Sen. Rand Paul Calls for a Conservative Constitutional Foreign Policy
Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy speech
Sen. Rand Paul
May 8, 2011
When I first told that story I was afraid Americans wouldn't get it - that Americans would have a tough time understanding a world in which the government owned the car companies.
My, how times have changed. The one thing that hasn't changed is foreign policy.
Foreign policy often brings together strange bedfellows. Sometimes it's so bipartisan - that no dissent is heard or debated.
I recognize that foreign policy is complicated. It is inherently less black and white to most people than domestic policy. In fact, it is so complicated that President Obama no longer agrees with Senator Obama on war authority!
Too often foreign policy is defined by one's enemies. Even from the conservative side of the divide, we don't always agree.
Some hurl the epithet "neocon" while the other half insult with the label "isolationist." One might wonder whether there is any room for a foreign policy that is between the two.
If for example, we imagine a foreign policy that is everything to everyone, that is everywhere all the time that would be one polar extreme. It is extreme to say that wherever there is danger, strife, or suffering in the world, the United States military will be there to solve the problems.
Is it wise to blow up infrastructure and then rebuild it? Is it wise to implement democracy in a place that may then vote in a radical theocracy? Our foreign policy has been full of these contradictions for several decades now.
Likewise, if we imagine a foreign policy that is nowhere any of the time and is completely disengaged from the challenges and dangers to our security that really do exist in the world - well, that would be the other polar extreme.
There are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.
I sometimes like to tell people that I'm really a moderate. For some reason they don't seem to believe me. But what about a foreign policy of moderation - a foreign policy that argues that - maybe we could be somewhere some of the time?
Maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time and do so while respecting our Constitution and the legal powers of Congress and the presidency.
I believe we are much closer to being everywhere all the time than nowhere any of the time. And I think this needs to change. Note I didn't say it "should change," rather it NEEDS to change, and there are two simple reasons for that.
1. Intervention everywhere, all the time leads to unintended consequences
a. The U.S. gave money and weapons to Bin Laden and the mujahedin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan - our State Department official policy of the time was to support radical jihad.
b. The U.S. gave money and weapons to Saddam Hussein to fight Iran and to suppress his people.
c. The U.S. gave money and weapons to the Shah of Iran-weapons that were used against our "ally" Iraq in the 1980-1988 war. Weapons that became the basis for the new Islamic republic of Iran.
d. The U.S. gave $60 billion to Hosni Mubarak - will those weapons come into the hands of Islamacists?
2. We can no longer afford our current foreign policy.
What I'm talking about here has a relatively recent example: Ronald Reagan. Reagan's foreign policy was much closer to what I am advocating than what we have today.
The former Chairman of the American Conservative Union and current National Rifle Association President David Keene has noted that Reagan "resorted to military force far less than many of those who came before him, or who have since occupied the Oval Office."
Reagan's foreign policy was one in which we were somewhere, some of the time, in which the missions were clear and defined, and there was no prolonged military conflict - and this all took place during the Cold War.
As Keene points out, Reagan's policy was much less interventionist than the presidents of both parties who came right before him and after him. And Reagan's foreign policy was certainly more restrained than that of our current President.
I'd argue that a more restrained foreign policy is the true conservative foreign policy, as it includes two basic tenets of true conservatism: respect for the Constitution, and fiscal discipline.
I am convinced that what we need is a foreign policy that works within these two constraints, a foreign policy that works within the confines of the Constitution and the realities of our fiscal crisis.
Neither have been at the top of the list of concerns in foreign policy recently.
Today in Congress there is no such nuance, no such moderation of dollars or executive power.
The vast majority of both parties believe in the "inherent powers" of the presidency. Not powers confined by the Constitution nor any statue. In fact, this group openly disdains the War Powers Act and proclaims loudly that they consider it unconstitutional and therefore they will not condescend to obey it.
There is more than a bit of irony in conservatives who beat their chest and proclaim their fealty toward the rule of law but then openly flaunt laws they disagree with.
Recently, I introduced a non-binding Sense of the Senate resolution reiterating the President's words when he was a candidate that no president should go to war unilaterally without the approval of Congress unless an imminent threat to our national security exists.
