Exclusive-Rand Paul: Stop Warping Reagan's Foreign Policy

Exclusive-Rand Paul: Stop Warping Reagan's Foreign Policy

Every Republican likes to think he or she is the next Ronald Reagan. Some who say this do so for lack of their own ideas and agenda. Reagan was a great leader and President. But too often people make him into something he wasn’t in order to serve their own political purposes.

Reagan clearly believed in a strong national defense and in “Peace through Strength.” He stood up to the Soviet Union, and he led a world that pushed back against Communism.

But Reagan also believed in diplomacy and demonstrated a reasoned approach to our nuclear negotiations with the Soviets. Reagan’s shrewd diplomacy would eventually lessen the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

Many forget today that Reagan’s decision to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev was harshly criticized by the Republican hawks of his time, some of whom would even call Reagan an appeaser. In the Middle East, Reagan strategically pulled back our forces after the tragedy in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 Marines, realizing the cost of American lives was too great for the mission. 

Without a clearly defined mission, exit strategy or acceptable rationale for risking soldiers lives, Reagan possessed the leadership to reassess and readjust.

Today, we forget that some of the Republican hawks of his time criticized Reagan harshly for this too, again, calling him an appeaser

I don’t claim to be the next Ronald Reagan nor do I attempt to disparage fellow Republicans as not being sufficiently Reaganesque. But I will remind anyone who thinks we will win elections by trashing previous Republican nominees or holding oneself out as some paragon in the mold of Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory.

I met Ronald Reagan as a teenager when my father was a Reagan delegate in 1976. I greatly admire Reagan’s projection of “Peace through Strength.” I believe, as he did, that our National Defense should be second to none, that defense of the country is the primary Constitutional role of the Federal Government.

There is no greater priority for Congress than defense of the nation.

I also greatly admire that Reagan was not rash or reckless with regard to war. Reagan advised potential foreign adversaries not to mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve. 

What America needs today is a Commander-in-Chief who will defend the country and project strength, but who is also not eager for war.

Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, there is little difference among most Republicans on what to do. All of us believe we should stand up to Putin’s aggression. Virtually no one believes we should intervene militarily.

So we are then faced with a finite menu of diplomatic measures to isolate Russia, on most of which we all agree, such as sanctions and increased economic pressure.

Yet, some politicians have used this time to beat their chest. What we don’t need right now is politicians who have never seen war talking tough for the sake of their political careers.

America deserves better than that. So do our soldiers.

More than any other category of voters, our men and women in uniform understand the anguish that comes with their ninth and tenth tours in battle zones. These brave young patriots do their duty, they do as they’re told, but they don’t mistake their heroism for a love of war. 

Many agree with General Eisenhower who said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

There is a time for military action, such as after 9/11. There is a time for diplomacy and the strategic use of soft power, such as now with Russia. Diplomacy requires resolve but also thoughtfulness and intelligence.

This is something Reagan always knew.

Reagan said his greatest regret as President was sending those Marines to Beirut in the first place. 

How many leaders were as great as Reagan, willing to admit their mistakes, learn from them and put their country before their own reputation and legacy?

Today’s Republicans should concentrate on establishing their own identities and agendas, as opposed to simply latching onto Ronald Reagan’s legacy–or worse, misrepresenting it.

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