Last week, in an article for the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf penned a complimentary piece about “America’s Most Important Anti-War Politician,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).
Friedersdorf concluded that non-interventionists on both sides of the aisle should focus more on the legislative branch and less on the presidency if they’d like to see the “path to war” run through the Congress, as opposed to an increasingly imperial executive.
The article was prompted by Paul’s solitary stand against war with Iran last week, when the junior senator blocked bipartisan passage of new sanctions to bring context to the use of force.
In his floor speech, Sen. Paul remarked:
Many in this body cannot get boots on ground fast enough in a variety of places, from Syria to Libya to Iran. We don’t just send boots to war. We send our young Americans to war. Our young men and women, our soldiers, deserve thoughtful debate.
Before sending our young men and women into combat, we should have a mature and thoughtful debate over the ramifications of and over the authorization of war and over the motives of the war.
Paul prefaced this statement with brief — but incisive — analysis of the Founder’s hesitation to give the president the power to declare war. Perhaps unlike any other command, the authority to wage war summons the likeness of monarchy.
I should be clear — Paul wasn’t up there to block passage of new and effective sanctions against Iran.
Rather, he sounded a wake-up call against a high-flying presidency, unencumbered by the fundamental checks and balances, separation of powers and representative government framed by constitutional principle — not illusions of American empire.
As Friedersdorf notes, Paul’s lonely voice “against war with Iran… and the extension of the Patriot Act… and the National Defense Authorization Act… and the War in Libya” ought to earn him some allies.
One of the things Rand does better than his father is articulate the dangers of unfettered presidential power when it comes to military intervention and our increasingly overbearing national security apparatus. Perhaps more importantly, he musters order against the extravagance of executive war powers, the danger of congressional inertia and public submission to status quo.
His father may feel the same, and he’s undoubtedly informed a critical mass of young conservatives about the consequences of robust interventionism — countervailing alliances, terrorism and nuclear proliferation immediately spring to mind. But while Ron Paul has assembled ranks of fiercely loyal voters (who will never, ever cast their lot with a saber-rattling Rick Santorum) and vastly exceeded expectations set in 2008, it ultimately falls to his son to communicate his message on foreign policy in a sober and eloquent manner.
Contrary to misunderstandings expressed by Rep. Paul’s critics, it isn’t about “blaming America first,” allowing Iran a nuclear weapon or “isolationism.” But he has trouble getting his point across, earning him the slings and arrows of the more conventional Republicans.
In his floor speech last week, Rand effectively communicated his concerns with America’s perpetual state of war. More than a decade has passed since we were at peace. It’s become the new normal.
Since America’s unipolar moment, both sides of partisan aisle have increasingly accepted the introduction of military force into existing controversies and conflicts. Ordnance, invasion and occupation have become routine policy alternatives.
As Doug Bandow noted on this very site, President George H.W. Bush deployed troops to Panama and Iraq. President Clinton followed suit, through intervention in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo. President Obama inherited wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then projected an armed presence to Libya and Uganda. Most of these conflicts had little to do with American security.
Only the mission to Afghanistan to eradicate the Taliban and dismantle al Qaeda could be defined as a defensive war effort. Even the first Gulf War, which met the measure of just war theory, was a response to unprecedented aggression, compelled by the aegis of UN initiative — not an immediate threat to the American way of life.
The rest of these conflicts can best be described as the international social work of an imperial presidency — one that must flex its muscle to demonstrate its demand.
The problem is, we’re broke and regardless what you think of Ron Paul, it’s not “crazy” to problematize an unsustainable national debt linked to our profligate power problem, and an executive un-checked.