Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul wants you to know that none of his fellow potential 2016 presidential contenders have a foreign policy quite like Ronald Reagan’s.
“Every Republican likes to think he or she is the next Ronald Reagan,” he wrote in an op-ed for Breitbart News, responding to an attack by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. “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.”
“[A]lmost all of us in the party are big fans of Ronald Reagan,” Paul told Sean Hannity on Fox News in yet another defense of his foreign policy. “I’ve always been a big fan of peace through strength.”
Paul may be right when he says that none of the Republicans considering a White House run in 2016 have a foreign policy outlook exactly like Reagan’s. But what’s undeniable is that Paul’s foreign policy is far and away the least Reaganeque of any of the possible 2016 Republican presidential contenders.
What Paul is trying to do is muddy the waters on Reagan’s foreign policy legacy in order to hide the reality that his foreign policy outlook bears no resemblance to that of the Gipper’s — and, more broadly, is wildly out of touch with the Republican mainstream. Sure, Reagan engaged in diplomacy, even occasionally when some in his own party believed it inadvisable. But that hardly makes Reagan a Rand Paul-style non-interventionist. Far from it.
Paul says he, like Reagan, supports “peace through strength.” Except Reagan’s notion of “peace through strength” focused on increasing military spending. Paul has not yet discovered a military cut he didn’t like.
Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and believed it had to be confronted. When the turmoil in Ukraine erupted and some Republicans urged President Barack Obama to get tough with Vladimir Putin to prevent Russian interference in the country, Paul’s first reaction was to tell the Washington Post that we need to seek a ”respectful relationship” with Russia — as if the reason Putin was behaving badly was due to a lack of American “thanks yous” and “pleases.”
Reagan invaded Grenada to overthrow the communist regime and protect the American medical students studying there, supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in their fight to push the Soviets out and provided funding and military assistance to the Contras in Nicaragua to fight the Soviet-supported Sandinista regime.
“We must stand by our democratic allies,” he declared in his 1985 State of the Union Address. “And we must not break faith with those who are risking their lives — on every continent, from Afghanistan to Nicaragua — to defy Soviet-supported aggression and secure rights which have been ours from birth.”
“Support for freedom fighters is self-defense,” he stated.
Does Rand Paul agree with any of the steps Reagan took to support freedom and stop the spread of communism in the 1980s? Can you imagine him uttering Reagan’s words?
Paul is right in saying that Reagan was no warmonger. Reagan detested war — he even thought Mutual Assured Destruction was fundamentally immoral. But just because Reagan was willing to engage in diplomacy doesn’t mean he was a Rand Paul-style non-interventionist. Reagan believed in a proactive American foreign policy in order to “roll back” the spread of communism and shape the world in a way beneficial to the West. He used many different tools to achieve his goals, including diplomacy, covert action and overt military intervention.
Paul, in contrast, believes “blowback” from American interventions often outweighs whatever good is trying to be achieved. That’s a fair outlook to have and Paul would be better served making his case for his foreign policy worldview rather than pretending that Reagan’s foreign policy is wildly misunderstood by everyone but him.
Even if none of the other 2016 presidential contenders perfectly match Reagan’s foreign policy outlook, all of them match it a whole lot better than Paul does. Paul’s foreign policy resembles Reagan’s in the same way a unicycle resembles a banana.