Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rand Paul and Foreign Policy

Rand Paul gave a significant speech on foreign policy.  I blame Walter Block for my feeling the need to review the speech:

So, even if Rand Paul would impugn libertarianism, set back our movement (something I deny) he would still be preferable to Hilary Clinton. The latter would likely murder hundreds of thousands of innocents abroad, and cause the deaths of thousands of Americans who would be wearing those “boots.”  In contrast, Rand Paul is no Ron Paul. This cannot be denied. But, he is no Hillary Clinton either. Hillary will kill many, many more innocent people than will Rand. Isn’t it also part of the libertarian ethos (I am still assuming, arguendo, that Rand will blemish our freedom philosophy) not to murder innocents?

I believe this to be (at least directionally) true about Rand (forgive me, I will use the first name to distinguish from his father), just as I know it to be true about Obama as opposed to McCain/Hillary/Romney – any one of which would have bombed Russia and Iran by now (and Syria, although Obama found another route.  I am curious – his decision on ISIS came around the same time that the security breaches at the White House were made public, didn’t it?).

There are a thousand things about the state (a thousand points of dark?) for which a libertarian rightly can offer complaint, but – for me – one is paramount, and that is war.  In it one will find the sum of all other violations and these carried to the extremes.  If there is only one topic upon which a libertarian might focus, this one is about as important as any.

This is why I am sympathetic to Block’s point and therefore feel it worthwhile to review Rand’s speech.  Please note: I am not going to get into the terms “America,” “we,” “our,” etc., that Rand uses in the speech and that I will sometimes use as shorthand – I am already at 2700 words, this post is long enough.  Let’s just say, these are meaningless terms within this context as used by most politicians and others.

Russia slides backward vainly hoping to resurrect the Soviet Union.

Russia may or may not be doing this – I don’t know; but Rand mentions it without mentioning a thing about the role of NATO and the US on the borders of Russia that have contributed to the current situation.

In the Middle East, secular dictatorships have been replaced by the rise of radical jihadist movements, who in their beliefs and barbarity -- represent the antithesis of liberal democracy.

True again, and once again not a mention of the US role in any of this.

These challenges are in part consequences of failing to define our national security interest in a new era.

Perhaps this statement is a prelude to Rand’s dealing with the US role in the various trouble spots (spoiler alert: he barely does so).  Absent recognizing these truths, there can be no meaningful “foreign policy.”

Rand does not remove “war” from the toolkit of America’s foreign policy, as you would expect of anyone running for national office and wanting to win.  He offers some relatively meaningless boundaries: no wars “where the best outcome is stalemate”; no wars “when there is no plan for victory”; wars “when the consequences….intended and unintended….are worth the sacrifice.”

He offers one relatively important boundary: only wars “authorized by the American people, by Congress.”

If he sticks to the insistence of Congressional authorization (via a truthful dialogue, I might add), this no small thing; otherwise there is nothing he says about when America might go to war that Dick Cheney wouldn’t say.  Each one of the rest is a matter of judgment beforehand – and every President that went to war would say he didn’t intend stalemate, he always had a plan for victory, and the consequences were worth the sacrifice.

Now, on to the specifics:

The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world.

What is a “war on terror”?  And why are these two statements juxtaposed?  Cannot America remain engaged with the world while ending its war on terror (whatever that term means, and more on this later)?  Of course, America – both the government (diplomatically) and individuals (commercially and for leisure) – can remain fully engaged globally without government actors dropping bombs in a dozen or so countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia.

…a recent report by the RAND Corporation tracked a 58 percent increase over the last three years in jihadist terror groups.

I will come back to this later.

To contain and ultimately defeat radical Islam, America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership, and our values.

Why is this stated as if defeating “radical Islam” is an objective that has an outcome more likely than “stalemate,” that there can be any conceivable “plan for victory” and that there is any comprehension of the “unintended consequences”?  But again, I will come back to this later. 

Next comes one of those straddle-the-fence moments for which Rand has become well-known – even outside of libertarian circles:

To defend our country we must understand that a hatred of our values exists, and acknowledge that interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate this hatred, but that ultimately, we must be willing and able to defend our country and our interests. (Emphasis added)

Will they hate us less if we are less present?  Perhaps….but hatred for those outside the circle of "accepted" Islam, exists above and beyond our history of intervention overseas. (Emphasis added)

May well.”  Perhaps.”  Rand perhaps wants to acknowledge the possibility of blowback…maybe.  I will come back to this later….

