How do you think Republican primary voters feel about a President who proposes to soften America’s support for Israel, allow the Russians to operate without resistance in Eastern Europe, offer concession after concession to Iran on their nuclear program, and refrain from using US power abroad to preserve American interests? Obama may be complicating Rand Paul’s potential run for the Republican nomination by putting Paul’s least-crazy foreign policy ideas into practice. Rand Paul will be starting the 2016 nominating race with Obama as his running-mate and Alex Jones as his Secretary of State.
Obama’s relatively hands-off approach to global affairs, coupled with an effort to mend our relations with the Arab world may have been broadly welcome in 2009 after the misery of the Bush years, but it didn’t take long for chaos to fill the gap left by receding US engagement. When that happened, there was no plan in place to cope. In time, Obama has settled on a template of foreign policy options that ranges all the way from smiling handshakes to finger-wagging.
No one outside the reinforced concrete walls of Cheney’s ideological bunker wants a return to the Bush years, but a consensus is emerging that there must be some policy space available between hair-trigger roaming regime change and isolationism. We are not alone on the planet. Events in Syria and Liberia and Honduras affect us. They do not require the same level of engagement as a similar problem in Kansas, but they are not isolated from us. Chaos ignored will suppurate. It is better to deal with serious foreign problems early rather than let them reach our borders.
It is possible to wield power using a minimum of direct military force to contain the worst consequences of violent opportunism around the world. We can build alliances with countries that share our values. We can use our vast economic power to influence and punish. We can deploy military force where necessary with minimal risk.
These options work when they are coordinated with a clear set of principles and backed up by credible leadership. With principles and leadership, it then becomes easier to build and maintain alliances that not only help us wield power, but help us check the potential excesses of our power, preventing the kind of disastrous unilateral action that we experienced in the last Administration.
In our Constitutional system, that combination of leadership and principles comes from the Oval Office. Under Obama, we have lacked leadership and clear principles in foreign policy. That vacancy may still be preferable to what we experienced under Bush II, but it will not likely help Rand Paul in 2016.
If Paul runs for President as just about everyone expects, he will be in the unenviable position of explaining why Americans should embrace not merely a continuation, but an intensification of Obama’s approach to foreign affairs. That is likely to be a tough sell to a Republican audience.