Foreign Policy

Containment and Radical Islam

A realist foreign-policy vision that is neither imperialistic nor isolationist.


The following is text of a speech delivered by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) at the Heritage Foundation on February 6, 2013.

Foreign policy is uniquely an arena where we should base decisions on the landscape of the world as it is . . . not as we wish it to be. I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist. 

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.  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.

As many are quick to note, the war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam—the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority. Whole countries, such as Saudi Arabia, adhere to at least certain radical concepts such as the death penalty for blasphemy, conversion, or apostasy. A survey in Britain after the subway bombings showed 20% of the Muslim population in Britain approved of the violence.

Some libertarians argue that western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam – I agree. But I don't agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam "goes quietly into that good night." I don't agree with FDR's VP Henry Wallace that the Soviets (or Radical Islam in today's case) can be discouraged by "the glad hand and the winning smile."

Americans need to understand that Islam has a long and perseverant memory. As Bernard Lewis writes, "despite an immense investment in the teaching and writing of history, the general level of historical knowledge in American society is abysmally low. The Muslim peoples, like everyone else in the world, are shaped by their history, but unlike some others, they are keenly aware of it."

Radical Islam is no fleeting fad but a relentless force. Though at times stateless, radical Islam is also supported by radicalized nations such as Iran. Though often militarily weak, radical Islam makes up for its lack of conventional armies with unlimited zeal.

For Americans to grasp the mindset of radical Islam we need to understand that they are still hopping mad about the massacre at Karbala several hundred years ago. Meanwhile, many Americans seem to be more concerned with who is winning Dancing with the Stars.

Over 50 percent of Americans still believe Iraq attacked us on 9/11. Until we understand the world around us, until we understand at least a modicum of what animates our enemies, we cannot defend ourselves and we cannot contain our enemies.

I think all of us have the duty to ask where are the Kennans of our generation? When foreign policy has become so monolithic, so lacking in debate that Republicans and Democrats routinely pass foreign policy statements without debate and without votes, where are the calls for moderation, the calls for restraint?

Anyone who questions the bipartisan consensus is immediately castigated, rebuked and their patriotism challenged. The most pressing question of the day, Iran developing nuclear weapons is allowed to have less debate in this country than it receives in Israel.

In Israel, the current head of the Mossad, Tamir Pardo, states that we need to quit discussing Iran and nuclear weapons as an "existential" threat to Israel as that confines us to only one possible cataclysmic response. The former head of the Mossad, Meir Dagan, also cautions of the unintended consequences of pre-emptive bombing of Iran, both the possibility the strikes are ineffective and that Israel suffers a significant conventional missile response. 

Yuval Diskin, the former chief of Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, recently  said "an attack against Iran might cause it to speed up its nuclear program."

Israel's army chief of staff suggested in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the Iranian nuclear threat was not quite as imminent as some have portrayed it.

On the other side of the coin, Prime Minister Netanyahu warns that Iran is on the verge of obtaining nuclear weapons.

It seems that debate over Iran is more robust in Israel than in the US.

I have voted for Iranian sanctions in the hope of preventing war and allowing for diplomacy. The sanctions have not been fully implemented but they do appear to have brought Iran back to the negotiating table.

I did, however, hold up further sanctions unless Sen. [Harry] Reid allows a vote on my amendment that states, "Nothing in this bill is to be interpreted as a declaration of war or a use of authorization of force." The debate over war is the most important debate that occurs in our country and should not be glossed over.

I am persuaded, though, that  for sanctions to change Iran's behavior we must have the commitment of Iran's major trading partners, especially China, Russia, Japan, and India. 

Understandably no one wants to imagine what happens if Iran develops a nuclear weapon. But if we don't have at least some of that discussion now, then the danger exists that war is the only remedy.

No one, myself included, wants to see a nuclear Iran. Iran does need to know that all options are on the table.  But we should not pre-emptively announce that diplomacy or containment will never be an option. 

In a recent Senate resolution, the bipartisan consensus stated that we will never contain Iran should they get a nuclear weapon.  In the debate, I made the point that while I think it unwise to declare that we will contain a nuclear Iran, I think it equally unwise to say we will never contain a nuclear Iran.  War should never be our only option.

Let me be clear: 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.

Containment, though, should be discussed as an option with regard to the more generalized threat from radical Islam.  radical Islam, like communism, is an ideology with far reach and will require a firm and patient opposition.

In George Kennan's biography, John Gaddis describes President Clinton asking Strobe Talbot "why don't we have a concept as succinct as 'containment.'" Talbot's response [was]"that 'containment' had been a misleading oversimplification; strategy could not be made to fit a bumper sticker.  The president laughed. . . "that's why Kennan's a great diplomat and scholar and not a politician."

Kennan chafed that his opponents drew conclusions from it that were disagreeable to him but the fact of the matter is that the concept of containment succinctly described a strategy or, as Gaddis put it, "a path between the appeasement that had failed to prevent WWII and the alternative of a third world war."

What the United States needs now is a policy that finds a middle path. A policy that is not rash or reckless. A foreign policy that is reluctant, restrained by Constitutional checks and balances but does not appease. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of radical Islam but also the inherent weaknesses of radical Islam. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of bombing countries on what they might someday do. A foreign policy that requires, as Kennan put it, "a long term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of . . .  expansive tendencies." A policy that understands the "distinction between vital and peripheral interests."

