On January 14, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) addressed the 20th anniversary of the Center for the National Interest. In a 1,500 word address, Senator Paul positioned himself as a centrist committed to diplomacy as a first resort in addressing global problems, both generally and specifically.
Senator Paul is frequently characterized as a libertarian, with antediluvian foreign policy leanings emphasizing isolation. During his presentation, he worked hard to gainsay such pigeonholing.
- He stressed commitment to trade, notably trade with China as not only improving U.S. economics, but making war less likely;
- He endorsed George Kennan’s “containment” approach (“containment is not a dead letter”), hypothesizing that something comparable will be necessary to address the “worldwide menace of radical jihad;”
- He praised the agreement to divest Syria of chemical weapons without military action. Somewhat naively he hypothesized that “the Syrian chemical-weapons solution could be exactly what we need to resolve the standoff in Iran and North Korea;”
- He endorsed former Defense Secretary Robert Gates' new volume with its conclusion that “Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use of force too easy for presidents;”
- He cited Colin Powell that war should be the politics of last resort. “We should have a purpose our people understand and support;” and
- He emphasized the need for both sides in a negotiation to think they have “won” coupled with the need to provide a graceful exit for the weaker partner in a negotiation.
Noting his appointment to the Foreign Relations Committee with some amusement, he suggested that he liked “the name-calling,” i.e., the need to label yourself appropriately before opponents label you invidiously. He skewered neoconservatives claiming they label “anyone who doesn't clamor first for the military option is somehow an isolationist.”
And he repeatedly emphasized that diplomacy should be our first resort. He excoriated those rejecting negotiation because “foreigners” can’t be trusted. These are neoisolationists for whom “diplomacy is distrusted and war is, if not the first option, the preferred option.”
Much of Senator Paul’s speech is sound bites/aphorisms
- “There are really no new ideas there are only ideas that are new to you.”
- “I'm not sure that the world doesn't change by the time you return to the same spot twice.”
- “I don't naively think that dialogue always works, but I believe we should avoid the rigidity of saying that dialogue never works.”
- “The technological ease of war though, dulls our ability to be statesmen.”
- “There is certainly a time for war. But the threshold should be high, and the cause clear.”
Senator Paul’s foreign policy speech would get a ringing endorsement from international relations generalists and “Getting to ‘yes’” seminars. It is a clear attempt to position himself as a serious credentialed presidential “candidate” and deserves attention from those who wonder whether he would practice what he preaches, but want to hear what he says.