Wednesday, Senator Rand Paul gave his long awaited foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation. In it, he tried to outline a foreign policy vision that is a departure from the foreign policy that has been offered for more than a decade by the GOP. Also in the speech, he tried to distance himself from his father, Ron Paul’s, more radical non-interventionist views. Predictably, both neoconservatives and libertarian non-interventionists were not pleased with the speech. However, Senator Paul’s speech may open up a path for Republicans and conservatives to regain lost credibility on foreign policy and national security issues and tie it into the larger issues of debt and spending.
Senator Paul began the speech with this.
I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.
That sentence largely defines what Paul’s policy is. Traditional conservative realism as oppose to the alternatives of neoconservative hyper-interventionism and quasi-isolationist noninterventionism. A third way that is skeptical of intervention while at the same time engaged and active in the world.
Senator Paul also did something very few American politicians have done since 9/11, have a frank discussion with the American people about radical Islam.
The West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with Radical Islam.
As many are quick to note, the war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam — the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority. Whole countries, such as Saudi Arabia, adhere to at least certain radical concepts such as the death penalty for blasphemy, conversion, or apostasy. A survey in Britain after the subway bombings showed 20% of the Muslim population in Britain approved of the violence.
Some libertarians argue that western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam – I agree. But I don’t agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam “goes quietly into that good night.” I don’t agree with FDR’s VP Henry Wallace that the Soviets (or Radical Islam in today’s case) can be discouraged by “the glad hand and the winning smile.”Americans need to understand that Islam has a long and perseverant memory.
As Bernard Lewis writes, “despite an immense investment in the teaching and writing of history, the general level of historical knowledge in American society is abysmally low. The Muslim peoples, like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it.”Radical Islam is no fleeting fad but a relentless force. Though at times stateless, Radical Islam is also supported by radicalized nations such as Iran. Though often militarily weak, Radical Islam makes up for its lack of conventional armies with unlimited zeal.
For Americans to grasp the mindset of Radical Islam we need to understand that they are still hopping mad about the massacre at Karbala several hundred years ago. Meanwhile, many Americans seem to be more concerned with who is winning ‘Dancing with the Stars.’
Illiberal Islamic radicalism is more prevalent in the Islamic world than most Westerners believe. After all a few years ago, a Muslim United States Army major killed many of his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in the name of jihad. There is no way the neoconservative vision of spreading democracy by force could ever take root in such an illiberal society.
Senator Paul opined about Iran, again trying to strike a middle ground. He explained that he supported sanctions as an attempt to restart diplomacy, but he was not sold on a military option to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
No one, myself included, wants to see a nuclear Iran. Iran does need to know that all options are on the table. But we should not pre-emptively announce that diplomacy or containment will never be an option.
Senator Paul is correct here. Strategic ambiguity is the best policy in regards to Iran. By stating that the United States will go to war to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will likely accelerate Iran’s quest to acquire them as a means of deterrence. Also, one of the best arguments the Iranians have for acquiring nuclear is what happened in Libya. After the Iraq War, then Libyan dictator Gaddafi agreed to end his weapons of mass destruction program in exchange for not being removed from power. In 2011, our glorious Dear Ruler, Caesar Barackius the Magnificent, decided to remove Gaddafi from power because he disapproved of his crackdown on Al-Qaeda aligned rebels. Why would anyone trust any security assurances the United States gives in exchange for ending a weapons of mass destruction program?
Senator Paul also did something most American politicians absolutely refuse to do, comment on the plight of Arab Christians.
Likewise, today’s “Truman” caucus wants boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere, including Syrian rebels. Perhaps, we might want to ask the opinion of the one million Syrian Christians, many of whom fled Iraq when our Shiite allies were installed. Perhaps, we might want to ask: will the Syrian rebels respect the rights of Christians, women, and other ethnic minorities?
Arab Christians have not fared well under the neocon vision of bringing democracy to the Islamic world. From Egypt to Palestine, the persecution of Arab Christians is on the rise at the hands of these new Islamic “democratic” governments. What most neocons do not understand is that democracy is more than just having elections, its about having a pluralistic society that can respect differences of opinion and lifestyle.
Finally, Senator Paul opines about how Congress has failed at its job of oversight over the Executive Branch.
Since the Korean War, Congress has ignored its responsibility to restrain the President. Congress has abdicated its role in declaring war
Congress not restraining the Executive Branch is why Dear Ruler can arrogantly maintain a kill list of Americans he believes he can order killed with no oversight at all. Our liberties have suffered as a result and it is also worth noting that the United States has only had one decisive military victory, the first Gulf War, since World War II.
Overall, Senator Paul outlined a vision of a restrained foreign policy with a suspicion of foreign intervention, Congressional oversight as required by the Constitution, and in line with the realities of a nation deeply in debt and with a weak economy. It also provides a more realistic alternative to the neocon vision of spreading democracy to the Islamic world. It is also a more conservative alternative in acknowledging that we have to take the world as it is and that we can impose a utopian ideal in Western-style democracy in an illiberal culture such as the Arab World. Where at the same time, it maintains the conservative commitment to a strong national defense instead of being the policeman of the world that neocons and leftists would like America to be.
In the political arena, this is a foreign policy that can help regain the credibility with the American people that the Republican Party lost in the sands of Iraq. It signals that the era of perpetual war against a vague enemy is over. This would help reassure the American people that their son and daughters will not be sacrificed casually.