Next, Rand outlines a problem for which the US Constitution offers no remedy, a fact that I am certain he knows very well:

The world has a dignity problem, with millions of men and women across the Middle East being treated as chattel by their own governments.

There can be no cause for intervention by the US government on this basis.

Many of these same governments have been chronic recipients of our aid.

The US government is the recipient of support for the petro-dollar by the worst of these governments – does Rand propose addressing this issue by cutting off all aid to this one?  No.  Not a single mention of this relationship.

Back to the US role in fomenting this anger, this radicalism:

Some anger is blowback…we also can’t be blind to the fact that drone strikes that inadvertently kill civilians may create more jihadists than we eliminate.

I know I keep saying it; I will come back to this later…trust me.

Citing Malala Yousafzai:

She said: “It is true that when there’s a drone attack…terrorists are killed.  But 500 and 5,000 more people rise against it and more terrorism occurs.”

Patience, my dear readers.

Then more fence straddling:

Yes, we need a hammer ready, but not every civil war is a nail…There is a time to eliminate our enemies, but there is also a time to cultivate allies…We need a foreign policy that recognizes our limits and preserves our might, a common-sense conservative realism of strength and action…We can’t retreat from the world, but we can’t remake it in our own image either…We can’t and shouldn’t engage in nation building, but we can facilitate trade and extend the blessings of freedom and free markets around the world.

These statements – as they provide no principal-based criteria – offer only one possible conclusion regarding the direction of Rand’s foreign policy: we must trust his judgment.  It is here where Walter Block would certainly say – and I tend to agree – that his judgment will probably result in less war than will Hillary’s (or pick your own plausible alternative).

When would Rand justify war?

War is necessary when America is attacked or threatened, when vital American interests are attacked and threatened, and when we have exhausted all other measures short of war.

“Threatened” is a dangerous threshold (and I know Rand isn’t the first to use it) – Rand suggests war is acceptable for something that somebody might do.  Even given this watered down threshold, what if the best possible outcome is “stalemate”?  What if the prosecution of war merely leads to further war – war without end?

We get some sense of Rand’s judgment:

The war in Afghanistan is an example of a just, necessary war. I supported the decision to go into Afghanistan after 9/11.  I still do today.

America was attacked by Al Qaeda, and there was a clear initial objective: dismantle the Taliban, and deny Al Qaeda safe haven.

What did Afghanistan have to do with 9/11?  Even believing the government’s conspiracy theory: most of the attackers were Saudi; they planned the action in Western Europe; they took flying lessons in the United States; they used a worm hole to launch a slightly mis-timed stealth attack on building 7 (I made that last one up, but it is more believable than the idea that a burning sofa brought down a 47-floor, steel-framed building).

How can this war still be supported today?  Fool me once, shame on you; fool me for thirteen years, thousands of American casualties, tens-of-thousands of non-combatant casualties, countless hundreds of billions of dollars…shame on me.  This war in just this one theater has lasted longer than has America’s involvement in World War II, World War I, and the Civil War…combined.

As to the Taliban – their only crime in relation to 9/11 appears to be that they refused to turn-over Osama bin Laden without evidence.  None was provided.

This is the judgment that Rand is asking the voters to trust.

Back to Rand’s support of that war:

Only after our initial success did the lack of a clear objective give rise to mission creep…it is hard to understand our exact objective.

Does Rand propose a different objective?  Not in this speech.

Rand is very clear on one thing:

France doesn’t send our men and women in uniform to war, the United Nations doesn’t send our soldiers to war, Congress, and only Congress can constitutionally initiate war!

This is no small thing, but it is no failsafe – Congress has declared unjust wars in the past, they will certainly do so again in the future (if asked).

The war in Libya was not in our national interest. It had no clear goal and it led to less stability.

What would Rand do if Congress authorizes such an adventure while he is in office?  It doesn’t seem that Rand is looking to Congress to kill a bad foreign adventure, but looking to use Congress to drum up national support:

In failing to seek Congressional authority, President Obama missed a chance to galvanize the country. He missed a chance to lead.

A President who recognizes the Constitutional limitations of power is not weakened, but actually empowered by the public debate that comes with a declaration of war.

This doesn’t sound like someone looking to Congress as a check, but more as a tool to “galvanize the country” and to be “empowered.”

More on Rand’s judgment:

I support a strategy of air strikes against ISIS.

What is the endgame?  How does this not lead to stalemate?  Has Rand calculated the costs of the intended and unintended consequences?  Does he answer any of these questions – his questions – in this speech?  No.

