Rand Paul's Foreign Non-Policy
Senator Rand Paul was, until recently, a serious contender for the GOP Presidential nomination but his recent piece in the National Review Online shows why a President Paul would leave a lot to be desired. The Kentucky senator, heir to the libertarian dynasty founded by his father, has been making waves doing voter outreach among African-Americans, college students, Hispanics and more. These efforts should be praised and emulated, not merely by those on the right but by all who value the electoral system and want no vote taken for granted. Senator Paul has been a straight talker when discussing the failed war on drugs and the horrible consequences of prohibition which result in millions of Americans sent to jail for mere recreational possession.
However clear-minded Senator Paul has been on some domestic issues, on foreign policy he has never been more intellectually oblique. Senator Paul begins by engaging in the time-tested dishonorable tactic of claiming the moral high ground through victimhood. As if we are to believe that he was unaware that both parties are composed of competing perspectives, he posits that “the knives are out” for those in his foreign policy camp. He then immediately engages in the wholesale slaughter of an army of straw-men by painting himself as against those who want “unlimited involvement in foreign wars,” a policy that no single person advocates. He continues with bold-faced falsehoods by asserting that his foreign policy opponents believe “you are either with us or against us” and that to them “no middle ground is acceptable.”
Senator Paul’s piece has two interconnected goals. First, he seeks to marginalize non-isolationists; second, he plants the seeds for a limited understanding of liberty. The self-proclaimed ambassador of libertarianism, who has no problems going into the lion’s den of radical Berkeley, can articulate what type of foreign policy he supports in the ideal world but not the real world. Rather, Senator Paul resorts to dirty politics of non-definitions and euphemisms to describe what he is not. He is not a member of the (garage band sounding) “Wilsonian ideologues”, he is not an “interventionist”, and he is not a neoconservative. It takes until the last paragraph for Senator Paul to assert what foreign policy ideology he is wedded to, the amoral “realist and nuanced” school which divorces American values from American actions.
In his hyperbole-laden search for mainstream legitimacy, Senator Paul asserts that those who disagree with him are trying to “carve up” and are “pointing daggers” at the founder of the modern conservative movement, William F. Buckley Jr., and the conservative movement’s greatest hero, Ronald Reagan. He attempts to claim both for his strange foreign non-policy and cherry picks Iraq quotes from the later life of Buckley. The truth he conveniently ignores is that Buckley was the proponent, and Reagan a follower, of fusionism – a partnership of the traditionalist, anti-communist, and libertarian elements of the right in a big tent alliance against big government, for traditional values, and for American exceptionalism.
Senator Paul’s worldview of nonintervention is dangerous not just because of its inherent policy naivety, but because it undermines the American foundational ideas as they were meant to be -- universal values. While we cannot, should not, and do not intervene in all conflicts, the idea that these values -- “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, the rule of law, free press, freedom of conscience, and free speech -- are limited by borders or nationality is antithetical to the ideas of the founding fathers and to common sense. Senator Paul asserts that helping foment democracy around the world is “utopian”, as if immigrants from Vietnam, Iraq, Russia, Pakistan and other oppressed nations can handle democracy after they have moved to the U.S. but not before. He divorces the liberties he claims to defend from their very foundation -- that they are self-evident and exist in every individual before governments choose or refuse to recognize them.
The application of force by the United States should be handled with nuance, care, and sobriety. It should also be executed with our values in mind and a commitment to liberty as the natural right of all people. Senator Paul doesn’t believe this. His “just say no” policy to big government is as uncontroversial as it is common sense and his outreach to communities which have seen the votes of their members taken for granted represents a step towards a healthier democracy. But his effort to win the pity parade, ahistorical attempts to claim Buckley and Reagan for his foreign non-policy, and his liberty diminishing attack on values-informed foreign policy disqualifies him from the office of President.