It is very difficult to clearly understand what happens on the global stage because many of those who offer their opinion on what is happening do not have the off-the-record back story between the principles involved. This is no different for the average follower of current events as it is for a United States senator. To overcome this deficiency, it is important to have an understanding of the different theories of foreign policy that are at play at any given time during any given administration. It is no different for Senator Rand Paul.
There is no doubt that many--one in particular--here at Red State just plain dislike Sen. Paul for one reason or another. Some think him to be just a carbon copy of his father, former Texas congressman Ron Paul, who had a very ignorant outlook on the issues surrounding the Middle East. Some think that Sen. Paul is just woefully ill prepared to handle the reigns of US foreign policy and nothing more. Yet some seem to be so enamored with hatred for the man that they will go out of their way to try not to understand and honestly assess what it is that Sen. Paul is actually saying.
First, what is Paul saying? Since the situation in Ukraine has offered a great example of the multiple foreign policy theories in action, examining how Sen. Paul has changed with the situation in Ukraine is a good place to look. There is no secret about Sen. Paul's leaning to the "isolationist" stance when discussing foreign policy, but his stance hardly indicates that he is anything like his father. One quick for instance, Ron Paul's solution for the Middle East was to completely withdraw from the region and conduct only trade agreements. Rand Paul's solution is more reminiscent to the containment policy of early Cold War-era diplomat George Kennan regarding the Soviet Union. Just on the basic understanding of these two policies alone there becomes clear a drastic difference between father Paul and son Paul. But back to Ukraine.
The initial reaction by Sen. Paul to Russia's actions in Ukraine were simply to remind them of treaties that they had agreed to and that any divergence from the spirit of those treaties would result in economic hardship for Russia in the future. Fast forward to just a few days ago to a piece by Sen. Paul in Time magazine, and that sentiment of punishing Russia economically still exists. Paul explains that the US should take steps to hit Russia where it would do the most damage, natural gas exports to Europe, and "We should also suspend American loans and aid to Ukraine because currently these could have the counterproductive effect of rewarding Russia. Ukraine owes so much money to Russia that America would essentially be borrowing from China to give to Russia. The U.S. should suspend its participation in this summer’s G-8 summit and take the lead in boycotting the event in Sochi. If Putin’s troops remain in Crimea at the time of the summit, Russia should be expelled from the group." If there has been a change in his stance on the Ukrainian situation, it has been only to increase the pressure on Russia without seeking to actually intervene militarily.
Which brings up the notion of "chest pumping." To be clear there would be a substantial provocation if Sen. Paul's plan to redeploy the missile defense shield in Central and Eastern Europe transpired. However, this redeployment would be dependent on the beneficiaries paying much of the bill for this plan. Despite this, the notion that this would constitute an act of war and, therefore, a "flip flop" on the part of Paul would also have to be pegged to President George W. Bush since he was the first to deploy elements of the missile defense in places like Poland. No senator, as has been pointed out by the Rand Paul detractors as well as the Senator himself, has advocated military action, and the allusion to such a claim on behalf of Paul is an act of willful disingenuousness on the part of those making such claims. But "chest pumping" does not necessarily equate to the rattling of sabers.
Differences between Sen. Paul and the darling of many on the Right, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, seem to actually be nonexistent. The piece that has been tossed about pointing to this division shows absolutely no difference between Cruz and Paul. Cruz, speaking to ABC News' Jonathan Karl, explained that he believes "U.S. leadership is critical in the world" and that it is vital for the US to "defend our values.” But he also says in this same interview that "I agree with him [Sen. Paul] that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad." So unless there is going to be some massive repudiation of Cruz's foreign policy stance, as there has been with Paul's since they basically echo one another, then the specter of disingenuousness will be raising its head yet again.
Lastly, Sen. John McCain has been quoted as saying that Ukraine should be admitted in to NATO, even after Russian forces marched into Crimea. Paul has been quick to say this would not be a good idea, and he is right to do so. With the situation as it currently is, Crimea on the verge of splitting from Ukraine and either being a satellite state of Russia or being annexed completely and Russian troops massing on the border of Crimea and Ukraine, admitting Ukraine into the alliance would be a huge gamble. Why? Because if Russia does call the bluff of the West and cross the border of Ukraine with troops, the members of the alliance would be obligated to launch a military operation against the action under Article V of the alliance charter. To do so would create a massive crisis that the US is ill prepared for and does not want. To not act on this obligation would only cause more discredit to the West in general and the US specifically. It is one thing to not aid militarily a loosely held ally, but something completely different to ignore clear military obligations for a fellow NATO member.
No, there has been no flip flop on the part of Paul regarding Ukraine. What there has been is a consistent championing of a plan that would focus all of the non-military tools available to the US against Russia's aggression in Ukraine. Sen. Paul has stated that "No, I don't naively think that dialogue always works, but I believe we should avoid the rigidity of saying that dialogue never works." It is true that actions speak louder than words, especially on the global stage. But actions do not always have to be military ones, especially when the people of the US are not willing to do so and the treasury of the US cannot possibly support it.