Foreign Policy

Rand Paul vs. the Hawks

The Kentucky senator urges interventionists of both parties to contemplate unintended consequences.

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In an interview with The New York Times last month, President Obama confessed that when he decided to help rebels overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, he "underestimated" the ensuing chaos. "That's a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, 'Should we intervene militarily?'" Obama said. "Do we have an answer [for] the day after?"

It would be nice to have a president who looks before he leaps into other countries' civil wars, who learns from his predecessors' foreign policy blunders instead of his own. Rand Paul, who offers a refreshing contrast to the reckless interventionists of both major parties, might be that man.

The Kentucky senator, who is widely expected to seek the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, understands that the U.S. government has neither the mandate nor the ability to solve all the world's problems. He reminds "the let's-intervene-and-consider-the-consequences-later crowd" that there are constitutional and practical limits to U.S. military power and that even the best-intentioned meddling can make a bad situation worse.

In both Iraq and Libya, Paul argues, U.S. intervention deposed nasty dictators but left a power vacuum that even nastier jihadists rushed to fill. He warns that something similar could happen in Syria.

"To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton," Paul wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece last week, "we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State. We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn't get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS."

Responding to Paul's essay, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) claimed he "blames America for all the problems in the world." DNC spokesman Michael Czin called Paul's ideas "reckless" and "isolationist," adding that "if Rand Paul had a foreign policy slogan" it would be "Blame America. Retreat from the World."

As Ezra Klein observed on Vox, "This is the brain-dead patriotism-baiting that Democrats used to loathe. Now they're turning it on Paul."

Presumably the DNC was provoked by Paul's shot at Clinton, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. But Paul also faulted "hawkish members of my own party" for supporting regime change in Syria, which "would have eliminated the only regional counterweight to the ISIS threat."

At a Paul appearance in Dallas last Friday, I asked him why so many conservatives who are skeptical of the government's ability to reorganize health care, the auto industry, or energy production do not blink at the prospect of reorganizing entire countries. "Sometimes conservatives do seem to have a double standard," he said. "They argue one thing for domestic policy, then they argue the opposite for international policy."

"It's a contradiction," Paul added, "thinking that we can basically build nations overseas, that we can construct a whole nation out of nothing. It just hasn't worked."

Paul argues that such misadventures would be less likely if presidents did what the Constitution requires: seek congressional approval to wage war, except in response to an actual or imminent attack on the United States. He notes that Obama, who as a presidential candidate in 2007 promised to abide by that requirement, cited Qaddafi's attack on rebels in Benghazi as justification for launching air strikes in Libya without congressional authorization.

"Under that sort of theory," Paul said in Dallas, if "any city, anywhere in the world" is "under attack by anyone," the president "could unilaterally go to war." The fact that Paul is tarred as "isolationist" for rejecting this breathtakingly broad view of the president's powers and America's role in the world tells you something about the narrowness of what passes for a foreign policy debate in this country.

If the next presidential contest pits "a very hawkish Hillary Clinton" against "a Republican who is more judicious and more prudent," Paul said, "you could have a transformative election." Or at least an interesting one.

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44 responses to “Rand Paul vs. the Hawks

  1. …that we can construct a whole nation out of nothing.

    This just in: Rand Paul considers foreigners nothing.

  2. I asked him why so many conservatives who are skeptical of the government’s ability to reorganize health care, the auto industry, or energy production do not blink at the prospect of reorganizing entire countries.

    Aren’t these countries full of our enemies and terrorists? So, what’s the problem?

    1. Well, yes, those countries are full of our enemies, but I would think the Geneva Convention would prosscribe inflicting things like reorganizing health care, the auto industry, and energy production on even the most heinous and odious of terrorists.

      1. Inflicting Obamacare on our enemies would be pretty horrible.

    2. Aren’t these countries full of our enemies and terrorists? So, what’s the problem?

      Like Canada? Scramble the jets and bomb those fucking Canucks back to the Stone Age!

  3. I think Rand Paul would be better than the current alternatives. If I were allowed to vote in the NJ Republican Primary, I’d vote for him.

  4. “Do we have an answer [for] the day after?”

    Apparently we do.

    1. President Obama confessed that when he decided to help rebels overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2011, he “underestimated” the ensuing chaos. “That’s a lesson that I now apply every time I ask the question, ‘Should we intervene militarily?'” Obama said. “Do we have an answer [for] the day after?”

      And it only took Obama until 2011 to learn about George Bush and the criticism of the War in Iraq and how disastrous that lack of preparation was. Somebody must have shown him an old newspaper from 2007. If he had been aware of that particular misunderestimation of what it takes to close out a war, I’m sure he would have used it as a talking point in his 2008 election campaign.

      1. When shown the video of Qaddafi’s death by sodomy and beating, Obama didn’t say, ‘Mission Accomplished,’ so there’s that.

        1. But SoS H Clinton did paraphrase Julius Caesar when she proclaimed, “We came, we saw, he died” after US-supported terrorists sodomized and murdered Qadaffi.

          1. Just think if HRC were C-in-C. We’d be bombing someone new every month just so the whole world would know how tough she is.

