Yet if Paul’s speech Wednesday at the Heritage Foundation is any indication, they don’t quite know. Despite presenting himself as a brave dissenter from the reigning orthodoxy, Paul and his attempt at an alternative sound remarkably conventional.
With Polonius-like wisdom, he calls for a strategy that “balances but does not appease,” that is “robust but also restrained.” He does not want America to be “everywhere all the time” or “nowhere any of the time” but thinks that “maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time.”
He acknowledges that “there are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.” But he doesn’t want to put “boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere.”
Fair enough, but since U.S. foreign policy occurs precisely in the wide space between doing nothing anywhere and doing everything everywhere, these recommendations are not very helpful. How do we determine where and when to act, and in response to what dangers?
Here, too, Paul sounds conventional. He calls himself a “realist,” but unlike many realists, he sees the overriding threat to America as “radical Islam,” which he describes as a “relentless force” of “unlimited zeal,” “supported by radicalized nations such as Iran” and with which the United States is indeed at “war” and will be for a long time. Unlike critics during the Cold War, who argued that anti-communist “paranoia” produced a self-destructive foreign policy, Paul embraces the dominant “paranoia” of the post-9/11 era. He may have a realist’s contempt for the supposed ignorance of the average American, who, he claims, is “more concerned with who is winning ‘Dancing With the Stars.’ ” But he nevertheless shares the average American’s view that radical Islam is today what Soviet Communism was during the Cold War — “an ideology with worldwide reach” that must, like communism, be met by “counterforce at a series of constantly shifting worldwide points.”
Paul believes he is making a big point when he argues that “counterforce” does not “necessarily” mean “large-scale land wars with hundreds of thousands of troops,” nor does it “always mean military action at all.” He is opposed to “limitless land wars in multiple theaters” and prefers that “we would target our enemy; strike with lethal force.” Yet in saying this, he is describing U.S. foreign policy as it has been conducted: Sometimes, though rarely, the United States has dispatched hundreds of thousands of troops; far more frequently, it has not responded militarily at all. When it has, it has tried to target the enemy and strike with lethal force. The one novel suggestion Paul makes is that “when we must intervene with force, we should attempt to intervene in cooperation with the host government.”