No one believes that Kennan was an isolationist but Kennan did advise that non-interference in the internal affairs of another country was, after all, a long-standing principle of American diplomacy that should be excepted only when: A) " there is a sufficiently powerful national interest"  and B) when "we have the means to conduct such intervention successfully and can afford the cost."

In Kennan's famous X article he argues that containment meant the "application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and manoeuvres of Soviet policy." He later clarified, though, that did not necessarily mean that the application of counter-force had to mean a military response. He argued that containment was not a strategy to counter "entirely by military means."  "But containment was not diplomacy [alone] either."

Like communism, radical Islam is an ideology with worldwide reach. Containing radical Islam requires a worldwide strategy like containment. It requires counterforce at a series of constantly shifting worldwide points. But counterforce does not necessarily mean large-scale land wars with hundreds of thousands of troops nor does it always mean a military action at all.

Kennan objected to the Truman doctrine's "implied obligation to act wherever Soviet aggression or intimidation occurred, without regard to whether American interests were at state or the means existed with which to defend them." He was also concerned that the Truman doctrine was "a blank check to give economic and military aid to any area in the world."

Likewise, today's "Truman" caucus wants boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere, including Syrian rebels. Perhaps we might want to ask the opinion of the 1 million Syrian Christians, many of whom fled Iraq when our Shiite allies were installed.  Perhaps, we might want to ask: Will the Syrian rebels respect the rights of Christians, women, and other ethnic minorities?

In the 1980s, the war caucus in Congress armed bin Laden and the mujaheddin in their fight with the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the official position of the State Department to support radical jihad against the Soviets. We all know how well that worked out.

Out of the Arab Spring new nations have emerged. While discussion of Iran dominates foreign affairs, I think more time should be allotted to whether we should continue to send aid and weapons to countries that are hostile to Israel and to the United States. I, for one, believe it is unwise to be sending more M1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Egypt.

Kennan argued that "integrating force with foreign policy did not mean 'blustering, threatening, waving clubs at people and telling them if they don't do this or that we are going to drop a bomb on them.'"  But it did mean maintaining "a preponderance of strength."

Kennan wrote, "The strength of the Kremlin lies in the fact that it knows how to wait.  But the strength of the Russian people lies in the fact that they know how to wait longer."  Radical Islam's only real strength is just such an endless patience. They know we eventually will leave. They simply wait for us to leave and leave we eventually must.  We cannot afford endless occupation but this does not mean that by leaving we cannot and will not still contain radical Islam.

Everybody now loves Ronald Reagan.  Even President Obama tries to toady up and vainly try to resemble some Reaganism. Reagan's foreign policy was robust but also restrained.  He pulled no punches in telling Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down that wall."  He did not shy from labeling the Soviet Union an evil empire. But he also sat down with Gorbachev and negotiated meaningful reductions in nuclear weapons.

Many of today's neoconservatives want to wrap themselves up in Reagan's mantle but the truth is that Reagan used clear messages of communism's evil and clear exposition of America's strength to contain and ultimately transcend the Soviet Union.

The Cold War ended because the engine of capitalism defeated the engine of socialism. Reagan aided and abetted this end not by "liberation" of captive people but by a combination of don't mess with us language and diplomacy, not inconsistent with Kennan's approach.

Jack Matlock, one of Reagan's national security advisors, wrote, "Reagan's Soviet policy had more in common with Kennan's thinking than the policy of any of Reagan's predecessors."

Reagan himself wrote, "I have a foreign policy.  I just don't happen to think it's wise to tell the world what your foreign policy is." Reagan's liberal critics would decry a lack of sophistication but others would understand a policy in having no stated policy, a policy of strategic ambiguity  If you enumerate your policy, if you telegraph to the Soviets that the Strategic Defense Initiative is a ploy to get the Soviets to the bargaining table, the ploy is then made impotent.

Strategic ambiguity is still of value. The world knows we possess an enormous ability of nuclear retaliation. Over 60 years of not using our nuclear weapons shows wise restraint.  But for our enemies to be uncertain what provocation may awaken an overwhelming response, nuclear or conventional, is an uncertainty that still helps to keep the peace.

I recognize that foreign policy is complicated. It is inherently less black and white to most people than domestic policy. I think there is room for a foreign policy that strikes a balance.

If for example, we imagine a foreign policy that is everything to everyone, that is everywhere all the time that would be one polar extreme.

Likewise if we imagine a foreign policy that is nowhere any of the time and is completely disengaged from the challenges and dangers to our security that really do exist in the world – well, that would be the other polar extreme.

There are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.

Maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time and do so while respecting our Constitution and the legal powers of Congress and the Presidency.

Reagan's foreign policy was much closer to what I am advocating than what we have today. 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. 

I'd argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy, as it includes two basic tenets of true conservatism: respect for the Constitution and fiscal discipline.

I am convinced that what we need is a foreign policy that works within these two constraints, a foreign policy that works within the confines of the Constitution and the realities of our fiscal crisis. Today in Congress there is no such nuance, no such moderation of dollars or executive power.

Last year, I introduced a non-binding sense of the Senate resolution reiterating the president's words [from] when he was a candidate that no president should go to war unilaterally without the approval of Congress unless an imminent threat to our national security exists.

