Rand Paul: What Non-interventionists Need to Know About his Heritage Speech


Yesterday US Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) addressed a crowd at the Heritage Foundation on foreign policy (full text). While Paul certainly shows more respect to Constitutional limits on war than anyone else in Congress, libertarians looking for the second coming of Ron Paul have reasons to be wary.

Paul began by calling himself a “realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.” Throughout his speech he attempts to lay out a kind of third way. He makes clear that he sees radical Islam as a persistent and physical threat to American lives. But he also rails against unconstitutional, reckless and unsustainably expensive pre-emptive bombing and nation-building of the administrations before and after Ronald Reagan’s.

It’s telling that he pits neoconservatism against isolationism, as neither are really legitimate forces at work in current American foreign policy anymore. Obama certainly is an interventionist, but it’s a stretch to call his policies neoconservative.

And the alternative to intervention isn’t isolation, it’s non-intervention. Isolationism prevents even peaceful and economic relations with other sovereign nations. Non-interventionism only shows proper and Constitutional respect for other nations’ sovereignty. Non-interventionism allows for intervention only when a nation poses an immediate threat to Americans’ safety.

It’s telling because Rand Paul is clearly not a non-interventionist.

He says, “The war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam.” Wars are with countries, not ideologies. You can’t bomb an ideology out of existence. And when you try, it’s rightly called terrorism, not warfare.

“I don’t agree that absent Western occupation… radical Islam ‘goes quietly into that good night.’” Well, a non-interventionist might point out that there’s a big old gap between hijacking planes and going quietly into that good night. We don’t need radical Islam to go away, even if there was a way to bomb it into oblivion. It’s not actually our business. We just need the killing to stop.

To think that radical Islamists would have the same ability to recruit, train, and arm militants if we stopped buying them weapons, killing their children, and funding and occupying both their host countries and the countries they see as their mortal enemies seems a little… unreasonable.

While Paul isn’t (yet) the good non-interventionist libertarians and Ron Paul fans might have hoped he’d be, there is still plenty to like about him.

He points out in his speech that he held up further sanctions against Iran until his amendment stating “Nothing in this bill is to be interpreted as a declaration of war or a use of authorization of force.” is passed.

He calls for “Less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases. Instead of large, limitless land wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy and strike with lethal force.”

In essence, Rand Paul wants us to actually follow the Powell Doctrine.

Rand Paul’s foreign policy can probably best be summed up in this paragraph from his speech:

What the United States needs now is a… foreign policy that is reluctant, restrained by Constitutional checks and balances but does not appease. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of radical Islam but also the inherent weaknesses of radical Islam. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of bombing countries on what they might someday do.

Non-interventionists should pay particular attention to this line from another part of the speech: “It is the soldier’s job to do his duty — but it is the citizen’s job to question their government — particularly when it comes to putting our soldiers in harm’s way.”

Indeed. Non-interventionists should praise people like Rand Paul when they call into question illegal, unethical sanctions, bombings, arms provisions, regime changes and occupations. And they are right to push back when people like Rand Paul say things like “The West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with Radical Islam.”

The existence of radical Islam isn’t justification for intervention any more than the existence of Communism is. Intervention creates, arms and activates radical Islam. I hope Rand Paul comes to understand that before he runs for president. And I hope his supporters understand that he does not yet understand it before they start their real push to have him elected.