The Conversation

Rand Paul's Reaganite foreign policy

Rand Paul gave a big foreign policy speech to the Heritage Foundation today, in which he presented a greatly tidied-up version of the elder Paul's anti-interventionism as the true expression of Reaganite foreign policy.  It was an interesting speech, filled with historical references and sourced quotes.  Rand is far more persuasive and polished when presenting such ideas than Ron ever was.

Among other improvements, Rand doesn't wave away the concerns of more hawkish foreign policy proponents (although he couldn't resist slipping in a dig or two at the "neocons.")  Thus, unlike his father, he's clear that Iran is a big problem that we have to deal with, perhaps violently.  But he's a strong proponent of trying everything else first, aligning himself with Israeli leaders who have deep reservations about taking out Iran's nuclear program with military force.

My criticism of Rand Paul's thinking is that he spends great effort explaining just how bloody serious the radical Islamic world is, with their keen sense of history and thousand-year grudges, but then expects them to be restrained by the sort of "strategic ambiguity" Reagan used to good effect against the Soviet Union.  Paul's speech is largely premised on comparing the struggle against radical Islam to the Cold War.  There are certainly some similarities, but the key question remains whether or not Iran will solve the doomsday equation differently than the more careful leadership of the Soviet empire did.  

"Evil" is not quite the same thing as "nuts."  Are the Iranians nuts?  If so, how do we contain them?  Paul talked about the triumph of the capitalist system over the communist one.  Does anyone see any signs of capitalism "triumphing" over Islamist authoritarianism, sustained by a religious creed custom-designed to enforce obedience among the populace, and a sea of petro-dollars?  Also, I don't think I'd get much of an argument from Senator Paul if I pointed out that America is nowhere near the capitalist powerhouse today that it was under Reagan; we are clearly convulsed by a crisis of faith over our system, while radical Islam has few doubts about its own.

Paul's ideas about the importance of involving Congress fully in declarations of war were well-taken, including some interesting thoughts about the fallacy of believing that Congress can shut down an awful Unitary Executive war by tightening the national purse strings.  As Paul pointed out, that's never actually happened - Congress is very unlikely to cut funding for troops deployed in the field, under any circumstances, and every President knows it.  That's why Congress needs to be part of the process from Day One, after the President has attended to immediate threats, as the War Powers Act provides for.


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