Although I support the call for defeating and destroying ISIS, I doubt that a decisive victory is possible in the short term, even with the participation of the Kurds, the Iraqi government, and other moderate Arab states.

In the end, only the people of the region can destroy ISIS. In the end, the long war will end only when civilized Islam steps up to defeat this barbaric aberration.

Does Rand offer a strategy to draw in “civilized Islam” into the fold (whatever this means…and damn the unintended consequences)?  No – other than a continuation of the failed tools of the past.  Absent this, Rand supports a strategy that will lead to a stalemate.

Rand next moves on to Russia and Ukraine; but before I move along with him, I would like to address a few points that had to wait until I read the entire “war on terror” portion of the speech.

Rand, at most, barely touches on the US role in fomenting all of the troubles in the region.  He directly confronts the only politically safe (for a Republican) topic: Libya, Benghazi, and Hillary’s role in this.  No mention of Israel, Saudi Arabia; no mention of America’s behind-the-scenes roles in the various “revolutions”; no direct admission that life was better for millions of residents in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan before the US started poking around.

Rand offers one significant promise, for what it is worth: he makes clear he would seek Congressional authorization before going to war. 

How would he define “war”?  Would it include every country in which the US sends drones?  There are many laws on the books that allow the president to start a war without Congressional authorization for at least a period of a few months – would Rand support the elimination of these laws?

Rand’s main message is “trust my judgment.”  But by making a strong statement regarding the war in Afghanistan (and now ISIS), he calls his judgment into question.

But the biggest issue of all, for me at least: despite clearly understanding the issue of blowback, even in this speech; despite being clear that even a properly-targeted drone strike will create more enemies – enemies that didn’t exist before the strike…Rand wants to continue the war on terror – on “radical Islam.”

This strategy, given the reality of blowback, will lead to only one endpoint if stalemate is to be avoided: every single Muslim in the world must be killed.  Every drone strike (as a symbol for every other manner of murder committed) will add at least one new Muslim who doesn’t like the US government and might act on this dislike (and, as best as I can tell, the definition of a “terrorist” is someone who doesn’t like the US government and might do something about this dislike.)

So the war on terror (“radical Islam”) doesn’t end until there are no more Muslims left to kill.  If Rand or anyone else can offer a rational conclusion to this war – given that blowback is real – speak up.

Now, on to the “Russia” portion of Rand’s speech:

Another diplomatic challenge is Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Putin’s actions not only threaten Ukraine, but represent a threat to the post-Cold War European order.

No mention of the US actions that threaten Ukraine.

I support the sanctions that the U.S. and the European Union put in place against Russia.

I also agree with the measures taken at the NATO Summit to increase the Alliance’s military preparedness, especially increased European defense spending.

No mention of the NATO expansion that has driven Russia’s concerns.

We will need to understand that even with our help, Ukraine….

Is there something in the Constitution that I missed?

My conclusion:  Rand offers an “I-pretty-much-support-every-war-decision-of-the-last-thirty-years-except-Benghazi” foreign policy.  But what else could he offer if he is truly seeking the office of president?  The president, after all, is just another tool, not an architect.  Don’t believe me, just ask this guy.

With that said, I believe Block is right, as I believe at the margin Rand can make some difference (just as Obama has as opposed to Hillary or McCain).  But it is a difference only of degrees (perhaps “degree”).  On war, even one degree is important to the victims not created.  But his words are so wishy-washy that even this single degree comes with trepidation.

I feel as if I want to give Rand the benefit of the doubt because he sat on the knee of Ron for many years.  This has to mean something, doesn’t it?  I am then reminded that Warren Buffett also sat on Howard’s knee – yet Warren’s views about gold (and many other topics) could not be further distant from those of his father.

The only thing that will slow down the insanity is the market’s view of the fiscal position of the US government and the standing of the dollar.  Unless the militarism, Medicare, and Social Security are confronted, these will eventually bring down the empire.

It will happen; it will take time.  There is nothing Rand, or any other candidate, can do (or is even proposing to do) to change this course.  On the big topics, there is no real debate.


  1. Well said. It's sad to think Ron Paul's own son could be a warmonger.
    I suppose we could live in the hope that, if he became president, he would suddenly, and as he planned all along, take the U.S. along a peaceful path.
    J Cuttance

  2. Rand Paul is a sellout and so is Ron Paul. Rand endorsed Romney while Ron was still in the race and everyone is silent about it. Such bullcrap, screw em' all. This country won't change for the better until it inevitably collapses in on itself.