Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) authored a guest column in Wednesday’s “Ideas” blog on the Time magazine website, forcefully arguing against President Barack Obama’s newfound love of interventionist Mideast policy and drawing sharp distinctions between the proposed Syria strikes and the post-9/11 Afghan war.
Expanding on former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assertion that, for the U.S., “war should be the politics of last resort,” Paul offered an unequivocal corollary: “America should only go to war to win.”
As The Washington Post observed Tuesday, Paul has garnered the necessary clout, both in the public eye and within the Senate, to push a discussion of the GOP’s longstanding hawkish stance on military intervention toward a new, far more limited paradigm; one a close Paul ally described as “a resurgent realist foreign policy.”
Syria fails to pass any of the tests Paul ascribes as necessary requisites for Washington to even consider a military strike: threatened American interests, threats against the interests of American allies, a clear path to victory, an exhaustion of nonmilitary, political options, and a clear understanding of our enmities and alliances on the ground.
War should occur only when America is attacked, when it is threatened or when American interests are attacked or threatened. I don’t think the situation in Syria passes that test. Even the State Department argues that “there’s no military solution here that’s good for the Syrian people, and that the best path forward is a political solution.”
The U.S. should not fight a war to save face. I will not vote to send young men and women to sacrifice life and limb for stalemate. I will not vote to send our nation’s best and brightest to fight for anything less than victory. If American interests are at stake, then our goal should not be stalemate.
If American interests are at stake, then it is incumbent upon those advocating for military action to convince Congress and the American people of that threat. Too often, the debate begins and ends with an assertion that our national interest is at stake without any evidence of that assertion. The burden of proof lies with those who wish to engage in war.
Of course, Paul goes on to raise far more questions than the Obama Administration has even publicly countenanced: are we on the same side as Islamic rebels? What will our involvement do to Syrian-Israeli tensions? Are we fighting for the spread of democracy or Islamic theocracy? What happens to the Christian minority – nowadays one of the first casualties of any destabilized Middle Eastern state?
“The President and his Administration have not provided good answers to any of these questions,” he writes. “Those who seek military action have an obligation to publicly address these concerns before dragging our soldiers into another Middle Eastern war. Shooting first and aiming later has not worked for us in the past, and it should not be our game plan now.”
Paul said late Wednesday he would not filibuster a Senate vote on whether to authorize war against Syria, evidently to avoid taking a stance that could be viewed as an obstruction of Congress’ Constitutional power to deliberate and vote on a declaration of war. But he’s made it clear that any such vote should happen quickly – and that he plans to lead the “no” movement from the front.