Not one Democrat voted to support candidate Obama's words and only 10 Republican senators voted to support the notion that congressional authority is needed to begin war.

Some well-meaning senators came up to me and said, Congress has the power of the purse strings and can simply cut off funds. The problem is that there is occasionally a will to avoid war in the beginning but rarely, if ever, is there the resolve to cut off funding once troops are in the field. No historic example exists of Congress cutting off funds to a war in progress. Even during Vietnam, arguably our most unpopular war, funds were never voted down.

Madison wrote, "The Constitution supposes what history demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch most prone to war and most interested in it, therefore the Constitution has with studied care vested that power in the Legislature."

Since the Korean War, Congress has ignored its responsibility to restrain the President. Congress has abdicated its role in declaring war.

What would a foreign policy look like that tried to strike a balance? First, it would have less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases. Instead of large, limitless land wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy and strike with lethal force.

We would not presume that we build nations nor would we presume that we have the resources to build nations.  Many of the countries formed after WWI are collections of tribal regions that have never been governed by a central government and may, in fact, be ungovernable.

When we must intervene with force, we should attempt to intervene in cooperation with the host government.

Intervention against the will of another nation such as Afghanistan or Libya would require a declaration of war by Congress. Such constitutional obstacles purposefully make it more difficult to go to war. That was the Founders' intention: To make war less likely.

We did not declare war or authorize force to begin war with Libya. This is a dangerous precedent. In our foreign policy, Congress has become not even a rubber stamp but an irrelevancy. With Libya, the president sought permission from the UN… from NATO… from the Arab League—everyone but the US Congress! And how did Congress react? Congress let him get away with it.

The looming debt crisis will force us to reassess our role in the world.

Admiral Mullen calls the debt the greatest threat to our national security. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that "at some point fiscal insolvency at home translates into strategic insolvency abroad." Gates added that addressing our financial crisis will require both "re-examining missions and capabilities" and perhaps most importantly, "will entail going places that have been avoided by politicians in the past."

It is time for all Americans, and especially conservatives, to become as critical and reflective when examining foreign policy as we are with domestic policy. Should our military be defending this nation or constantly building other nations? What constitutes our actual "national defense" and what parts of our foreign policy are more like an irrational offense? It is the soldier's job to do his duty—but it is the citizen's job to question their government—particularly when it comes to putting our soldiers in harm's way.

And of course, the question we are forced to ask today is, Can we afford this?

I hope such questions begin to be asked and we see some sort of return to a constitutional foreign policy. I hope this occurs before the debt crisis occurs and not amidst a crisis. To that end, I will fight to have a voice for those who wish who wish to see a saner, more-balanced approach to foreign policy.

Rand Paul is a U.S. senator from Kentucky.

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152 responses to “Containment and Radical Islam

  1. This is the same Reagen that spent the Soviet Union into oblivion that we’re talking about right?

    1. Actually I that the failure of the Soviet Union had much more to do with their own system failure.

      The Chinese communists realized that and changed the economics without changing the power structure

      The North Koreans kept the whole system and the only thing stopping a collapse is outside aid and the fact that the present leadership would probably get torn to pieces if the did not maintain their power.

      1. Sure, but Reagan’s increase in defense spending–and the Soviet Union’s corresponding inability to follow suit in the 1980s–helped force Gorbachev’s hand. He didn’t dismantle the totalitarian state willingly; he had no choice.

        The U.S. defense buildup did play a role; it was not the only factor in the demise of the USSR, but it was a factor.

      2. Well, I would not discount the fact that North Korea is a giant prison camp. The Chinese and the Koreans keep the northern border fairly tightly, and the US and the Koreans mind the southern border. Nothing but water to the east and west.

        At this point, the DMZ is not protecting SK from NK, and it’s not protecting SK from a China that has already abandoned maoism and has no desire to impose it on Seoul. We are effectively protecting NK from SK now, not militarily but culturally. Locking them in and helping them isolate themselves helps perpetuate the stasis on the inside.

        Vietnam, the one we lost, also gave up Maoism. These days they want a trade agreement and foreign investment, not bloody communist revolution. I don’t think the Jong Il’s could have maintained their rule this long without us.

  2. Wow – A U.S. Senator who is willing to say honest stuff about Islam. He’s right, they have very long memories and know that their current tactics have worked well in the past.

    His history of Vietnam isn’t so accurate. The draw done of American troops after ’71 was accelerated due to budget cuts. Most of the promised military aid and air support for Vietnam just never materialized thanks to Congressional Democrats.

  3. I strongly disagree with the comment that if left to their own devices the radical islamists will not go into the night.

    In essence, I think Rand Paul is falling into the trap of forgetting that there are vast populations that the Radical Islamists are trying to control, and that they have never tolerated the degree of control that the islamists wish to exert.

    First, it’s important to understand that radical islam is a catch phrase lumping together multiple sects that are at best allies of convenience, and are generally at each other’s throats. The major example of this is the Sunni/Shiite split. The Taliban/Northern Alliance fight in 1998 ? 2001 was a proxy war between the Sunni (and Wahabbist supported) Taliban and the Shiite friendly, Iranian backed Northern Alliance.

