Rand Paul has already won: Republicans are rethinking foreign policy

Conservatism seems to be appealing again, thanks in no small part to the “get off my lawn establishment politician!” flavor of the increasingly-difficult-to-ignore libertarian wing of the big tent. And it’s not difficult to understand why. When a policy push advocates, generally, for a less intrusive government regarding taxation and electronic spying and nanny state moralizing, free people tend to sit up and take notice.

But there’s one area critics of libertarianism have at least a marginally sturdy leg to stand on: foreign policy/national defense. And it’s not because libertarians don’t care about these issues; rather, it’s that there hasn’t been a unified voice concerning these issues from a group that is fairly consistent on most other major policy ideas, making criticism an easy task.

In short, libertarians, as vocal a group on politics as any you’re likely to meet, shy away en masse from making definitive statements about foreign policy. But there may be some very good — and surmountable — reasons for that. One of them is an exhaustion with the interventionist philosophy of neocons, one many libertarians feel has kept the US in expensive and bloody wars and conflicts in different parts of the world for far too long. And it’s a philosophy that, oddly, continues still.

No one is suggesting it’s not an utter tragedy what happened to those Nigerian schoolgirls. But is it a conflict we should be involving ourselves in? And why? Those questions have yet to be answered or — frankly — even posed.

Another is simply that same “get off my lawn!” mentality, just applied to citizens of other countries. And, for the most part, libertarians will tell you no one has listened to their calls for a less invasive US, and that has left them adrift without a strong, vocal leader on that particular issue. Until now.

Now, in fact, everyone seems to be listening.

For example, despite presenting Sen. Marco Rubio as a bit more hawkish on foreign policy than he was just a few years ago, this WSJ piece leaves little doubt that even a more hawkish Rubio doesn’t come close to the philosophy of a McCain or Graham:

Calling for sanctions against the Venezuelan government for human-rights violations and heavier economic pressure on Russia because of its policy toward Ukraine, the Florida Republican seems to be defying a declining appetite for U.S. engagement abroad.

But his approach, aides say, aims to be more nuanced than the hawkish postures taken by past GOP presidential nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney. Mr. Rubio’s brand of foreign policy reflects, they say, a commitment to American might along with caution toward military intervention.

Mr. Rubio on Friday night appeared for the first time this election cycle in New Hampshire, the host of the nation’s first presidential primary and a veteran-heavy state that has favored candidates known as defense hawks, Messrs. McCain and Romney among them.

“If you want to decrease the likelihood that your military will ever have to go to war, make it a military that could never lose any war,” Mr. Rubio told about 300 people gathered for a Rockingham County Republican Committee dinner in New Castle.

Then there’s the arguably measured and thoughtful approach of Sen. Ted Cruz as he prepares to make a trip to Ukraine to determine what he calls the “enormous threat from a resurgent Russia”:

“(Russian President) Vladimir Putin has been quite naked about his desire to reconstitute as much as possible the old Soviet Union,” Cruz said. “I have a particular responsibility to assess firsthand the current and future military threats that could jeopardize our safety and the security of our allies.”

Assessing current and future threats firsthand is a far cry from sending troops to meet the Russian aggression on an ideological battlefield.

And of course, there is the recent conversion of sorts of the libertarian hero Sen. Rand Paul, who has begun to compare himself with the always circumspect — but never cowardly — foreign policy of Ronald Reagan:

Paul, 51, never ran for, or held, public office before being elected to the Senate in 2010. Whether political maneuvering or philosophical adjustment, Paul has been thinking about the political hurdle foreign policy could present in his White House bid since 2012, when he regularly campaigned in front of packed crowds as a surrogate for his father. Back then, Paul lamented that his father’s foreign policy views were hampering the elder Paul’s prospects.

“I think he attracts a lot of people, actually, with the non-interventionist foreign policy. And then there are some who like it, but feel like, ‘Well gosh, I still want somebody who cares that Iran might get nuclear weapons,’” Paul told Roll Call two years ago while stumping for his father in New Hampshire. During a brief interview on Wednesday, Paul stood by the comparison of his foreign policy to Reagan’s, saying that his views are evolving.

“I try to make sure people know what my foreign policy is, and my foreign policy is something that’s a gradual thing that we both come to grips with and present in the sense that, three years ago I was an ophthalmologist and didn’t have a foreign policy,” Paul told the Washington Examiner. “Foreign policy depends on the events as they are, so you really have to judge each instance of what’s going on around the world by events.”

All of this suggests a strange and hopeful thing: that the people’s popular thought — one desiring a scaling back of an aggressively interventionist foreign policy — has actually influenced the policy positions of some leading conservatives on the Hill. And as those leaders vocalize that change in thought, libertarians, as a movement, may find it easier to debate and be open about what they collectively think about foreign policy as well.

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