Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul called for “moderation” and “restraint” in international affairs during an address at the Heritage Foundation Wednesday, laying out what he called a “constitutionally conservative” foreign policy.
“I see the world as it is,” Paul declared. “I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.”
The senator sought a middle ground between the non-interventionist foreign policy of his father, three-time presidential candidate and former Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul, and the more hawkish views held by most Republicans.
“When candidate John McCain argued in 2007 that we should remain in Iraq for 100 years, I blanched and wondered what the unintended consequences of prolonged occupation would be,” he said. “But McCain’s call for a hundred year occupation does capture some truth: that the West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with radical Islam.”
“Some libertarians argue that Western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam. I agree,” Paul continued. “But I don’t agree that absent Western occupation that radical Islam ‘goes quietly into the good night.'”
He repeatedly invoked diplomat George Kennan’s containment strategy for prevailing against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.
In the speech, Paul was clearly skeptical of military intervention in Iran and opposed arming Syrian rebels. Paul also repeated his opposition to sending tanks and fighter planes to Egypt. But some purer non-interventionists raised objections.
Antiwar.com editorial director Justin Raimondo, a longtime supporter of Paul’s father, tweeted, “Shorter Rand Paul: Them thar MOOSLIMS are just like the COMMIES. Oh, and Israel, Israel, Israel.”
Raimondo subsequently asked, “Should libertarians try to contain Rand Paul — or should we go for regime-change?”
Paul’s speech was delivered against the backdrop of Senate Republican opposition to confirming former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel, a self-described foreign policy realist, as secretary of defense.
“I don’t want Iran to develop nuclear weapons but I also don’t want to decide with certainty that war is the only option,” Paul said. He argued that respect for the Constitution and the country’s fiscal challenges are hallmarks of a conservative foreign policy.
“In our foreign policy, Congress has become not even a rubber stamp but an irrelevancy,” the senator said. “With Libya, the president sought permission from the UN, from NATO, from the Arab League — everyone but the U.S. Congress.”
“And how did Congress react?” Paul asked. “They let him get away with it.”
Speaking on Ronald Reagan’s 102nd birthday, Paul also cited the 40th president.
“Reagan’s foreign policy was much closer to what I am advocating than what we have today,” he said. “The former Chairman of the American Conservative Union David Keene noted that Reagan’s policy was much less interventionist than the presidents of both parties who came right before him and after him.”
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who may be vying with Paul in the GOP presidential primaries three years from now, delivered a foreign policy address at the Brookings Institution last year. Rubio was critical of non-interventionist trends within his party.
Paul spoke for less than half an hour and did not take questions afterward. He is scheduled to discuss his remarks with reporters Wednesday afternoon.
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