Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) delivered a foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation today. He tried to posture himself on the middle ground between hyper-isolation and hyper-intervention. This is not unlike a typical President Obama straw-man speech. But of course, in the real world, no serious politician or foreign policy analyst favors war for frivolous reasons. And pacifists are largely out of favor these days. So claiming the mantle of Ronald Reagan as he does without relation to specific conflicts and challenges is a bit of an empty gesture.
More problematic is that the speech is based on a giant fallacy. Parts of the speech are downright incoherent. For example: “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.” Huh? Reagan said of the Cold War, “We win, you lose.” What conservative of any stripe, especially those attuned to the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, takes issue with that?
The major problem with the speech is that, on one hand, Paul sounds like he fully appreciates the dangers of radical Islam, but on the other, he insists we can deploy Cold War containment, a strategy entirely unsuited to the threat he acknowledges. Cold War containment was designed to halt a country far different than the purveyors of radical jihadism, for which mutual assured destruction is a good thing, not a threat. Paul should have taken his own advice:
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% 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.
Because radical jihadism is a culture of death and religious zealotry, containment doesn’t work. Israel knows this. The entire Western world knows this. Both of our political parties know this. But not Rand Paul.
He seems to think the military option is the only option at this point. And then, forgetting the nature of Islamist jihadists, he says containment might work after all: “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. . . . 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.” So is he preemptively ruling out preemption?
He delights in quoting George Kennan. But what does Kennan have to do with an ideology whose practitioners glory in suicide bombs and pledge themselves to the destruction of Israel, which they surely know would retaliate?
I do not believe Rand Paul is anti-Israel or subscribes to the conspiracy theories of his father. But this was a naive and, in some ways, silly speech. It is not going to help him in his quest to attain political acceptability as a presidential candidate. It also suggests he needs better advisers and an editor.