Sen. Paul pleads for sanity, balance on foreign policy

Envisions return to Reagan-era ideology

Drawing a contrast between himself and Capitol Hill Republicans whom he tied to a longtime “war caucus,” Sen. Rand Paul called Wednesday for a “saner, more balanced” approach to foreign policy that strikes a balance between neoconservative and isolationist thinking.

Mr. Paul, a tea party hero and possible 2016 presidential candidate, likened his “realist” vision of the nation’s role on the global stage to the “robust but also restrained” approach that President Reagan employed during the Cold War.

The remarks were made in an address to the conservative Heritage Foundation as the Kentucky Republican seeks to inject his libertarian-fueled brand of conservatism into foreign policy talks on Capitol Hill.

“What the United States needs now is a policy that finds that middle path,” Mr. Paul said. “A policy that is not rash or reckless. A foreign policy that is reluctant, restrained by constitutional checks and balances but does not appease. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of radical Islam but also the inherent weaknesses of radical Islam. A foreign policy that recognizes the danger of bombing countries on the pretext of what they might someday do.”

In his address, the freshman senator embraced the “containment” theories of American Cold War strategist George Kennan and argued that war is not the only option in confronting Iran over its disputed nuclear program.

Like his father, former Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, he challenged his colleagues on the Hill who have championed a more robust role for America on the world stage.

Many of those lawmakers derided Mr. Paul’s father, a libertarian icon who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination, as an isolationist.

Mr. Paul, in many ways, picked up Wednesday where his father left off.

“I would 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,” he said.

“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. Today in Congress, there is no such nuance, no such moderation of dollars or of executive power.”

Matt Welch, editor of Reason magazine and co-author of “The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America,” described the younger Mr. Paul’s address as “politically savvy.”

“He is getting to the same place, and conclusions, for the most part, as his father did, but his sales job is totally different,” Mr. Welch said. “If implemented, his vision would place more restraints on the executive, and it would involve a much more drastic drawdown from the world than anyone really has contemplated in a major party political life for a long time.

“So he is doing this very interesting dance right now in trying to kind of mainstream these ideas to a skeptical Republican, conservative crowd.”

Sounding the same warning notes on military spending that drew fiscal hawks by the thousands to his father’s cause, Mr. Paul on Wednesday called for fewer soldiers and fewer bases overseas.

If military force is necessary, the 50-year-old eye surgeon said, the United States should “intervene in cooperation with the host government” or require Congress to issue a formal declaration of war, as called for in the Constitution.

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