    These sects are really backward, especially when it comes to economics. As a result, whenever they come to power, they people under their control experience a miserable existence. The history of Islam is replete with new tyrants overthrowing older ones who have so pissed off the people they rule over that the outgoing tyrant can’t even intimidate people into backing him any more. We saw this really dramatically when local clan leaders in Iraq turned against Al Queda after Al Queda’s brutality become so unbearable that they were willing to ally with the hated heretical foreign invaders.

    1. So a policy of containment would work: the various groups would essentially fight each other and gradually lose influence as the rise of the Internet and the improved standard of living offered by capitalism distracts people from violent religious sects.

      However, containment isn’t sufficient. One really disturbing aspect of Arabs are their insularity ? the belief that they really have nothing to gain from other cultures. A stat I found pretty horrifying is how few books get translated into Arabic. The Persians are far better, but Shiite religious leaders suffer from the same conviction that they need learn nothing from outsiders. There are some projects out there seeking to change that, some translating books in the Enlightenment tradition into Arabic, etc, but I think ultimately it will be popular culture such as TV shows that will form the nucleation points for the phase change into more western friendly modes.

      1. Another powerful catalyst towards change is of course, immigration. As an immigrant myself, I cannot express how much of an evangelical effect the stories coming from immigrants to people in the old country are. The ideas go back to the old country and often have a liberalising effect, either to tamp down on emigration (when the rates of population loss are huge) or to reduce unrest.

        I think that a policy of containment, cultural imperialism ( 🙂 ) and conscious maintenance of classically liberal institutions and approaches to criminal prosecution etc would shatter the radical islamists more thoroughly than any series of military losses followed by hostile regimes supressing them by force.

        1. Economic backwardness has not been a problem for many of history’s most bellicose nations — or rather, hasn’t been an impediment in causing problems for other nations.

          No one labors under the delusion that nations under the thumb of radical Islam will be particularly successful or even democratic — the problem is that radical Islam, like many other totalizing ideologies, is for the restless young and the cunning old: it’s where the zeitgeist and the energy in the Islamic world (but less broadly, the Arab world) can be found. Such movements can survive for a long time before their energy peters out.

          I broadly agree with you that military intervention is far less useful in the conflict than containment and cultural imperialism, but some “gunboat diplomacy” in dealing with the region is appropriate IMO.

        2. Left to their own devices, radical Islamists spread their rule from western India to Spain in couple centuries. Raids and intimidation were their methods.

          Sure, once they run a government it turns to crap. But that doesn’t stop them from spreading – particularly during the occasional religious revival.

          1. I think things have changed a bit since then. That was mostly just plain empire building too. I very much doubt that the Arabs are going to conquer Spain again.

            1. They will have France, Belgium and few others inside a couple decades (unless the Europeans revert to their old ways).

              1. ?Europeans revert to their old ways?

                Europeans have been adopting the religions of millenarians from Asian deserts for centuries.

                Before that they were painting themselves blue and worshiping the sun and spirits which inhabit trees.

            2. Um, check Spains Unemployment and birth rates.

              Realistically Muslims could simply move in on unoccupied territory and take over most of what is Spain today within about 100 years.

        3. Look at Egypt, sure the muslim brotherhood had the ground game to seize power, but a significant minority doesn’t want what they’re offering. It remains to be seen but maybe Egypt is past the point of no return on liberalization.

          This is why it makes no sense to give the muslim brothers F-16’s and M-1 tanks.

          1. The native Egyptian brand of Islam is very moderate. The Islamists need to be shown to be trying to impose a foreign barbarian way of life on Egypt. However, the USA is not the agent to directly broadcast that message.

      2. One really disturbing aspect of Arabs are their insularity ? the belief that they really have nothing to gain from other cultures.

        This is changing in some quarters. I also doubt that it’s ever been strictly true for the whole Peninsula, as the southern and northern shores of the Gulf have been in constant contact and trade for centuries and, for example, sultans in the area of Oman have long histories of seafaring, to the point of having a long cultural (and colonial) connection to Zanzibar and to a lesser extent, the Asian subcontinent.

      3. For like the fifty-leventh time: Islam is the predominant religion among Arabs, but there are many adherents of Islam who are not arabs. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Islamic nation. Persians (Iran) are not Arabs, but are predominantly Islamic. Also Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Albanians, Chinese…

        1. Last sentence was clumsily worded. There are lots of Muslims in PRC, but it’s not the majority belief system there.

          1. PRC is a big big place. In the western part of the country, there are large swaths of territory where Islam is the majority religion. We can thank Allah for that too. If it weren?t for the reasonably high standards of hygiene that Islam demands of its cooks, it would be rancid lard from Beijing all the way to the Kazakh border.

    2. The Muslim Brotherhood has been around since the 1920s. They show no signs of going away, regardless of what we do.

      Wahhabism–the ideology behind radical Islam–has been around since the 18th Century. It also shows no signs of going away soon.

      One element I think Rand doesn’t address is the notion of an “ideological counterinsurgency”.

      What the Islamists are selling is the notion that the adoption of some “pure Muslim society” would allow the Muslim world to regain the ascendancy over the West it had until the 17th Century–the tide turned definitively following the Ottoman defeat in the Battle of Vienna in 1683, even though Ottoman power had started to decay before that.

