Rand Paul will use the words of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai to attack President Obama during a major foreign-policy address on Thursday evening.
In recent months, the Kentucky senator’s foreign policy has been called everything from “incoherent” and a “mess” to something visionary that Bill Maher can get behind. Often, he will sound a non-interventionist note which he then contradicts in the next breath by saying something like the U.S. must “militarily destroy” ISIS.
Paul is almost certainly going to run for president, but there is great confusion about his philosophy, and what he would do were he in charge. With the Republican primary soon on the horizon, Paul will attempt to clearly define his foreign policy in a speech to the Center for the National Interest on Thursday evening in New York City.
A draft version of the speech, which was obtained by The Daily Beast, makes it clear that this address will be unlike anything you have heard from a major Republican presidential candidate. In fact, facets of Paul’s philosophy sound like they would be too far left for a Democratic primary stage. Indeed, Paul will use Pakistani activist Malala to criticize Obama’s drone policy from the left.
The education campaigner who was shot in the head by the Taliban challenged Obama about drones when she visited the White House. “It is true that when there’s a drone attack, terrorists are killed, but 500 and 5,000 more people rise against it, and more terrorism occurs, and more bomb blasts occur,” she said afterward.
Paul will argue that such military force does little to combat the issues at the heart of instability. “The world has a dignity problem, with millions of men and women across the Middle East being treated as chattel by their own governments,” Paul will tell the crowd on Thursday. Dignity is a word that will arise throughout the speech that he will say is intended to delineate “the principles we must remember if we are to advance security, peace, and human dignity.”
“The truth is, you can’t solve a dignity problem with military force.”
At another point, by contrast, Paul will repeat a familiar line about secular dictatorships; bemoaning the fact that they are being “replaced by the rise of jihadist movements.” This might seem hard to square with his plea for dignity. Paul has long decried the toppling of secular dictators. Back in September, he told The Daily Beast of Bashar al-Assad: “I’m just saying, if we have a choice of secular dictatorship, versus chaos, then maybe we shouldn’t be involved…” Previously, he had warned that getting rid of dictators would lead to a “jihadist wonderland” in the Middle East. Assad, for his part, has slaughtered hundreds of thousands of his own people, most likely with little regard for their dignity.
It should be noted that for a not-yet-declared candidate, Paul is receiving an unusual amount of scrutiny for his foreign-policy views. Ordinarily, candidates have years to work out their global agendas in relative obscurity. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie—also expected to run for the nomination—has gone as far as to say he’s not thinking a great deal about the matter (although he’s criticized Obama for his policies from time to time). But Paul’s celebrity was cemented, in no small part, due to his position on drones and his opposition to involvement in Libya and Syria—thus he is expected to offer his opinion about international affairs, and he seems all too happy to oblige, even working lines about ISIS into speeches centered on faith and being pro-life.
What’s more: Paul’s views are so different from those associated with the Republican Party, and his candidacy so viable and threatening to the GOP establishment—his battles with John McCain are already the stuff of legend—that his every utterance is analyzed so starkly that you would think he was already the nominee. When he declared his support for bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, liberals wondered where the “supposed non-interventionist” had gone, and the right wing still thought he wasn’t hawkish enough (he spoke out against arming rebels).
“Rather than just a political exercise, we wanted to do something serious,” Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Paul told The Daily Beast of the decision to give the speech at CNI—a think tank established in 1994 by Richard Nixon. “One of the things we’re hoping for in doing it in the forum we’re doing it in… with a bunch of foreign-policy people in the room… is that they’ll listen to the whole thing, and do a good job reporting on it.” A large part of the intention, Stafford said, is to “break out of that discussion” of how to label Paul, which he seems to find problematic and reductive.
The speech was written with the help of Paul’s foreign-policy team of Richard Burt, former ambassador to Germany; Rob Givens, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general from Kentucky; Elise Jordan, Condoleezza Rice’s one-time speechwriter; and Lorne Craner, a former John McCain staffer and the head of the International Republican Institute. There is also a new addition: Janet Grissom, who was once Mitch McConnell’s campaign manager and a member of the George H.W. Bush White House.
“This is the first speech where we’re really approaching it as an overview of his foreign policy that looks at the whole picture,” Stafford said. “You give a speech like this because you want as many people as possible to see it and understand where he’s coming from,” rather than engaging in “politically motivated painting of him in a certain way.”
The whole picture does not include a whole lot of specifics. “Here’s how I see the most important principles that should drive America’s foreign policy,” Paul will tell the crowd. “First, the use of force is and always has been an indispensable part of defending our country… A second principle is that Congress… must authorize the decision to intervene… A third principle is the belief that peace and security require a commitment to diplomacy and leadership,” and last, “we are only as strong as our economy.”
Paul then attempts to outline when, exactly, he believes force is justified: “War is necessary when America is attacked or threatened, when vital American interests are attacked and threatened, and when we have exhausted all other measures short of war.”
Whether or not the country or its interests are at risk of being compromised is highly subjective; so it would seem that an acceptance of Paul’s standard for initiating military involvement would require faith in his judgment more than in his stated policy.
But Jordan told The Daily Beast that there is an adequate amount of detail: “Without being speculative, I think it gives as many concrete examples as you can without being irresponsible.”