Not one Democrat voted to support candidate Obama's words and only 10 Republican Senators voted to support the notion that Congressional authority is needed to begin war.
Some well-meaning Senators came up to me and said, Congress has the power of the purse strings and can simply cut off funds.
The problem is that there is occasionally a will to avoid war in the beginning but rarely if ever is there the resolve to cut off funding once troops are in the field.
The argument that you must support our soldiers is so emotive that few will ever have the courage to end a war that a president wishes to continue.
No historic example exists of Congress cutting off funds to a war in progress. Even during Vietnam, arguably our most unpopular war, funds were never voted down.
Madison wrote that, "The Constitution supposes what history demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch most prone to war and most interested in it, therefore the Constitution has with studied care vested that power in the Legislature."
Washington agreed, "The Constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject AND authorized such a measure."
Since the Korean War - I mean conflict - Congress has abdicated its role in declaring war. This administration, in an ode to Orwell, now even calls war a kinetic activity.
War has been defined down to further abdicate everyone from responsibility.
War is not random, kinetic motion. Recently, the Libyan war has been further downgraded to be described as intermittent kinetic activity.
What would a foreign policy look like that tried to strike a balance? First, it would have less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases. Instead of large, limitless land wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy, strike with lethal force, and leave.
We would not presume that we build nations nor would we presume that we have the resources to build nations. We would acknowledge that the vagaries that charted the lines of these nations after WW1 made these countries nations in name only.
Many of these countries are collections of tribal regions that have never been governed by a central government and likely could only be "governed" by an authoritarian central government.
It may not have been possible to eliminate Osama bin Laden with the permission of Pakistan. Only someone privy to our daily cooperation with them could make that call.
Though Pakistan vehemently denies prior knowledge of the attack, it's not hard to imagine that, at some level, such permission or tacit permission existed.
Pakistan has often denied advance knowledge of attacks within their borders leading some to believe that their denials are a cover to avoid inflaming their fundamentalist population.
Ultimately, though, continued attacks within a sovereign nation against their will could lead to consequences opposite our intentions if the populace becomes further animated against us.
We should not attempt to build nations but we should intervene if a nation harbors or trains our enemies. We should attempt - when at all possible - to intervene in cooperation with the host government.
Intervention against the will of another nation such as Afghanistan or Libya would require Declaration of War by Congress. Such constitutional obstacles purposefully make it more difficult to go to war.
That was the Framers' intention: To make war less likely.
We did not declare war or authorize force to begin war with Libya. This is a dangerous precedent. We are now blatantly ignoring the Constitution and the War Powers Act.
Under the War Powers Act the President must get authorization from Congress within 60 days of starting military action. But it has been well over two months since the President intervened in Libya and he continues to flagrantly defy the law on this matter.
In our foreign policy, Congress has become not even a rubber stamp - but an irrelevancy.
With Libya, the President sought permission from the UN... from NATO... from the Arab League-everyone BUT the U.S. Congress! And how did Congress react? They've done nothing.
If you want to find a lonely position in Washington, argue for a constitutional foreign policy.
If it weren't for the looming debt crisis, I would say there might be no hope for any debate over foreign policy. But our debt crisis is real and will force us to reassess our role in the world.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates not only calls the debt our greatest threat to our national security, but recently noted that "At some point fiscal insolvency at home translates into strategic insolvency abroad."
Gates added that addressing our financial crisis will require both "reexamining missions and capabilities" and perhaps most importantly "will entail going places that have been avoided by politicians in the past."
It is time for all Americans, and especially conservatives, to become as critical and reflective when examining foreign policy as we are with domestic policy.
Should our military be defending this nation or constantly building other nations? What constitutes our actual "national defense" and what parts of our foreign policy are more like an irrational offense?
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. Does our national security still require troops in Afghanistan? After a decade in Afghanistan, do we need to reassess whether being there is in our national security interest? Should we even be in Libya?
And of course, the question we are forced to ask today is: Can we afford this?
I hope such questions begin to be asked and we see some sort of return to a Constitutional foreign policy. I hope this occurs before the crisis occurs and not amidst a crisis. To that end, I will fight to have a voice for those who wish to see a saner, more balanced approach to foreign policy.