Goldilocks On Acid

In a Day’s End post a couple of days ago, I mocked Rand Paul’s inscrutable national policy “vision” speech at the Heritage Foundation as advancing a policy of “aggressive non-interventionism, or belligerent neutrality, or something.” Not being a national security expert, I didn’t know if there were maybe subtleties I was missing. But according to a WaPo op-ed from the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan (the ex-neocon who if nothing else wields a very sharp pen), Paul’s speech was even more incoherent than it first appeared:

With Polonius-like wisdom, he calls for a strategy that “balances but does not appease,” that is “robust but also restrained.” He does not want America to be “everywhere all the time” or “nowhere any of the time” but thinks that “maybe, we could be somewhere, some of the time.”

He acknowledges that “there are times, such as existed in Afghanistan with the bin Laden terrorist camps, that do require intervention.” But he doesn’t want to put “boots on the ground and weapons in the hands of freedom fighters everywhere.”

Fair enough, but since U.S. foreign policy occurs precisely in the wide space between doing nothing anywhere and doing everything everywhere, these recommendations are not very helpful. How do we determine where and when to act, and in response to what dangers?

While Paul seeks to be “unconventional,” says Kagan, he’s adopted the very conventional idea that “radical Islam” is precisely equivalent to the Cold War Soviet Union. He just isn’t sure what he wants to do about it. And then there’s the big flashpoint of Iran, where Paul’s daddy got himself into so much trouble during last year’s Republican presidential debates:

Even on Iran, where Paul claims to feel that all dissent is muzzled, he is not much of a dissenter. He insists that containing Iran should not be “preemptively” ruled out, but he does not argue that containment is the right policy, even though many realists do. Instead, he repeats the mantra that “all options are on the table.”

A true dissenter would have the temerity to declare that a nuclear Iran, although unfortunate, is nevertheless tolerable and that the military option ought not to be on the table.

Instead, Rand Paul is talking like Goldilocks on acid (my characterization–not Kagan’s!). He’s for everything cautious and nothing terribly controversial, while denying there’s any contradictions. Maybe that’s enough to get him under the velvet rope of acceptable GOP foreign policy opinion so that he can run for president mainly on is atavistic domestic policy views. But not if much of anybody actually pays attention to what he’s saying.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.