BEDFORD: The good, the bad and the ugly of Rand Paul’s foreign policy address

The Bad

Mr. Paul’s speech was aptly titled “containment and radical Islam,” and this was appropriate because from beginning to end, Mr. Paul advocated for the failed Cold War policy of “containment.”

Containment was essentially a compromise between détente (or appeasement) and rollback, and though often interpreted differently by different leaders, it was essentially the policy of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter.

The problem is that while we tried to hold the Soviets in, Americans died in the tens of thousands, enslaved people were murdered in the millions, and Communist influence expanded in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. Why Mr. Paul would advocate a return to this policy, or how it would look against a strictly guerrilla enemy, is beyond us, but might have to do with a misreading of history. Containment, Mr. Paul told his audience — was actually the policy of President Ronald Reagan.

And here is where he really lost us.

The Ugly

Historic revisionism is an ugly — and dangerous — thing. Orwell rightly said “who controls the past, controls the future,” and policymakers need to carefully guard against it.

It’s not unusual for a politicians to invoke the Founders to justify ideas, or to invoke more recent leaders, like Mr. Reagan, which is what Mr. Paul did. The problem was that nearly everything Mr. Paul said about Mr. Reagan was false.

Mr. Paul cited one of Mr. Reagan’s U.S.S.R. ambassadors to indicate that Mr. Reagan pursued a policy of containment that was more in line with its creator than other presidents, and explained that “Reagan’s foreign policy was much closer to what I am advocating than what we have today.”

But although Mr. Reagan showed conservative restraint in his use of conventional forces, his foreign policy brought a distinct end of containment and détente, and marked the first time a U.S. president had actively pursued a rollback policy with the Soviet Union.