In his recent piece in the National Review, American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Kagan picked apart Senator Rand Paul's (R-Ky.) pivotal foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation, describing it as "a more artful defense of the foreign policy of the Obama administration than that administration has ever made itself.”
There is, of course, a reason the Obama administration had never made this sort of defense of its foreign policy — it doesn't endorse Rand Paul's views, and has pursued a more hawkish policy rather similar to what Kagan himself advocates, based on a long-standing tradition that had its roots in Cold War politics.
Kagan's intellect and knowledge are apparent, even if he makes little effort to substantiate his claims. He turns a blind eye to the darker, long-term impact of the foreign policy the U.S. has long embraced, as outlined in a Cold War-era document called NSC-68, a National Security Council paper from the Truman administration that prioritized containment and preferred military over diplomatic action through "a policy of calculated and gradual coercion."
So where does he go wrong? His memory seems to be so selective one is left wondering whether he is being at all sincere. Here are five statements that prove he is wrong about Paul's foreign policy.
1. [...] the shrillness of [Senator Paul's] warnings against war are bizarre at a moment when the president ... has completely withdrawn U.S. troops from Iraq, allowed his intention to withdraw almost completely (or perhaps completely) from Afghanistan to be leaked, refused to support Syrian rebels in any meaningful way, removed the U.S. from playing any significant role in the unraveling of Egypt, and indicated his intention to reduce the American military dramatically.
Kagan of course is missing the forest for the trees, ignoring the fact that Iran is surrounded by over 30 U.S. military bases, and its coast is being constantly monitored by U.S. warships; he also fails to note the impact of foreign aid in the form of billions of dollars sent to Israel and billions more to her enemies (including Egypt) every year, a practice which has inflamed and empowered opposition forces; has been an active participant in a continued escalation of hostilities with Iran, including the threat of strikes within its territory, and continues to patrol several other countries with drones, many of which have killed innocent people. The fact that devastating sanctions on Iran have led to widespread economic problems and a 26% inflation rate seems to have also escaped him. Gosh, why would anyone fear war is on the way?
2. He has allowed Iran to pass so many 'red lines' in its pursuit of nuclear-weapons capability that it is hard to imagine what line he would not allow Tehran to cross.
No mention of the "crippling sanctions" being imposed on Iran? No mention of the fact that neither the Israeli nor the American intelligence communities could find reliable evidence of a nuclear weapons program, or that Iran has never enriched its fuel to the level necessary for a fission weapon?
The irony here is how Kagan talks about taking tough measures against Iran and deterring them from crossing "red lines" while in the same piece claims Senator Paul's warnings about war are "shrill" absurdities. Perhaps he expects Iran and the U.S. will sort out their differences over a game of Scrabble.
3. America's foreign policy today is hardly one of militaristic, imperialistic determination to intervene. Apart from the evil 'neocons' — virtually none of who, it should be noted, have advocated attacking Iran, invading Syria or Yemen, or launching other adventures that Senator Paul seems so to fear...
Neocons haven't advocated invading Iran, Syria or Yemen? That would be true ... if it wasn't completely false. The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol has been clamoring for war for years, claiming that the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador was an "engraved invitation" to use military force against Iran. Former Vice President Dick Cheney similarly advocated air strikes against Iran while in office, a plot even the Pentagon thought too crazy and blocked. Neocons have been beating the drums for war against most of the Middle East, including "overt preparations" for attacks on Iran. I could go on, but you get the point. Google any neocon's name + "attack Iran" and you're guaranteed to get hits.
Kagan goes on to criticize Paul's appreciation for George Kennan, Truman's dovish ambassador to the Soviet Union, lauding NSC-68 that "established the principle that a Soviet gain anywhere was a loss to the free world." NSC-68 became the dominant strategy behind the cold war. While it may have helped defeat the Soviet Union, it also led us to incredibly brutal and unsuccessful wars like Vietnam, as well as 50 years worth of foreign policy blunders, up to and including assisting in the rise of Pol Pot, murdering rebels in Latin America and assisting the mujahedin (which later morphed into al Qaeda) in fighting the Soviets in Iran.
Rand Paul invoked Reagan for the right reasons — while Reagan may have used Nitz and NSC-68 as a strategy guide, as Senator Paul pointed out, he knew the value of effective diplomacy in solving international problems before they led to war. This, not armament, is the legacy cited by Paul; few would have celebrated Reagan's legacy if he had shut down diplomatic ties with the Soviets and opted for hot war in order to "contain" communism, rather than a delicate but relatively peaceful parity that ultimately led to the demise of the Evil Empire.
4. The core of Kennan's historical model, after all, was that Russia and not Communism was the problem, and the solution was containing Soviet Russia rather than responding to all of the various manifestations of Communist ideology around the world. It was, in other words, the antithesis of what Senator Paul is proposing vis-à-vis the Salafists.
Here again, Kagan misses the point. If the United States had viewed Soviet Russia as the problem, as opposed to any and all manifestations of communism around the world, much of the bloodshed of the Cold War, particularly in Southeast Asia and Latin America, might have been avoided. After World War II, Soviet expansion was negligible; by the time the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, communist movements the world over were nearly non-existent. In retrospect, it seems there was very little real threat that communism would actually take over the world. "Containment" then, seems to have accomplished little but enhancing the power of dictators and murdering the poor the world over.
5. But a true realist, as Senator Paul describes himself, eschews doctrine.
Perhaps, rather than eschewing doctrine, Kagan and other self-described "realists" should consider long-term implications of policy decisions and the impact of such decisions on people around the world, rather than strictly "defining the environment, the threat, the objectives, and the resources that are or could be made available — and then choosing the best combination of tools in each circumstance to achieve goals with minimal negative side effects."
The real question is whether NSC-68, embraced by Obama, Bush and most of their predecessors for the last sixty years, continues to be the best policy to follow in spite of the damage done to our reputation abroad and the countless lives lost in its pursuit. An honest critique by an elected official of what our national goals are, why they exist and whether they are in our long-term interest is long overdue. This is one of the main points of Rand Paul's revolutionary speech, and why it should be contemplated with an open mind.