Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) emphasis on restraint and avoiding unnecessary wars seems an odd thing to say about current U.S. foreign policy, especially since we recently finished up our 10-year war in Iraq and are in the process of removing our troops from Afghanistan.
But the point of Paul's recent speech at the kickoff luncheon for the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference was not to critique the current administration's war policies — it was to rebuke the hawks in both parties, in particular his own.
Conservatives within the GOP are not all unanimous on the use of American military power. Hardliners champion the global responsibility of the indispensible nation to solve the world’s problems, while others hold moral reservations about the use of violence.
Rand Paul seems to fall into the latter category.
Citing his personal beliefs as a Christian, the senator’s latest remarks were calculated to strike at the heartstrings of a socially conservative audience. In questioning the moral basis of American’s interventionist foreign policy, Rand Paul cleverly weaved “What would Jesus do” rhetoric into his anti-war speech.
Many of Paul’s remarks are principally correct: With great power comes great responsibility. Leaders of great nations have to use the instruments of war judiciously and constitutionally as a last resort. Referencing the brutality of war and the culture of violence, he subtly transitioned to a pro-life message: “I don't think a civilization can long endure that does not have respect for all human life born and not yet born.”
Against what he perceives as excessive military intervention, Rand Paul makes a familiar libertarian accusation against taxation unwisely spent on foreign aid dispensed to “countries intolerant of Christians and openly hostile”.
Mostly this was a speech calculated to appeal to the conservative base. However the larger purpose might be a critique of conservative Republican foreign policy. Republican hardliners define American “leadership” primarily in terms of how many foreign conflicts and disputes the U.S. can become involved in, which Paul reasonably views as misguided and unsustainable. It is no surprise that he made an oblique reference to a “misguided” John-McCain push to send aid to Syrian rebels.
The way Rand Paul picks his battles could give us a glimpse into the issues at stake for the 2016 republican presidential nomination. But as with all elections, it is always too early to tell.