      In essence, the Islamists are selling the same “golden age” snake oil that Hitler sold the Germans–“put me in charge, and I’ll restore [Germany][the Ummah] to its ‘rightful place'”. It’s a powerful pitch and one that needs to be countered by an appeal from the Muslim world to join modernity.

      1. Are they really trying to sell worldly prosperity? Or is it just a religious revival (offering salvation)?

        The “radicals” are the ones who read the Koran and Hadith and actually believe it. That’s why “moderate” Muslims never come through – they know the radicals are right.

        1. That’s the sort of thing the neocons love to say – they agree with the Muslim radicals that *real* Muslims are anti-Western terrorists.

          What a way to cut off the moderates at the knees – “you’re all phonies, you’re not real Muslims!” That’s the same message the radicals are sending, so why would the neocons send the same message?

          1. Reality is what it is, and Drake is essentially correct. Moderate Muslims downplay large chunks of their own religion, much the way “cafeteria Catholics” do in this country. Most people have no interest in unending jihad, and so it’s easy to focus on the charitable and moral aspects of Islam and ignore the part about world conquest.

            It’s that very argument that Islamists make–that hedonism and lack of religious zeal have sapped Muslims of their essential strength and robbed them of their birthright.

            1. Lots of people downplay or outright ignore inconvenient parts of their religious texts and teachings – the number of Christians who don’t eat shrimp or pork for religious reasons is laughably small.

              1. That is of course true, but it would be nonsense to say that religious texts thus have no bearing on the actions of the devout — especially for a religion which places much more emphasis foundational text than the other major religions.

                Sects of Islam that do not claim the Qu’ran as divine and which allow for higher criticism or other non-literalist interpretation are considered heretical.

                1. That’s absolutely true, and it also shows why there is no hope in trying to “reform” Islam. The Quran and the Hadiths are what they are, and the 1,500 years of scholarly interpretations of them are not going away.

                  My larger point is that the texts of Islam include doctrines that a Christian would not consider to be “religious” in nature.

                  Muhammad was a cult leader, and he maintained absolute and rigid control over the lives of his followers. His teachings and commands were written down decades later in the Hadiths and became doctrinal. In that way, Islam resembles a militaristic cousin of Mormonism more than it does mainline Christianity.

              2. You should be thankful for the “New Covenant”… Not many Christians want to execute you for religious reasons, either.

          2. 1. I’m not a Neo-con so who cares what they say?

            2. Have you read any of the Hadiths? Some are fucking terrorist manuals.

            3. Why would moderate Muslims care what I think. Their shit track record speaks for itself.

            1. I didn’t say you were a duck, just that you quack like one.

            2. Or maybe it’s just that moderate muslims are vastly outnumbered by the other sort(s), so are relatively powerless. Kind of like libertarians.

              It’s in our best interest to cultivate them; in the long run they are our best hope.

          3. Uh, no they don’t. The whole nation-building enterprise is predicated on the notion that there’s a well-spring of liberal democratic sentiment that for whatever reason is being suppressed by forces that must be overcome using military might.

            Look at the statements about the Arab Spring made by GWB and other prominent neo-conservatives or others sympathetic to them.

        2. They’re not selling prosperity. They’re selling power. Educated Muslims have long looked back to their “golden age”, and it has little to do with religious observance, but military power.

          Your second statement has a large element of truth. Islam, unlike Christianity, is both a religion and a political system tied together. There is no such thing as a “purely religious” form of Islam. This is the difficulty that the West faces in trying to counter Islamic fundamentalism. Essentially, we have to convince Muslims to stop being so Muslim and become more like us.

          One school of thought says that Islamic fundamentalism is a rearguard action against the encroaching westernization of the Muslim world–in essence, that Islamism is that last gasp of a dying culture. You wouldn’t think Islamism would be that difficult to counter. We’ve got the goods and the fancy lifestyles. They’ve got the promise of unending religious warfare and women wearing tents around. We’ll see.

          I do know that putting American boots on the ground does not further the “ideological counterinsurgency.” American porn and television is probably a more effective weapon.

          1. I don’t know about that man. It’s hard to argue that a return to Islamic fundementalism made Afghanistan powerful. In military terms, modernist regimes are normally much more powerful than Islamist ones.

            If they were after military power they would be buying tanks, not banning dancing.

            1. You’re looking at it from a western perspective.

              Why do you think most Islamist propaganda focuses on pictures of highly bearded fellows brandishing AK-47s? They look pathetic and deranged to us, but the symbolic value of an archetypal Islamic Man wielding a machine gun from a confident pose shows exactly what Islamism is about.

              There is a deep lack of confidence and self-esteem among educated Muslims, which has existed for a long time, and the message of Islamism is aimed at converting such grievances into political power–not at a rational discussion of how to militarily take on the West. The working assumption is that we are weak and won’t stand up to a united Muslim world–united under the Islamist leaders, naturally.

          2. “American porn and television is probably a more effective weapon.”

            Here ya go:

            Defeated By Pornography
            Jewish Porn Sweeps The Arab World

        3. Islam just needs some time to mature, like Christianity has. When Christianity was the same age as Islam is now, they were killing people for believing the wrong things and having wars to spread their religion too.

          I’m not sure how seriously this idea ought to be taken, but it is interesting to consider.

