Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Rand Paul Holds a "Realist Foreign Policy" VIew

Whatever that is.

WaPo reports:
“What you have occurring is the first real policy engagement between a resurgent realist foreign policy worldview lead by Sen. Paul, versus the interventionist McCain and Graham wing which has been dominant in the party since 9/11,” said one Paul ally familiar with the senator’s thinking.
Rand's view doesn't sound non-interventionist to me. It sounds more like a "let's intervene only when government propaganda has been effective enough in spooking the people to be in favor of war" policy.

It should be noted that the 9-11 demarcation line referenced by the person "familiar with" Rand's thinking is no demarcation line at all.

Greneda, Panama and the first incursion into Iraq all came before 9-11.

When Murray Rothbard in 1984 discussed the average American's view on war, was he anticipating Rand's "realist" foreign policy view? Rothnard wrote:
[T]he average American cheered the U.S. invasion of Grenada to the rafters, righteously enjoying the sight of the U.S. clobbering a tiny island devoid of even a regular army, he has quite a different view of getting bogged down in some hellhole in a perpetual and losing war, or in being incinerated in a nuclear holocaust.

The average American, in short, possesses that “complex of vaunting and fear” that Garet Garrett noted as the hallmark of citizens of Empire. On the one hand, emotional identification with "your" nation-State, and a desire for it to bully and dominate the entire world. On the other, hysterical panic at the machinations of some satanic Enemy or other, an Enemy who is monolithic, omnicompetent and malevolent, and who can only be faced down with continuing shows of force, the only thing which he can "understand." To the extent that he is non-interventionist, the American is interested not in justice, but in fear of stalemate, fear of loss of face, fear of not being able to show that his nation is the best and biggest by winning a relatively quick victory.


  1. Bob,

    Put Rothbard down for a few minutes and pick up a realist international relations book like Politics Among Nations by Hans Morgenthau or a neorealist international relations book like Theory of International Politics by Kenneth Waltz - for starters.

    I'm not quite sure what Rand's position is because he is not a true non-interventionist but, at the same time, he doesn't appear - at least to me - to be jingoistic moron.

    I met Murray Rothbard at a Mises University held at Claremont in the early 90s - and I thought and think he is great - but he does not end discussion on all matters.

    1. Hell of a crew,those realists. You forgot to add to the list:

      Henry Kissinger]
      Zbigniew Brzezinski
      Brent Scowcroft

    2. I didn't say I agreed with them but your "Whatever that is" quote seemed to denote your confusion as to what is a realist perspective. Just trying to help you out a little by pointing to perhaps the two classic academic treatments of realism and neo-realism.

  2. Realism is not a consistent non-interventionist position, instead being strictly based in what they consider a nation's strategic interests. They are not even, in general, concerned about economic affairs at all except perhaps in the guise of how those economic affairs allow a nation to build up their military might to enhance their own security. It tends to be an almost completely inhuman way to look at the world of states; states are "black boxes" that act completely rationally in the pursuit of those interests.

    That being said, Rand Paul is not a realist (and, truth be told, would likely find it difficult to articulate what I just said in terms of American foreign policy). Instead, he is an "I want to be the President of the United States"-ist, which means he has to be Sober and Serious (tm) to distance himself in the eyes of the American commissariat in Washington. He's allowed, somewhat, to not be for every war the United States could potentially fight, but that's about it.

    Also a name for you to add to the list: Stephen Walt, who is certainly worth reading.

  3. Realism: Only attack weak countries that possess stuff worth stealing.

  4. "Whatever that is" is a rather dismissive attitude toward a well-developed theory of international relations dating back to Thucydides' writing on the Peloponnesian War, ca. 5th century BC. It's rather straight forward in its basic premises:

    1) International relations are anarchic. That is, they don't ascribe to a higher power. (See how most people pretty much ignore the UN? Realism in practice.)

    2) States are the major players -- not individuals, movements, schools.

    3) States behave in a rational way: they pursue self-interest and compete for resources.

    4) States are interested in survival.

    Notice that ideology is not a big factor here. So, look at Syria. Russia doesn't oppose us there for ideological reasons, says the Realist, but because they want to check our power and influence to the good of their own national interest, pure and simple.

    So, Paul's argument would be, essentially, "Until it's proven that it is somehow in our self-interest and a benefit to our security to attack Syria, we shouldn't do it." That's not unreasonable or worthy of a "Whatever that is." dismissal.