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Rand Paul, Foreign Policy Polonius

TWS contributing editors weigh in.

2:03 PM, Feb 8, 2013 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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Two contributing editors to THE WEEKLY STANDARD analyzed Kentucky senator Ron Paul's foreign policy address earlier this week. First, Robert Kagan writes in the Washington Post:

...if Paul’s speech Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation is any indication, they don’t quite know. Despite presenting himself as a brave dissenter from the reigning orthodoxy, Paul and his attempt at an alternative sound remarkably conventional.

With Polonius-like wisdom, he calls for a strategy that “balances but does not appease,” that is “robust but also restrained.” He does not want America to be “everywhere all the time” or “nowhere any of the time” but thinks that “maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time.”

He acknowledges that “there are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.” But he doesn’t want to put “boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere.”

Fair enough, but since U.S. foreign policy occurs precisely in the wide space between doing nothing anywhere and doing everything everywhere, these recommendations are not very helpful. How do we determine where and when to act, and in response to what dangers?

Here, too, Paul sounds conventional. He calls himself a “realist,” but unlike many realists, he sees the overriding threat to America as “radical Islam,” which he describes as a “relentless force” of “unlimited zeal,” “supported by radicalized nations such as Iran” and with which the United States is indeed at “war” and will be for a long time. Unlike critics during the Cold War, who argued that anti-communist “paranoia” produced a self-destructive foreign policy, Paul embraces the dominant “paranoia” of the post-9/11 era. He may have a realist’s contempt for the supposed ignorance of the average American, who, he claims, is “more concerned with who is winning ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ ” But he nevertheless shares the average American’s view that radical Islam is today what Soviet Communism was during the Cold War — “an ideology with worldwide reach” that must, like communism, be met by “counterforce at a series of constantly shifting worldwide points.”

Read the whole thing here.

And at National Review Online, Fred Kagan shares his observations on Paul's foreign policy prescriptions:

It is hard to square the speech of Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) at the Heritage Foundation yesterday with the global and political context in which he spoke. The speech was an erudite exposition of a foreign policy of restraint, retrenchment, and containment as described by George Kennan at the start of the Cold War. It was a warning against foreign entanglements and the threat posed to the separation of powers by the presidential practice of avoiding formal declarations of war when sending American troops overseas. It was, above all, a call to avoid backing ourselves into a corner that would make war with Iran inevitable. It was, in other words, a more artful defense of the foreign policy of the Obama administration than that administration has ever made itself.

Passing for the moment the wisdom of the foreign policy Senator Paul is proposing, we note that the shrillness of his warnings against war are bizarre at a moment when the president — with no meaningful opposition from Congress — has completely withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq, allowed his intention to withdraw almost completely (or perhaps completely) from Afghanistan to be leaked, refused to support Syrian rebels in any meaningful way, removed the U.S. from playing any significant role in the unraveling of Egypt, and indicated his intention to reduce the American military dramatically. He has allowed Iran to pass so many “red lines” in its pursuit of nuclear-weapons capability that it is hard to imagine what line he would not allow Tehran to cross. America’s foreign policy today is hardly one of militaristic, imperialistic determination to intervene. Apart from the evil “neocons” — virtually none of whom, it should be noted, have advocated attacking Iran, invading Syria or Yemen, or launching other adventures that Senator Paul seems so to fear — it is hard to understand against whom the senator is arguing.

Read the whole thing here.

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