          1. Unfortunately, the respective gospels are entirely different so their reformations get you very different results.

          2. It’s not just the age of the belief system. Judaism survived unchanged for millenia. Belief systems like Islam can’t stand up to modernity. Something’s gotta give.

          3. It’s inaccurate to compare Islam and Christianity. Despite the underlying base of Jewish cosmology they share, the two belief systems couldn’t be more different.

            The use of Christianity as a justification for empire and political struggle is a direct contradiction of the religion’s basic message–and this was understood and criticized at the time. Christianity expressly holds itself as being above and apart from politics. Caesar and God have different interests.

            It’s a mistake to think of Islam as “just another religion.” Islam fuses traditional religious ideals with a political system.

            Islam is only a few centuries younger than Christianity, and in fact it *has* mellowed at various times and places. The Ottoman sultans were hardly concerned about the niceties of religious observance as they drank their powerful Turkish liquor and got busy with their harems full of women they were not married to.

            Educated and urban women in many Muslim countries stopped wearing burkhas at least a century ago, and even stopped covering their heads in a number of countries. Such outfits were seen as an embarrassment–something done by country bumpkins. The introduction of dress codes in the Islamist movement (burkhas and beards) is a political act–an attempt to convert traditional dress from an embarrassment into a statement of confidence and aggression.

            1. I agree about the dress code. I knew a girl that was head of the campus Muslim Student Association. She only started wearing a burqa after 9/11, as an act of solidarity with other Muslims. If you push upon people an “us vs. them” mentality, I don’t think it’s surprising for those people to associate with the victimized group and perform actions they otherwise wouldn’t.

              1. Culturally speaking, the goal is to expand the number of “us” and reduce the number of “them.” Islamic political ideology has never been compatible with the West (or with any other neighbors) and never will be.

                It may well be that this is happening naturally right now. My prediction over the long term is that the current wave of Islamism will collapse from within. It requires a level of fanaticism and asceticism that is impossible to maintain for extended periods. Most Muslims do not want to live like that, and so they won’t.

          4. Year Zero of Christianity as a recognizable belief system was a man letting himself be killed by his political and religious foes for their benefit.

            Year Zero of Islam as a recognizable belief system was Muhammad promising a political change in Mecca to abolish the Kabba, polytheism, and idol worship.

            50 years after Christianity emerged on the scene, it was a persecuted religion of fanatics who willingly died for their beliefs. 50 years after Islam emerged on the scene, it was the political point of cohesion for a worldwide empire which had expanded aggressively into the territory of its neighbors.

            1. Let’s try a simple comparison between two different ethnic groups converted to either religion: the pre-Christian Danes and the pre-Islamic peninsular Arabs.

              Pre-conversion: Both groups were quite warlike and feud-prone. “Deliver us, O Lord, from the wrath of the Norsemen!” and “I against my brother, my brothers and I against my cousins, then my cousins and I against strangers” give a bit of the flavor of them, respectively.

              Today: Would anyone for a moment claim that Saudi Arabia is a freer place than Denmark? Would anyone claim that the average Saudi is more tolerant of other peoples’ beliefs than the average Dane?

      2. Lots of belief systems, nationalist, religious and otherwise, posit mythical Golden Ages where everything was just peachy, and if we could only (do x, kill y) we’d return to those days.

        For Hippies it’s pre-industrial revolution agrarianism.

        1. And before them, marxism.

  4. Assuming that we aren’t going to see a major global economic/social catastrophe in the nearish future, I tend to agree that radical Islam will eventually wither away.

    The problem is what happens between now and then, given its current resurgence in the Mideast and now Africa, and given the inevitability (wait for it) that these clowns will get their mitts on some kind of WMD. Does anyone think Syria will resolve itself without some leakage to the Islamists on that front? Islamists with WMD is one of those high-damage scenarios that is hard to tolerate even if you assign a low probability to them actually using it (on us).

    Containment might be the best we can do, but lets not forget that containing the communist ideology meant fighting Korea and Vietnam, and innumerable dirty little proxy wars. Its not necessarily as benign as it sounds.

    1. Rand looks like he’s trying to have it both ways in this speech. Be like his father, but not enough so to scare mainstream Republicans.

      He’s right that neither pure isolationism nor military adventurism are viable paths. But the strategy of containment in the Cold War worked (to the degree it did) because it was applied against traditional state actors.

      By contrast, probably the most radical and dangerous Muslim advocates in the world live in England and France. How do you “contain” them, when their host countries (our closest allies) show no inclination to do so?

      What is the proper response to Islamic terrorist acts directed against the USA? Rand’s theory does nothing to answer that. The most difficult part of the Islamic threat is that they have already infiltrated the USA and Europe. They don’t form fringe political parties or carry cards around like the Reds did. It only takes a handful of zealots to blow shit up. What does containment do about that?

      1. What does anything do about that, besides good police work?

        Bombing Afghanistan sure as hell doesn’t stop the local nutters already here blowing up stuff here. It’s kind of like Sandy Hook – no one wants to acccept it but there’s nothing you can do to mandate Utopia.

        1. When the terrorists are being trained, funded, and guided by foreign actors, then it is not merely a police issue.

          One thing I don’t do is pretend there is a simple answer to such a problem.

