul’s foreign policy ideas he agrees or disagrees with, in part because “it doesn’t exactly make for great Thanksgiving conversation.”

* “Brennan we’re very concerned about.” Asked whether he would oppose the nomination of Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, or support a filibuster to oppose it, Paul said he has not decided, and that “a lot of the debate for me is how much prerogative you give to a president to decide his cabinet.” For example, he voted to approve John Kerry for secretary of state, even though he agrees with about “one percent” of Kerry’s positions, either internationally or domestically. Asked what he thought about confirming John Brennan as CIA director, Paul became much more animated, railing against (and my notes here might not be verbatim) “one person sitting around with some flash cards and deciding who they’re going to kill in the world.”

* “We need to observe a process….” Asked whether there is any military action over the last 30-40 years besides the initial hit against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan that he would have supported, Paul dodged the question, and spoke instead about future engagements, and constitutional process.

* “We need to be more hesitant in getting involved…but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t support freedom fighters [and] free market capitalists.” I asked him about how a Rand Paul foreign policy would approach rhetorical support for those fighting oppressors around the world, given the suspicion that many anti-neocons have for such talk being the precursor to military engagement. He stressed that “so many of these situations are murky,” named several such examples, but then also said that there are times for piping up. “I’ve stood in solidary in democracy workers both here and in Egypt,” he said.