It is easy to get lost in the fervor of the upcoming election season, which is just around the corner. This cycle looks to be just as important as the previous three considering that there is a very hot war raging right now within the Republican Party. The Tea Party has targeted just about every high ranking Republican office holder up for election this year that they can and still look to increase their target list. Much of this war is centers on the GOP leadership in Washington being viewed as weak willed when battling President Barack Obama’s agenda, and to be sure, the Tea Party is right to be on the offensive. However, in the event that more Tea Party Conservatives are sent to Washington this year, it is important to remember that they will be greeted by others who will use the cover of domestic policy to mold and shape the newly elected freshmen to fit their foreign policy objectives.
My favorite case in point is the very quick way in which Florida Senator Marco Rubio fell under the spell of Arizona Senator John McCain and South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham(nesty). When the sectarian war in Syria was still very much in its infancy, McCain and Graham set upon Rubio and put him out in front of the cameras making their case for going to war in Syria. In May 2011, merely four months after being sworn in as Senator, Rubio was quickly enticed to co-sponsor a resolution with Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) that was the first step toward advocating that the Obama administration use force to remove Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Rest assured that Rubio, a Tea Party darling before the amnesty battle heated up, was advocating for a policy that many Tea Party Republicans opposed just this past September. As it turns out, Sen. Rubio would end up voting against the very policy he seemed to advocate just four short months after getting to Washington.
Lieberman is no longer in the senate and there is a possibility that Graham may not be when January 2015 comes around, but John McCain certainly will be as he was re-elected in 2010 (thank you Arizona) and will be in full manipulation mode of the newly elected freshmen senators. This is where Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) comes in.
Rand Paul has been a strong voice for Republican rebranding in terms of foreign policy. Beginning with his speech before the Heritage Foundation in February 2013, Paul has been a strong voice of persuasion toward a less interventionist US foreign policy. He has been a major proponent for a kind of containment strategy in the Middle East, particularly concerning Iran. He gave backing to the Obama administration’s use of sanctions against Iran, something many Leftist pundits were in favor of while McCain and his ilk were still seeking harsher dealings with the Persian state. And he has cautiously kept an eye on the nuclear negotiations that became public last November, while McCain and his ilk were deriding the efforts and saying that sanctions were more prudent.
Paul seems to be pushing for a neo-isolationist foreign policy for the United States, and this push stands to be beneficial for the country as well as for the Republican Party. Certainly nothing good, whether in political or real terms, came from the Bush-Cheney vision of foreign policy with the American people. Their vision required something from the nation that sadly does not exist anymore and that is a fortitude to carry out long wars against a very determined enemy. As such, US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have been bogged down by political fighting in Washington and PC rules of engagement in combat zones leading to excessive wastes in lives lost and treasure expended. What Paul seems to be seeking is a means to operate effectively in foreign policy while adhering to the very real atmosphere in Washington DC that a sitting president will never again be able to use conventional military force for a sustained period of time.
Neo-isolationism is not necessarily a bury-your-head-in-the-sand philosophy of those who are too short sighted to be trusted with the reins of US foreign policy, as many in the interventionist crowd claim. Professors Barry Posen and Andrew Ross define neo-isolationism as a fundamentally realist view that organizes the military structure through low expenditures, large powerful navies, technologically superior nuclear arsenals, and domestically garrisoned land forces. This is not to say that Paul seeks to structure the US this way, but it is not necessarily a myopic view of how to structure defense apparatus. The modern state of affairs dictate that the US reform its military and foreign policy regime from a large, burgeoning structure to a smaller, flexible force better suited to carry out quick strikes when needed with the backing of regional allies. The reason for this is because warfare in the 21st century has changed to the point where visions of tank columns clanking through the wilderness toward each other are over, so why spend money on having the capability to fight that sort of war?
Senator Rand Paul is on to something when he talks about the use of containment in the Middle East because it requires that the full force of the US be used to carry it out. Economically, diplomatically, and militarily, containment speaks to a broad vision, a grand strategy, for the US. It is something that many in the Tea Party should listen to.