          Modern travel and communications make it impossible to prevent small groups of dedicated zealots from causing havoc internationally. I don’t really know what to do about it, but I do know that siccing Inspector Clouseau on them isn’t going to fix it.

        2. Bombing Afghanistan worked pretty well when America started.

      2. Yes, ChrisO, damn him for not conforming to your notions of ideological purity, just like those “cafeteria catholics.”

        How dare he try an incrementalist approach to libertarianism?

        1. You’re completely off-base, Tonio. I’m critiquing (not criticizing) his statement and pointing out what I see as its weak spots–but I think he’s doing the right thing.

          Libertarian tendencies towards isolationism and appeasement are problems. That doesn’t mean the neocons are in the right, but foreign policy is one area where I do diverge from “pure” libertarianism to a degree.

          In fact, I share Rand’s overall view. Foreign policy has to be based on the world as it is, and no approach will work 100 percent of the time.

          I’m also not criticizing cafeteria Catholics. I’m an atheist and couldn’t give a shit one way or the other.

  5. I agree with most of what Rand is saying here, especially the part about having an “unspoken” foreign policy, one that does not need to be announced. Rand is also correct that radical Islam is not going away anytime soon, and there will be more instances where they will strike out against us. We need to be ready for this inevitability, and the more efforts we put in to preparing for this reality the better off we will be.

    If that means pulling troops from Germany or Japan than so be it. I agree with Rand that I don’t know why we are still there. The Soviet Union no longer threatens Europe the way it once did, and China and Japan are eventually going to fight one way or the other. Putting our best in brightest in the way as cannon fodder doesn’t make much sense.

    The most important aspect of his speech is the Congressional approval of military actions. You can argue about whether or not the war in Iraq was wise, but it had congressional approval. The recent activity in Libya did not, and who knows how that’s going to work out. The more congress gets involved in deciding when to send our troops in to harms way the less likely they will be sent.

    I’m glad to see Rand addressing Radical Islam and calling a spade a spade. The problem is not going away, and until Islam has a reformation that excludes the radical minority, the western world will continue to have to deal with the consequences.

    1. I agree. I think that Rand is triangulating here in a political sense, but he’s also trying to start an open dialogue that needs to happen.

      The establishment types in both parties have shut down discussion in this area by invoking the P Word (patriotism) whenever they are questioned. It needs to stop.

    2. Why are we still in Germany?


      Amateurs study battles. Professionals study logistics.

  6. Maybe I’m sounding like a fanboy, but this is an extremely strong foreign policy speech and ought to make Dr. Paul a very serious contender for the 2016 nomination. Really, it’s one fo the strongest mainstream Republican responses to neoconservatism as a foreign policy doctrine I’ve seen from a politician in a long time.

    1. Just because you’re a fanboy doesn’t make you wrong.

    2. I agree. There may be areas where I feel he needs to develop it further, but this is a great first step for him. And it’s certainly a weighty and serious speech.

      You almost wonder whether he’s too smart to be in the Senate with lizards like John McCain and Chuck Schumer. LOL

      The biggest question is whether he can overcome the inevitable insults and ad hominem attacks from the GOP establishment.

      From a political perspective, this speech’s biggest problem is that its ideas are relatively complex and not easy to reduce to stupid soundbites. GOP nitwits will undoubtedly hurl the “unpatriotic” insult at him on TV.

      The media’s response will be interesting to watch, and perhaps the deciding factor.

      1. The media’s response will be interesting to watch, and perhaps the deciding factor.

        If I were a betting man I’d put money on the media’s response being either “What speech?”, or “He’s still on about that consititutionality thing about Libya? WTF?” Probably a combination of the two.

      2. “The media’s response will be interesting to watch, and perhaps the deciding factor.”

        That’s easy to predict – Rand Paul doesn’t like the idea of a black man a President.

      3. I don’t mean from MSNBC and CBS. They’re too busy fellating Obama to bother with something like this. They would only use the speech to try and stoke division within the GOP.

        Of more importance for Rand’s future is what Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and the conservative commentariat do with the speech. This is the battleground Rand has to win if he wants to become the GOP nominee in 2016.

      4. Honestly, I’m not so sure. I tend to mix in GOP circles a bit (granted, New York City GOP circles, but…). And the hostility they felt for his father just isn’t there. Maybe it’s the fact that the guy in charge of killing foreigners now has a D after his name rather than an R. Maybe it’s the fact that they’ve realized that 10+ years of Republican foreign policy being summarized as “MOAR WOAR!!!” just isn’t winning them too many elections. Maybe it’s the Tea Parties pressuring them to do SOMETHING about spending. Maybe it’s the fact that Republican conservatives are increasingly growing pissed off with the leadership. Or maybe it’s the fact that Rand Paul doesn’t frame non-intervention in the one way (“blowback”) most guaranteed to alienate Republicans. But, I will say that I see a lot of the rank-and-file Republicans are a lot more receptive to what he has to say than I’d expect.

        1. I think you’re right on all those counts. On conservative message boards, I’ve seen a lot of appreciation for Rand’s recent statements and actions.

          My own guess is that Rand is simply a much better politician than his father.

          Ron had a way of stating his positions (all of them, really) in the least appealing way possible. Seemingly every issue during the campaign was answered with ‘end the Fed’ or ‘blowback’, which made him look like a kook.