  5. Rand Paul is half the man Ron Paul is.

    1. Well, genetically that is true, I suppose.

  6. Cue Red Tony and his Canadian boyfriend in three… two…

    1. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO_CONNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNZZZ!!11!

      COZMO TARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIANZZZZZzzZ1!!

      1. …or something

    2. In many ways, “warboner” is too dignified a name, suggesting a potency I doubt they possess.

      In alternative, I put forth: “Blood clowns.”

      1. I wonder what would happen if the federal government started calling the tax money that went into the military “Bullet Bills”

        Would that get more or less approval from the American people

        1. *the tax money that went into the military “Bullet Bills”*

          Only if the rest of the tax money was labeled “Meals for slackers” or “medicine for layabouts”.

  7. He doesn’t want to apply the U.S. Government’s well known infallibility and omnibenevolence to solve all of the problems of countries full of brown people, so he is a RACIST!!! after all.

  8. “Sometimes conservatives do seem to have a double standard”

    Not really — Conservatives love using government to “reorganize health care, the auto industry, or energy production,” but they try to talk like they don’t, mostly to appeal to constituents who also love big government but won’t admit it to themselves.

    By the way, George W. Bush talked restraint before he got elected. Then he got elected and became an interventionist. Obama talked restraint before he got elected. Then he got elected and became an interventionist. Do you see a pattern here?

    1. Once they get into office, they realize that the world is more complicated than they thought it was and that the only way to deal with all of that complication is to blow stuff up. I think that’s what the narrative is.

    2. Do you see a pattern here?

      They both have white mothers?

    3. It’s easy to fool people into thinking that doing nothing is doing something. Non-interventionism in the world today will not happen. No Paul can make it happen.

    4. Woodrow Wilson got elected for keeping us out of war.

      1. *Woodrow Wilson got elected for keeping us out of war.*

        See also: FDR, LBJ.

    5. I just saw, Rand Paul wants to “destroy ISIS militarily.” So he isn’t even talking restraint.

    6. *George W. Bush talked restraint before he got elected. Then he got elected and became an interventionist.*

      I think you missed a step or two in the process. Something to do with a couple of buildings and everyone in them being reduced to rubble, maybe?

  9. When did we get to the point that anyone who isn’t a hyper-interventionist is a dove? Seriously? If a politician took the position that U.S. use of military action should be restricted by:

    1. The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the United States or its allies are involved.
    2. U.S. troops should only be committed wholeheartedly and with the clear intention of winning. Otherwise, troops should not be committed.
    3. U.S. combat troops should be committed only with clearly defined political and military objectives and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives.
    4. The relationship between the objectives and the size and composition of the forces committed should be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary.
    5. U.S. troops should not be committed to battle without a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress.
    6. The commitment of U.S. troops should be considered only as a last resort.

    they’d be labeled an isolationist or a hippie peacenik. But, these standards were the Weinberger Doctrine, the more permissive-of-intervention variant of the Powell Doctrine. This whole “invade the world” shit is only a decade old.

    1. Why do you want the terrorists to win?

      1. Because our grossly overextending ourselves is a surefire way to defeat terrorism.

        Sad that so many people respond like that.

        1. Why do you hate the troops?

          1. I don’t know. Why do you hate Ronald Reagan?

            1. Because he give lip service to liberty while overseeing one of the greatest expansions of government, the doubling of the debt, and the accelerated militarization of the police. Fuck Reagan. If he’s a fiscal conservative, then I should pay my mortgage with a credit card.

              1. Well, true, but he didn’t hate the troops or want the terrorists to win.

    2. Because hyper non-interventionists are effectively doves. If all you have to say to the world is “stop fighting” or “just trade with us” or whatever, you’re a dove.

      Today’s world just isn’t ready for American libertarian non-interventionism.

      Rather Ron or Rand Paul were elected President… they will be intervening and killing somewhere. Such is our anarchic world.

    3. *This whole “invade the world” shit is only a decade old.*

      Only the half of the world we didn’t invade or garrison in the previous century.

      Maybe you went to public school and didn’t learn any history. It’s okay.

  10. “If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

    -Rand Paul

    Yeah, Reason mag, rand Paul is really confronting the war makers. How about Jacob, for once, some integrity in your articles. I mean, I know you really, really, really want dear cult leader elected but, geesch, can’t you report on his actual positions and not your fevered fantasies?

  11. so many conservatives who are skeptical of the government’s ability to reorganize health care, the auto industry, or energy production do not blink at the prospect of reorganizing entire countries.

    It’s because they see those as things of a different kind. “Conservatives” are confident that law & order can be established & maintained, not that states can run businesses or biz sectors.

  12. It would be nice to have a president…

    Instead of a jumped up con artist of a community organizer. All Obama is competent at is campaigning and he’s done little else since before he was a Senator – except screw the country up worse than it was.

  13. Consider ‘unintended consequences’?!

    Why start NOW? Why break a multi-decadal pattern of NOT considering that with just about everything that’s come out of DC since Eisenhower?

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