Interview: Rand Paul on Foreign Policy Realism


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On October 23, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave a major foreign policy address at the Center for the National Interest in which he declared himself a "conservative realist," aligning himself with the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Caspar Weinberger. As he did in a similar February 2013 speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation, the libertarian-leaning 2016 GOP presidential contender attempted to sell his foreign policy vision to fellow Republicans as a middle path between the near-absolute anti-intervention of his (unmentioned) father and the hyper-interventionism of the Washington Republican establishment.

Reaction to the speech varied widely. Of particular interest to libertarians looking to probe the senator's foreign policy principles was his seemingly dissonant support for U.S. air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) and opposition to intervening in the ongoing Syrian civil war. Four days after the speech, Reason Editor in Chief Matt Welch spoke with Sen. Paul over the telephone to flesh out his notion of realism and probe some limiting principles on taking the nation to war.