          It was frustrating watching Ron destroy himself during both of the last two campaigns. Rand seems savvier, despite wading into the swamp with the Civil Rights Act stuff.

          1. Rand also tosses in the occasional sop to the SoCons to make them more comfortable with him.

    3. Agreed.

  7. It is the soldier’s job to do his duty – but it is the citizen’s job to question their government

    Best line in the whole damn speech. Although FWIW I agree with the entire speech’s premise, but that line gave me goosebumps just reading it. And to think this was uttered by a currently serving politician.

    1. That is why I liked being a “citizen-soldier” – notice which one comes first?

      I am pleased with Rand, and I look forward to supporting him against the #$%&ing; GOP Establishment pukes.

  8. It would have been nice to have seen the word “trade” in a foreign policy speech, rather than just “sanctions”, although I suppose a phrase like “engine of capitalism” is just one step short. But here I am, thinking about the little guy in the streets. Also, Rand Paul should learn the difference between “less” and “fewer”. Otherwise, I thought this was just right for the audience.

  9. In the indictment brought against Osama bin Laden for the 1993 WTC bombing, Federal Prosecutor Mary Jo White included his declaration of war on the United States.
    Is it only a war if we declare war? And not a war because someone declares war on us?

    1. Now that Osama is sleeping with the fishes, does that mean his “war” is over, since we defeated the person who declared it? If not, when does it stop being a “war?”

      The application of traditional foreign policy tools to non-state actors is problematic, at best. I don’t have the answers. But Rand is dead-on correct in saying that Congress needs to reassert its constitutional role as the deciding body in whether to go to war. The War Powers Act was a despicable way for Congress to shirk its duty.

  10. Rand Paul agrees with me about standing up to violent Islamists. Some of them have to be killed.

  11. “n the 1980s, the war caucus in Congress armed bin Laden and the mujaheddin in their fight with the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the official position of the State Department to support radical jihad against the Soviets.”

    Actually, it worked pretty well. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan played a large role in the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. I’ll take fighting Al Qaeda over fighting the Soviet Union any day.

    1. This, and most of those Jihadists America armed later became NA NOT Taliban/AQ. This is the only problem with the speech.

    2. ?I’ll take fighting Al Qaeda over fighting the Soviet Union any day.?

      Except that the USA never did fight the CCCP and enjoyed some very prosperous days of peace while the CCCP was at its peak of power. Fighting ?Al Qaeda? on the other hand is proving to be endless, costly and weirdly without any victories. You really see an improvement?

      1. I would say the lack of global unending proxy war and perpetual threat of nuclear Armageddon. The only thing ‘weird’ about our victories is that some choose not to see them.

        1. ?The only thing ‘weird’ about our victories is that some choose not to see them.?

          If the victory over ?Al Qaeda? in Afghanistan comes at the cost of a Taleban insurgency that is stronger now than some dozen years previously at the start of NATO involvement, then clearly the choice not to see them is the wise one. Much the same can be said for involvement in Iraq, Yemen, Libya &c. If you have real victories to show, then don?t be shy. I want to see them.

          The peak of Soviet power I refer to was n the late 50s early 60s. US was not at the time engaged with endless proxy wars. But the Soviets were technologically never stronger – twas the time of Sputnik and Gagarin. Politically they hadn?t yet split with the Chinese and culturally, they were n the midst of the ?Thaw? when the government was confident enough to loosen the ties on artists like Solzhenitsyn and others. When Brezhnev came to power things quickly soured, especially politically and economically. Culturally too. There was the pervasive fear of nuclear annihilation but that was self inflicted. Had the US been so inclined, there were non first use pacts waiting to be signed.

  12. This is…beautiful.

    There are some minor problems, but that is just haggling. Rand Paul gets the big picture on radical Islam and knows it sometimes requires intervention. This is the end of the line for pure noninterventionism. Game over.

    1. “This is the end of the line for pure noninterventionism. Game over.”

      You say that as if noninterventionism has been dominating our foreign policy

      1. It’s been dominating libertarianism and that’s too much.

        1. Most libertarians I know aren’t diehard noninterventionists of the Ron Paul stripe. Blowback is not the most appealing thing in the world, even though it’s more than likely true. Foreign policy realism is a lot more popular (war only when it works in your national interest, not just to “spread democracy”)

          1. You can never do just one thing. Blowback is inevitable. What needs to be done is to be prepared for it. And decide in advance if your objectives and results are worth it. Sometimes the “worth it” takes hundreds of years to determine.

  13. Libertarians should not vote for economic sanctions. Period.

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  15. Thus ended the Reason commentariat’s crush on Rand Paul.

    1. Not likely but I definitely see your point.

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  19. KMW could just as easily argue that my decision to purchase a peanut butter that tastes good instead of one that tastes like coffee grounds has no effect on the direction of resources in the economy

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  33. I did, however, hold up further sanctions unless Sen. [Harry] Reid allows a vote on my amendment that states, “Nothing in this bill is to be interpreted as a declaration of war or a use of authorization of force.” The debate over war is the most important debate that occurs in our country and should not be glossed over.
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  35. Wow – A U.S. Senator who is willing to say honest stuff about Islam. He’s right, they have very long memories and know that their current tactics have worked well in the past.
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