Rand Paul: The Case for Conservative Realism

October 23, 2014 Topic: Foreign Policy Region: United States

Rand Paul: The Case for Conservative Realism

"We need a foreign policy that recognizes our limits and preserves our might, a common-sense conservative realism of strength and action." 

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.

I support a strategy of air strikes against ISIS.

Our airpower must be used to rebalance the tactical situation in favor of the Kurds and Iraqis and to defend Americans and our assets in the region.

Just as we should have defended our consulate in Benghazi, so too we must defend our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.

I don't support arming the so-called Sunni moderates in Syria, though.

I said a year ago and I say it again now. The ultimate sad irony is that we are forced to fight against the very weapons we send to Syrian rebels.

The weapons are either indiscriminately given to "less than moderate rebels” or simply taken from moderates by ISIS.

600 tons of weapons have been given to the Syrian rebels, inadvertently creating a safe haven for ISIS.

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.

A third principle is the belief that peace and security require a commitment to diplomacy and leadership.

Around the world we see the consequences of failed diplomacy and absence of leadership after 6 years of the Obama administration.

Military force is meaningless if our leaders cannot reinforce American diplomacy through engagement and leadership.

President Obama never invested in relationships with Congress, and the same is true of his foreign policy. To have friends, you have to be a friend.

In the run up to the Gulf War in 1991, Arab nations believed that once President Bush drew a line, he wouldn’t let Iraq cross it.

And President Bush didn’t “dance on the Berlin Wall” when it crumbled; instead he worked behind the scenes to help the Cold War end calmly.

In light of the new threat posed by ISIS, I believe it is even more imperative that Tehran and Washington find an effective diplomatic solution for limiting the Iranian enrichment program. A nuclear armed Iran would only further destabilize a region in turmoil.

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.

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.

We need to use sanctions and defense spending to achieve a diplomatic settlement that takes into account Russia’s long-standing ties with Ukraine and allows Kiev to develop its relations both with Russia and the West.

As Kissinger put it: “If Ukraine is to survive and thrive, it must not be either side’s outpost against the other — it should function as a bridge between them.”

Ukraine is geographically and historically bound to both regions.

We will need to understand that even with our help, Ukraine will not be able to stand up to Russian pressure unless it undertakes some fundamental reforms, such as stamping out corruption and restructuring its energy sector.

This brings me to the last principle I’d like to discuss today: we are only as strong as our economy.

Admiral Mike Mullen, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, put it succinctly:  the biggest threat to our national security is our debt.

A bankrupt nation doesn't project power but rather weakness.

Our national power is a function of the national economy. During the Reagan renaissance, our strength in the world reflected our successful economy.

Low growth, high unemployment, and big deficits have undercut our influence in the world. Americans have suffered real consequences from a weak economy.

President George W. Bush understood that part of the projection of American power is the exporting of American goods and culture.  His administration successfully brokered fourteen new free trade agreements and negotiated three others that are the only new free trade agreements approved since President Obama took office.  Instead of just talking about a so-called “pivot to Asia,” the Obama administration should prioritize negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership by year’s end.

Free trade and technology should be the greatest carrot of our statecraft.

Trade is a critical element of building a productive relationship with other nations, including China.

While our relations with China are complicated, trade has drawn us together and mutual investment can also play a constructive role. In an era in which geopolitics could drive us apart, we need to look for new areas for US-Chinese cooperation.

Promoting free markets should be a priority.

The only long-term strategy that will change the world is fostering successful capitalist economies that increase living standards and connect people through trade.

From Kiev to Cairo to Tunis, we are witnessing a historic time of protest against the injustice of overbearing, corrupt governments.

If the long war is ever to end, we must understand the frustrations of the street.

It isn't always abject poverty or religion that motivates recruits or sets off conflict.

Often it is the despair and humiliation that comes from overbearing government.

Twenty-six year old Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street merchant who set himself afire and began the Arab Spring, was an aspiring entrepreneur foiled by a corrupt government.

Bouazizi had a dream: he’d save for a pick-up truck. But cronyism and an overbearing government stifled his dream.

Constantly harassed for money he didn’t have, Bouazizi doused himself in kerosene and lit a match.

My great-grandfather came to America with a dream not unlike Bouazizi’s. He peddled vegetables until he saved enough to purchase a truck, elevating him to what they called then a "truck farmer," a level that allowed him to purchase a home and small bit of land.

The difference between America in the late nineteenth century and places in the Middle East…South Asia..Africa…and South America…today is that bribes and cronyism were not necessary to get a license to purchase a truck or sell vegetables.

Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto spoke to Bouazizi’s brother and asked if he left a legacy. Bouazizi’s brother responded: “Of course, he believed the poor had the right to buy and sell.”

Tonight I have outlined the principles we must remember if we are to advance security, peace, and human dignity.

These principles of conservative realism are a return to traditional Republican values that recognize our limits and realize our might.

Americans yearn for leadership and for strength, but they don't yearn for war.

Our enemies should bear witness to the unmatched and unstoppable American force that was justifiably unleashed after 9/11 and know that terrorism will never defeat America, that terrorism will only awaken and embolden our resolve.

But the world should also know that America aspires to peace, trade, and commerce with all.

That though we will not abide injustice we will not instigate war.

That our noblest intentions are sincere and war will always be our last resort, and that “our reluctance for war must not be mistaken for lack of resolve” …

That the exceptional ideas that formed our republic unify us in the defense of freedom, and we will never back down in the defense of our naturally derived, inalienable rights.

Thank you.

Image: Creative Commons 2.0/Flickr.