The hubbub surrounding recent comments by Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul regarding the origin of ISIS has been deafening, reviving old accusations of isolationism. But the more you listen to Paul, the less accurate that characterization becomes.
Watch this interview with Paul on Hardball with Chris Matthews. If you’re in a hurry, just hang through the first three minutes.
Paul talks about less intervention in the Middle East. That’s the part everyone hears, and many characterize as head-in-the-sand denial of threats against the United States. But Paul adds more that very few seem willing to acknowledge.
There is a good chunk of the Republican Party who thinks that we should think before we act, that war is not always the answer, that war may be the last resort – not the first resort, that we have to defend ourselves – we have to have a strong national defense. But sometimes, we’ve intervened in the Middle East, and sometimes we’ve had unintended consequences.
Regardless of one’s foreign policy predisposition, are these comments really all that radical? Is there a constituency out there for war as a first resort? Can anyone honestly claim that they’re have not been unintended consequences from military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan? Would it be a crime to apply some thought to future military adventures?
I don’t say we leave [the fighting to the Arab states]. I’m more than willing to be a part of the fight. I think providing air support is reasonable, providing armaments to those who are willing and able to fight. So I would provide armaments to the Kurds as well.
In fact, I’d go one step further. I’d promise them a homeland and a state. But I would do it in conjunction with talks with Turkey. It would have to be a three-way discussion.
This is not isolationism, not by any objective measure. It’s not even non-interventionism in the strictest sense. It’s simply less intervention, measured intervention.
Why then do Paul’s critics insist upon portraying his views otherwise? It’s easy to argue against a strawman of pre-WWII isolationism. It’s less so to argue against a nuanced view of measured action in defense of national interests.