What Does a National Defense Moderate Look Like? Rand Paul?

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[Caption: Explosion Noise]

A Moderate Position on National Defense is the Balance Between the Desire for Peace and the Necessity of Defense.  

In a party that is particularly hawkish – known for strong stances on foreign policy, national defense, and a propensity for war- the Paul family has stood out like an NBA center at a miniature golf convention.

As of late Rand Paul has been accused of pandering toward the middle and walking back some previous statements regarding national defense.   But where does Paul honestly stand in the political spectrum regarding national defense and war? Despite some position changes, his approach does appear to be different and his calculation more organic.  One recent position change to increase defense spending also attached a method to pay for the increase in spending by cutting other budgets such as foreign aid, a measure few in any party seemed likely to support. (This retreat may either indicate capitulation to the hawks or a revised approach to move the whole party toward the middle. Only time will tell).

It is easy to imagine, in simple terms, the extremes that bookmark the spectrum.  On one end is an aggressive, war all the time, mentality (not a position that anyone openly espouses) and on the other end is pacifism, or the never go to war ever, ever, ever position (once again, not a position you hear from politicians very often, but some protesters seem to like it). In bird analogies, a hawk or a dove.

Using this rhetorical scale is much more useful than determining what a moderate approach looks like by examining the positions actually taken for and against war. Particularly since that would be a relative scale and subject to the Overton window. As a result it would change depending on the political climate and also have no relevant meaning.  Moderate would then be the default position of whatever the two extremes are in the current political discourse. It is also problematic when electing officials, since the electors could be frustrated by increasing the extremes relative to each other.

In real life we find politicians scattered among the spectrum. Close to the “Yeah, WAR!” side of things we find Lindsey Graham and John McCain.  Graham even remarked that First Amendment free speech rights required limitation in war time (war time seems to be all the time for Graham) and also remarked it would be nice to have a military coup so he could increase defense spending (but only if he were the President. Also, he was kidding?).   Closer to the “No more war!” chants we find Ron Paul, Rand Paul’s well known father most famous for running for President as an issue raiser.  So what does a moderate look like on this issue? A moderate may accept war as a necessity but reject it as a constant state of governance.  It is also fair to say that moderates may arrive at different conclusions, since reasonable minds may differ, even if using the same guiding principles.

Inexplicably, (unless you like the media bias explanation) questions are phrased from a pro-war stance when discussing Rand Paul and national defense. “Is Rand Paul tough enough?” or something to that effect (the, “How much do you like war, a lot or a whole lot?” questions). Why the deference to the most aggressive war hawks, particularly from many who had been historically critical of past war efforts by other administrations?

This assumption against Paul is wearisome, especially considering this was recently a country that appeared to be suffering from war fatigue.  Tired of the scandals, the unending parades of tours for loved ones, the lack of oversight in the VA healthcare for those returning; the general population seemed to be tired of a constant state of war and the unfortunate side effects.  However, with the rise of ISIS and the upcoming elections, the drums of war appear to be starting again.

Here is a short list of why it appears Rand Paul may best embody the moderate position regarding war and national defense.  (As a note, this may not reflect my exact position on national defense, nor the entirety , but is a defense for a more judicial use of war powers).

1] Rand Paul appears to use underlying principles and engages in a fact based, case-by-case analysis instead of instituting impractical litmus tests or positions.  Sometimes this looks like he is changing his stance (and he may be in some regards) but it may also be fact driven, since circumstances change.  This is much better than a one-size-fits-all fight all evil approach, or even a fight all evil in a particular region at any costs approach. Frankly a lot of national defense policy since World War II feels arbitrary and random, picking fights without clear objectives while allowing other threats or corrupt governments to remain in place.  The reality is not only that America should not be the world police, but it clearly is an ineffective police force, leaving a substantial amount of skirmishes unresolved or worse than before.

Paul’s positions may change because a previously identified threat may grow over time or new threats may arise.  Thus it could appear as if Mr. Paul is changing his mind on the issue, when the issue itself didn’t initially require a particular stance, such as military intervention, but instead evolved over time.  This would likely require an assessment of when an actual viable threat is posed to the United States, and relative to the other candidates this threshold may be more difficult to reach.  This is a fact based evaluation of the real threats against the American people and the appropriate defense for each scenario.

