Rand Paul and the Tea Party’s foreign policy

Listening to Sen. Rand Paul (R.-Ky) talking about foreign policy this morning, it was hard to believe that this was the same person accused by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of being on the side of terrorists for opposing the renewal of the Patriot Act.

I was curious to find out where the Tea Party stands on the burning foreign-policy issues that have been overshadowed by budget matters since the 112th Congress began. Not only did I agree with most of what Paul said, but many of the points he made had already found their way into this blog.

For example, on Libya, he said we should never have intervened in the first place. Check. On Afghanistan, the death of bin Laden means that America should be able to bring the troops out, or at least hold a full-blown debate. Check. We should not be doing nation-building. Check. We should be careful about the unintended consequences of military intervention. Check. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to talk about Syria, which is ruled by a fellow ophthalmologist, but I guess he and Bashar al-Assad wouldn’t see eye to eye.

In the Q-and-A session following his speech at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Center of Politics and Foreign Relations, he clearly bristled at the “isolationist” label, and seemed to think that liberals treated the Tea Party with “disdain.”

But based on what I heard this morning, he doesn’t sound like a dangerous radical. If I were to put him on one side of the eternal “idealist” versus “realist” debate in foreign policy, he is obviously in the realist camp. In his prepared remarks, Paul argued for a balanced approach to military intervention that would send troops “somewhere, some of the time,” and upheld the Reagan model of foreign policy. He also emphasized the constitutional role of Congress, which he complained had become an “irrelevancy” in matters of war.

Of course, the freshman senator has no foreign-policy experience, and he cited tourist trips to Europe and Mexico as his only foreign travel. But in that he’s hardly alone among elected U.S. officials.

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