Political Animal


February 08, 2013 4:34 PM Goldilocks On Acid

By Ed Kilgore

In a Day’s End post a couple of days ago, I mocked Rand Paul’s inscrutable national policy “vision” speech at the Heritage Foundation as advancing a policy of “aggressive non-interventionism, or belligerent neutrality, or something.” Not being a national security expert, I didn’t know if there were maybe subtleties I was missing. But according to a WaPo op-ed from the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan (the ex-neocon who if nothing else wields a very sharp pen), Paul’s speech was even more incoherent than it first appeared:

With Polonius-like wisdom, he calls for a strategy that “balances but does not appease,” that is “robust but also restrained.” He does not want America to be “everywhere all the time” or “nowhere any of the time” but thinks that “maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time.”
He acknowledges that “there are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.” But he doesn’t want to put “boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere.”
Fair enough, but since U.S. foreign policy occurs precisely in the wide space between doing nothing anywhere and doing everything everywhere, these recommendations are not very helpful. How do we determine where and when to act, and in response to what dangers?

While Paul seeks to be “unconventional,” says Kagan, he’s adopted the very conventional idea that “radical Islam” is precisely equivalent to the Cold War Soviet Union. He just isn’t sure what he wants to do about it. And then there’s the big flashpoint of Iran, where Paul’s daddy got himself into so much trouble during last year’s Republican presidential debates:

Even on Iran, where Paul claims to feel that all dissent is muzzled, he is not much of a dissenter. He insists that containing Iran should not be “preemptively” ruled out, but he does not argue that containment is the right policy, even though many realists do. Instead, he repeats the mantra that “all options are on the table.”
A true dissenter would have the temerity to declare that a nuclear Iran, although unfortunate, is nevertheless tolerable and that the military option ought not to be on the table.

Instead, Rand Paul is talking like Goldilocks on acid (my characterization—not Kagan’s!). He’s for everything cautious and nothing terribly controversial, while denying there’s any contradictions. Maybe that’s enough to get him under the velvet rope of acceptable GOP foreign policy opinion so that he can run for president mainly on is atavistic domestic policy views. But not if much of anybody actually pays attention to what he’s saying.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Quaker in a Basement on February 08, 2013 5:12 PM:

    He does not want America to be “everywhere all the time” or “nowhere any of the time” but thinks that “maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time.”

    This is just a lot of hand waving to disguise a simple rule: Foreign policy is good when it's made by a Republican.

  • Kathryn on February 08, 2013 7:09 PM:

    I quote Hillary R. Clinton, "Turkey"? Yes, Rand Paul a man who gets his foreign policy information from World Net Daily.

  • Neildsmith on February 08, 2013 8:19 PM:

    "While Paul’s argument was directed to some extent against hawks in both parties, he seems to have been mainly interested to counter the arguments of Republican hard-liners. Understood this way, there is nothing the least bit bizarre about a call for restraint when the vast majority of his fellow Republicans in Congress show no interest in restraint. Republican hard-liners define American “leadership” primarily in terms of how many foreign conflicts and disputes the U.S. can become involved, and Paul reasonably views this as unsound and unsustainable."


    I don't know if Mr. Kilgore reads the comments, but on this one point, Mr. Paul and Mr. Larison are on our side. The US military misadventures of the last 12 years are indeed unsound and unsustainable.

  • jhm on February 09, 2013 8:18 AM:

    It's subscription only, but The Nation has a good piece by the Leveretts on our Iran fixation.


    (and, of course, on newsstands and in libraries now)