There is a battle raging for the heart and soul of the conservative movement. While there is a near constant discussion over fiscal issues, also emerging is a debate over the foreign policy direction the United States should take.
Despite his anti-war rhetoric on the campaign trail in 2008, Barack Obama has largely continued the expansive foreign policy views of his predecessor. In 2011, Obama authorized a bombing campaign in Libya, which was aimed at deposing the regime of the country’s dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.
This campaign, which was waged without the consent of Congress, setoff a debate between the neo-conservatives and those who advocate a more restrained, constitutional foreign policy. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) criticized the non-interventionist views of Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jim DeMint (R-SC) and others, smearing them as “isolationists.”
It’s Sen. Paul who has largely become the voice of reason in the foreign policy debate. During the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, suggested that he could, as president, authorize military action against Iran without congressional approval. Sen. Paul responded forcefully, explaining that the “Constitution clearly states that it is Congress that has the power to declare war, not the president.”
In October, as the election was winding to end, Sen. Paul again responded to foreign policy statements made by Romney, who was pushing for military involvement in Syria. Not only did he reassert the role of Congress in approving military force, Sen. Paul also noted that the costs of an aggressive foreign policy “further threatens our national security.”
Seeking to further this important debate, Sen. Paul, who is thought to be looking at a bid for the GOP nomination in 2016, spoke this morning at the Heritage Foundation, which has traditionally been hostile territory for advocates of a restrained foreign policy.
During his speech, Sen. Paul sought bring into the mainstream his view of a conservative foreign policy — one that is both fiscally sustainable and consistent with the views of the Founding Fathers.
“Foreign policy is uniquely an arena where we should base decisions on the landscape of the world as it is…not as we wish it to be,” Sen. Paul explained to the large audience at Heritage. “I see the world as it is. I am a realist, not a neoconservative, nor an isolationist.”
Sen. Paul spoke directly about radical Islam and the countries, specifically naming Iran, that are perceived as threats by conservatives, noting, “Though often militarily weak, radical Islam makes up for its lack of conventional armies with unlimited zeal.” But while some on the political right are ready to take on Iran, Sen. Paul firmly said, “Let me be clear: I don’t want Iran to develop nuclear weapons but I also don’t want to decide with certainty that war is the only option.”
While his speech may upset some libertarians, Sen. Paul noted the need for a “middle path” on foreign policy, one that is “reluctant [and] restrained by Constitutional checks and balances but does not appease.”
Speaking directly to the crux of the matter, Sen. Paul explained, “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.”
Sen. Paul succinctly outlined his “middle path” on on foreign policy. “[I]t would have less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases,” he noted. “Instead of large, limitless land wars in multiple theaters, we would target our enemy and strike with lethal force.” He also explained that military engagements “would require a declaration of war by Congress.”
In closing, Sen. Paul made an appeal to conservatives. “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,” he declared. “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.”