- - Friday, September 13, 2013

Standing against military adventurism is not an isolationist ploy

It seems the most common thing for serial interventionists to do these days is to lob the term “isolationist” at anyone who does not agree with their latest folly, and then set up a straw man about those people not wanting to be involved in the world.

I reject this characterization for myself and others who oppose the United States getting involved in the Syrian civil war.

War is too serious and too deadly for that to enter into our calculations. This is not about scoring political points. This is about taking an intelligent, critical look at the past 15 years of our foreign policy and asking ourselves if we are going about this the right way.

After Sept. 11, 2001, when we were attacked by terrorists, we launched a war against Afghanistan. I supported that war and still believe we were justified and made the correct decision to go. President Bush sought and received the consent of Congress and clearly had the support of the American people.

More recently, President Obama has sought to insert our armed forces into internal wars, with no clear security interest for the United States, and no clear sense of what victory would look like.

Opposing this is not isolationism. It is not withdrawing from the world. It is simply an attempt at a more intelligent, reasoned foreign policy than we have become accustomed to in recent years.

Being a realist means looking at each situation carefully, thoughtfully and individually. I do not reflexively want to rush to war, nor am I reflexively against using our military when the situation calls for it.

I think this is a sound set of parameters, and I think this is where most Americans fall, even if sometimes their politicians are elsewhere.

In the case of Syria, even if you think we should take some military action — and I don’t think the case has been made for this — the logical questions that follow are:

1. What are the military goals, and what would victory look like?

2. What are the chances of success, rather than simply taking action to send a message?

3. What is the exit strategy, and what happens next?

In Syria, no one has articulated for me a clear military goal. No one has articulated what “victory” looks like. In fact, I’ve noticed that at the end of the day, the military action seems designed to end in stalemate rather than clear victory. This is unacceptable.

Over the past few days, Russia has offered to negotiate a deal with Syria to have their chemical weapons put under international control, and Syrian President Bashar Assad has agreed. Diplomacy, if sincere, would be a welcome resolution. But can we trust the participants in this plan?

The possibility of a diplomatic solution is a good thing, though we must proceed with caution on the details.

One thing is for certain: The chance for diplomacy would not have occurred without strong voices against an immediate bombing campaign. If we had simply gone to war last week or the week before without asking any questions, as many advocated, we wouldn’t be looking at a possible solution today.

The voices of those in Congress and the overwhelming number of Americans who stood up — and said, “Slow down!” — allowed this possible diplomatic solution to take shape.

While we wait for diplomacy, Mr. Obama has called for a temporary delay on a vote in Congress. I see the vote on whether to go to war in very personal terms. I will not vote to send my son, your son or anyone’s daughter to war unless a compelling American interest is present. I am not convinced that we have a compelling interest in the Syrian civil war, and I will push for a permanent delay of this vote.

As this debate and acts of diplomacy unfold, let’s leave the labels at the door and debate the merits of what is being proposed in Syria. Let’s take a good, hard look at the lessons of the past few years. Let’s seek a more intelligent answer to problems than what we’ve come up with recently.

Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Homeland Security committees.

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