1. In Rand Paul’s telling the military is mostly there to protect embassies. There is little evidence from this interview that he sees we have strategic interests beyond that:
Reason: You mentioned in your speech that America shouldn’t fight wars when there is no plan for victory. And you’re still supporting airstrikes against ISIS. How do you visualize our plan for victory while doing airstrikes against ISIS?Paul: I see the airstrikes really as defending vital American interests, and that would be our embassy in Baghdad as well as our consulate in Erbil. I’ve been very critical of Hillary Clinton over the last couple of years for her lack of defense for Benghazi. I do think that it is a function of our national defense and our foreign policy that when we do have embassies around the world, we do defend that presence.Reason: But then what would be the limiting factor on that? Because we have embassies all around the world, obviously, and bad things will happen from time to time. So how do you prevent that from being a reason to launch airstrikes anytime some random group of bad guys gets within 15 miles of a place that you control?Paul: I think actually if you look at the world, you’ll find very few of our embassies are actually under threat from war. There’s probably a list of 20 that may have some threat. Then you narrow the list down, there’s probably only I would think less than five. I would think Libya would have been one of those. [Emphasis added.]
You will notice how he did not explain how it is we are going to win.
2. Paul is fixated on bringing the troops home, a mainstay of isolationism: ” I think the world we live in, it is no longer probably as necessary to have large amounts of land troops in different places. Is it still necessary to have air bases and places to refuel and to have our presence out there as a force for open commerce? For example, since the beginning of the republic we thought there was a role for not letting pirates attack our ships. Is there a role for us around the world? I would say yes. Over time, even without having a lot of libertarian influence, I think cost influences downsizing greatly. The number of folks that are stationed in Europe, I don’t have the exact numbers, but it’s considerably less than it was 20 years ago. I think there is definitely an argument to be made that we don’t have to have hundreds of thousands of troops forward-deployed, but that we should have good relations with allies, good places to be at port with allies, and there will still be presences in certain places around the world.” No word about the utility of putting troops in places our good allies want us to be or as a disincentive for aggressors to attack.
3. He concedes Russia’s sphere of influence over countries whose territorial integrity has been defended since the end of the Cold War. Presidents of both parties have repudiated the view he espouses. Imagine Ronald Reagan saying Russia has a special claim to its neighbors:
Reason: . . . Do you think we expanded NATO too much?Paul: There are two sides to the argument. One side says, well if you put them in NATO then Russia won’t attack them because they’ll know that we’ll defend them. The other side says, you put them in NATO and you provoke the bear and you end up having more war. I think some of it depends on exactly what geography we’re talking about.We have included the Baltic nations, but we did not include Georgia or Ukraine, I think, because Georgia and Ukraine had historically been part of Russia for a long, long time. I think it was not advisable to put them into NATO, and at this point in time it is still not advisable. The Baltic nations are part of NATO, and I think that is what it is. We have to approach things from where we are, and not from where we want to be, because I think once people become part of NATO, there’s not an undoing part of that process. [Emphasis added.]
4. He has not been thinking about these issues for very long. Asked about influences on his thinking he says: “Some of it is, four years ago I was an ophthalmologist practicing in a small town. So my worldview might have been a little more narrow at the time because I really wasn’t thinking that an ophthalmologist had to have a foreign policy. I’ve had some principles that I’ve had probably for a long time. They’re principles that we should obey the law in foreign policy: that the Constitution is important, that our Founding Fathers were very explicit that it would be difficult to go to war and they would have to pass through Congress and that’s a messy process, that it probably would be infrequent because you have to have consensus when it happens.” Indeed, the central complaint about Paul is that he is grounded in a strict isolationist ideology forged in the recesses of the far right, not the real world, about which he appears under-informed.
5. Contrary to the evaluation of the military and countless independent experts he does not seem convinced the Islamic State is the most potent jihadist danger we have yet faced (and again the test seems to be whether it threatens embassies):
I think it’s hard to compare and contrast. The one thing that many writers have talked about with ISIS is that they control territory and they control munitions and they control access to money, to capital. So in some ways they have a greater degree of organization and ability to be a threat than others would. You could see how if there were a nation that were created called the Islamic State that it would be basically the breeding ground for barbarity. So I think you can make that argument.You can make some of the argument that in 1998 bin Laden was already sowing, and that him training in Afghanistan was a threat even back into ’98. But to give a qualitative or exact differentiation between the two, I don’t know if that’s helpful.
In response to the interview, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute says, “He’s a swirling mass of rationalizations without a guiding principle other than ‘I want to be president.'” The particulars are especially disturbing, she argues. “So Ukraine and Georgia have been ‘part of Russia’ for a long time? Wha? So they deserve to be threatened and dismembered?” she questions. “And ISIS is bad because it threatens our embassies? Uh, that’s a principle of foreign policy now? Shouldn’t we just build better embassies by that theory? Or just stop having embassies?”
It’s lovely to think with regard to the Islamic State that our role should be “trying to help find a negotiated end or settlement that involves people who live there doing more to try to fix the problem.” But he and Obama share the same dilemma: How does one negotiate an acceptable outcome with butchers, especially when a president signals how averse he is to using force?
Fortunately, no other Republican who will run for president shares Rand Paul’s world view, such as it is. More important, poll after poll shows the large majority of Republicans don’t.