Rand Paul: Washington Must Move beyond the Old Foreign Policy Consensus
Additionally, Senator Paul voiced his concerns regarding the actions of Saudi Arabia’s military in Yemen, as well as our role in enabling our ally in the conflict. The conflict in Yemen, which has pitted the Saudi-backed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi against the Houthi rebels and their Iranian supporters, has left Yemen ravaged by Saudi airstrikes and a devastating blockade of Yemen’s ports by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Senator Paul criticized America’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia, and compared a 2016 Saudi attack on a funeral in Yemen that left 140 civilians dead to the 7th century battle of Karbala in terms of the lingering resentment it will engender in the region’s populace. Questioning whether American and Saudi airstrikes are, “creating more terrorists than we kill, or killing more terrorists than we create,” the senator reiterated his longstanding opposition to American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and urged policymakers to heed the lesson of the Iraq war: that American intervention in the Middle East “leads to more people strapping on bombs,” not fewer.
The senator also spoke about another cause for which he has long advocated: constraining the government’s ability to monitor the private communications of its citizens. Criticizing policies such as Executive Order 12333 and the recently-reauthorized Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which allow the government to monitor communications between Americans and foreign nationals, Senator Paul lamented that the communications of American journalists and international contacts can be scrutinized with virtually no oversight. When discussion emerged among the dinner’s participants regarding the conditions under which the government actually monitored the contents of such conversations, Senator Paul argued that such surveillance activities infringe upon the fourth amendment even if the contents of the data collected are never reviewed by the state, and that, “the collection of the data IS the violation.”
The need for openness, transparency, and oversight served as a recurring theme throughout Senator Paul’s criticism of America’s existing foreign policy, with much of the blame for America’s failed policies towards Iran, North Korea, and Yemen being attributed to the lack of a true debate regarding these issues in Congress. Despite the many censures levied by the senator against the United States foreign policy establishment, there was still an expression of optimism regarding the future of American international relations. Asked whether anything can be done to improve congressional decision making on questions of foreign policy, Senator Paul expressed his faith in the belief that, “fact wins out over emotion over a long period of time.”
Matt Reisener is a program associate at the Center for the National Interest.