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Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul defended his libertarian-leaning philosophy on foreign policy and national security during an interview on Tuesday with the editor of The Wall Street Journal’s hawkish editorial page.
The likely contender for the Republican presidential nomination was interviewed by Paul Gigot at the newspaper’s CEO Council, an annual gathering of influential business leaders, some of whom are regular donors to political campaigns. The discussion covered an array of foreign policy issues, including congressional authorization for military force, National Security Agency surveillance programs and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
As outlined by Politico, Paul insisted that his more isolationist-oriented views on foreign policy and defense are solidly in line with mainstream Republicans. “This is not a small movement, nor is it easy to say people like myself, who believe in less intervention, can be characterized as people who don’t believe in a strong national defense, ” he argued. “That’s a caricature. I’d like to fight that, but we’ll see what happens.”
The senator claimed that if he is “ever commander-in-chief, ” war would be a “last resort, ” chosen as an option only when necessary and without any “eagerness on my part.”
Paul has long sought to refute claims that he is an absolute isolationist, and he reiterated Tuesday that he believes some intervention is necessary when truly called for. In recent years, Paul has made overtures to hawkish donors and policy leaders, and presented public addresses designed to place his foreign policy in the tradition of former President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” vision. Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal’s Gigot aggressively asked Paul whether he believes someone with his views on foreign policy and defense could make it through a Republican primary.
Attempting to demonstrate the viability of his positions, the Kentucky senator cited a recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll that indicated 45 percent of Iowans support the hawkish Arizona Sen. John McCain’s style of foreign policy, while 41 percent are in agreement with Paul’s approach.
“We’ve been everywhere, all the time, we’re about to bankrupt our country, there’s great danger in what we’ve been doing, ” Paul contended. “So I want less. McCain wants more. He wants 15 countries more, 15 wars more.”
McCain’s communications director, Brian Rogers, quickly offered a rejoinder to Paul’s verbal potshot. “It’s hard to take seriously the claims of someone who repeats debunked conspiracy theories spread by America’s adversaries that Senator McCain met with ISIS, ” Rogers declared.
When asked his opinion of the extension of the protracted negotiations with Iran over its worrisome nuclear program, Paul stressed that he opposes an Iran with the capability to produce nuclear weapons, and supports utilizing all tools available to prevent such a reality. But the senator also indicated opposition to imposing further sanctions on Iran while negotiations are still ongoing.
“There’s a certain bit of irony for the group that believes in virtually unlimited power for the president to conduct war, but they want to circumscribe the president’s ability to conduct diplomacy, ” he explained.
Turning to the topic of defense spending, Paul emphasized that he believes national defense is the federal government’s most important expenditure, but he is very much against unlimited spending, even for security purposes.
“There are people on our side, and I think they’re absolutely wrong, there are conservatives [who say] ‘I’ll spend anything, I don’t care if it bankrupts the world, ” the potential presidential aspirant fumed. “…That’s wrong. Because you’ll be a weaker country, you’ll be more vulnerable. I truly believe the No. 1 threat to national security is our debt.”