Conservative militarists bemoan Rand Paul’s diplomatic foreign policy

Senator Rand Paul advocates non-interventionist, diplomatic foreign policy; militarists advocate for more war. But what do Americans want? Photo: Gage Skidmore

DALLAS, February 12th, 2013 - Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) delivered a speech to the Heritage Foundation last week advocating a return to a non-interventionist and diplomatic foreign policy.

“I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist,” Paul began, immediately distancing himself from the GOP’s increasingly unpopular war wing and critics charging libertarian conservatism breeds isolationism.

Paul explained that considering past policy successes and failures while balancing present challenges for the 21st century is essential. Referencing Ronald Reagan’s era, he encouraged renewed suspicion of military alliances and a strong defensive military posture, but discouraged continued imperialism.

Paul, quoting Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, linked foreign policy and the national debt crisis, “At some point fiscal insolvency at home translates into strategic insolvency abroad,” and this requires, “re-examining missions and capabilities,” and perhaps most importantly, “will entail going places that have been avoided by politicians in the past.”

He continued, reminding listeners that serious threats loom. “[Radical Islam] is no fleeting fad but a relentless force. These forces are supported by Iran and compensate for a “lack of conventional armies with unlimited zeal”. Likening the fanaticism of radical Islam to ideological extremism of communism, Paul’s strategy then begins with containment, not invasion, occupation or pre-emptive attacks.

As for Iran and its rumored nuclear ambitions, maintaining strategic ambiguity is paramount. “No one, myself included, wants to see a nuclear Iran. Iran does need to know that all options are on the table. But we should not pre-emptively announce that diplomacy or containment will never be an option.”

Paul highlighted Israeli intelligence officials’ warnings that military strikes may be premature, or even cause Iran to accelerate their nuclear program. War, then, should be a last resort, not the first option.

The Senator’s speech was fairly well-received as most Americans feel the Iraq War was a mistake and 70% want immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most believe future conflicts should be absolutely necessary, not built on false intelligence for resource acquisition or spreading “democracy”.  Paul challenged Washington to make commitments to national defense, not policing the world.

Career academics from pro-war, pro-intervention militarist outlets blanched at Paul’s advocacy for a constitutionally prudent, fiscally reasonable foreign policy. Writing for the National Review, Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute chastised Paul’s approach with alarmist threats and condescension.

“America’s foreign policy today is hardly one of militaristic, imperialistic determination to intervene. Apart from the evil “neocons” — virtually none of whom, it should be noted, have advocated attacking Iran, invading Syria or Yemen, or launching other adventures that Senator Paul seems so to fear — it is hard to understand against whom the senator is arguing.”

This claim is false. Led by praised think-tank intellectuals, the GOP’s neoconservative, militarist wing consistently influences America’s pro-war foreign policy. Bi-partisan support for conflict without question has infected both parties; this lock-step approval for boorish aggression reached its apex during George W. Bush’s administration. 

Forgetting the tragedies of Vietnam, militarists consistently scream for this generation’s fifth war in the East. Even as American soldiers were surging in Iraq, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) sang of “bombing Iran”, a pet war he’s unwaveringly championed. Joined by Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), and prominent war hawk intellectuals, they constantly call for sending American soldiers into Iran, Syria and Libya.

They’ve cried for no-fly zones, tax-payer funded arms for dubious “rebels”, air strikes and Patriot missiles. Even Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, influenced by the Old Guard, hawked for more war which contributed to his lack of appeal.

Such fiery rhetoric could easily ignite war fever over Iran’s suspected nuclear ambitions without significant intelligence from the CIA or our Israeli allies. If the militarists had their way, would a multitude of dead American soldiers, innocent Israelis and Iranians be worth the price to delay Iran’s unconfirmed nuclear program?

Bill Kristol, writing for the Washington Post, has stated repeatedly that direct “regime change” in Iran is urgently necessary. “The next speech we need to hear from the Obama administration should announce that, after 30 years, we have gone on the offensive against this murderous regime. And the speech after that can celebrate the fall of the regime, and offer American help to the democrats building a free and peaceful Iran.”

Nearly two dozen American veterans commit suicide daily, yet the Kristols and Kagans of the world proclaim tomorrow’s soldiers must endure more endless, soul-defeating occupation for the sake of “freedom”. Though these imperialist policies failed in Iraq and are failing in Afghanistan at great cost, pre-emptive war, eternal occupation and nation-building are the answer to conflicts before they materialize, not diplomacy. Rand Paul’s realism is absurd, naïve and preposterous they say.

Yet one must wonder if General Stanley McChrystal’s blowback theory was correct. He believed ten “insurgents” were spawned from each innocent killed. If we weren’t invading, occupying and attempting to “democratize” the Arab world by force, would radicals recruit dissidents so easily? 

U.S. national security is essential, but plutocrats talk loosely of war while the consequences of an Iran conflict could net disastrous worldwide unintended results. 

Our overstretched military does not have the resources to invade and occupy a nation three times the size of Iraq. Engaging Iran in the Gulf would catapult oil prices, tanking an already fragile world economy. Air strikes would result in mass casualties of innocent citizens; Arab sentiment toward the West would worsen as another act of brash war is exacted on yet another Islamic country. This could result in homeland retaliation both in Israel and the U.S.

U.S. and Israeli intelligence experts not seeking political ends believe there is time for diplomacy, that rash action could provoke Iran and its radical stateless neighbors to seek revenge.

Perhaps a responsible transition from hostile brinkmanship to a Reaganite balance of stern diplomacy and robust military defense would be wise. This is 2013, not 2003, and U.S. intelligence agencies are confident they will know if Iran proceeds toward a nuclear weapon. So if the goal is to receive assurances that Iran will not build beyond peaceful use, diplomacy should be exhausted pro-actively and vigorously before bombs drop on Tehran.

And how can this be accomplished without discussion and negotiation? The neocons bemoan that “diplomacy has been exhausted”, but this is not the case. Our embassy housed American diplomats under the Third Reich for nearly a decade. Our nation’s leaders opened communication with communist mass murderers Stalin and Mao, but we cannot diplomatically pressure, negotiate or even communicate with Iran? We cannot meet in a neutral location with their world leaders to discuss thwarting potential global nuclear war? 

The U.S. military learned from Iraq that most radicals join terrorist organizations not for religious reasons, but for financial motivations or revenge. Eventually ending brutal sanctions and opening the door to possible diplomacy and trade over the next decade would do more to quell the rise of radicalism than missiles, which perpetuates terroristic violence.

Despite the lofty words of policy architects, perpetual war for perpetual peace is not a worthy ambition. Military resources are not statics. And battles, soldiers, bombs and wars are not merely considerations of policy. American tax dollars and military families are not endlessly expendable in pursuit of slippery enemies and nation-building fantasies. Israelis caught in the maelstrom of potential total war are not “collateral damage”, nor are the millions of innocents in Iran.

If the American people agree, they should bend their ear to those advocating for policy change instead of repeating the same actions and expecting different results. We must accept the world for what it is, and adapt accordingly instead of continuing the folly of crafting the Arab landscape in our Western image. The world we all live in may very well depend upon it.


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Tiffany Madison

Tiffany is a writer and veteran's advocate. Her column focuses on civil liberties, veteran's issues and current events. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanymadisonFacebook or her website.

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