Now, some have called this “maddeningly slippery,” and I can agree with that, but there also is some indication that it is a reasonable position.  It allows the plan for national defense to be based on a fact-made case for military action upon evaluation of the threat.  This alone is not sufficient to be considered a moderate on national defense. Many previous presidents felt their call to arms was justified. So this is by no means case closed, but it is an indication that he is at least attempting to balance peace with defense. (Treaties and alliances add a new dimension to this calculation and should rightly be considered but weighed appropriately in the whole context of national interest).

2] Constantly increasing spending in national defense is economic folly. First, because it may be a tab we cannot pay.  A win at all and any cost mentality, constantly requiring more and more programs and a bigger and bigger budget is far from a moderate approach to national defense and constitutes a budgetary blunder. Graham and McCain have called for more defense spending and set this as the only correct policy stance for national security, essentially claiming that if we do not spend more we will be substantially less secure.  War, in particular, is financed through borrowed money and may not be reflected entirely in the national budget.  This indicates that the national defense and war budgets are likely treated separately, though essentially serving the same ends.

Second, there is a point of diminishing returns in spending where the added security is less for each dollar spent.  Assume the first dollar spent gets you ten security units, the next nine and the next eight (this is just for demonstrative purposes).  There would clearly be a point where each dollar spent would add no extra security or such a low amount of security that it would be foolish to invest more. Even if all the money was placed in programs that worked and worked well the amount of extra security past the point of diminishing returns would be severely decreased.  It would be the equivalent of buying 15 fences when two or three would do (That is an analogy. I don’t know the right amount of fences).  It is then completely reasonable to decrease a military budget and still secure effective national defense.

Third, there is a track record of wasteful spending and poor planning in the five-sided offices outside of the Nation’s capital. With bloated budgets, failed programs, lost equipment, and excess equipment shipped overseas it becomes quickly apparent that there is too much to spend in the Pentagon.  Loosing a cool $500 million in equipment is a tragedy (even if considering the slim possibility that it is justified in a time of crisis) but it also indicates overreach of the US military, stationed in poorly fortified and unmanageable territories were there is no declared war. Unlimited resources cannot be committed. Instead a more rational approach should be pursued. Leaving equipment in hostile countries does not increase security, but appears to weaken it.  Such an approach appears to balance peace with defense, and is likely to provide a similar amount of security.

3] Last, and of no small importance, it is a moderate and reasonable approach to turn to Congress to make official declarations of war. Few government endeavors have been as historically abused as the power to make war, often serving the interest of a small group rather than a nation.   The US has done a much better job of at least expressing a national security rationale than other empire builders. However, it has still fallen into the trap of unnecessary military excursions, deeply flawed attempts to use the military in nation building, spreading democracy, humanitarian efforts, and fending off purported existential threats.

Certainly war is unavoidable for a nation.  After 9/11 the United States was completely and totally justified in hunting down and destroying the murderous and ruthless killers of a peaceful citizenry.  But, like most wars, it was a long and painful endeavor, buoyed up  in popular opinion by the justifications of nation building and the unwanted proselytization of democracy to mid-eastern countries.

This only substantiates the need for Congress to openly commit to a war. This ratification by the representatives of this nation’s citizenry is the safe guard against misguided wars, which cannot be avoided entirely, but can be minimized. Instead we are in open and perpetual war for 90 days against any nation we deem worthy of our wrath.

This appears to be the position of Rand Paul as well, requiring, instead of perpetual war, open ratification by the representatives of the people who will spend their blood and fortune on the war. Declaring war was even supported by conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer (despite some ideological difference, I’m a huge fan).  Paul attempted to force the issue and attached it to a water bill, attempting to require Congress to declare war as their constitutional duty (McCain called it bizarre, not surprisingly).  Paul has been rather unmoving on this requirement, and this may be the most important characteristic of a moderate – requiring that war be largely endorsed, not in the polls, but through the constitutionally mandated process.

Mollie Hemingway on CNN, Senior Editor at the great site The Federalist, pointed out that Paul will do what is necessary to be tough when needed but avoid unnecessary conflict. This perhaps is the most moderate and reasonable approach to national defense we have heard for a time and appears to be substantially different from most in the GOP or the single Democrat candidate.  Is Rand Paul the real moderate on national defense? Only time will tell, until then we may need to find a better bird analogy for those in the middle.

James C. Devereaux is an attorney and freedom fanatic. Questions, complaints and hysterics can be sent to james@reasonedliberty.com

**This is not an endorsement of Rand Paul’s candidacy. I have yet to pick a candidate for 2016**

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