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Last Wednesday, Kentucky’s Republican junior senator, Rand Paul, addressed the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on recent foreign policy issues.  He expressed concern over the fact that, when President Obama engaged U.S. armed forces in the Libya conflict, lawmakers in Washington were left out of foreign policy decisions reserved to Congress by the Constitution.  “This administration willfully ignored the requirements of both the Constitution and War Powers Act, thus treating Congress as an irrelevancy,” Senator Paul told the SAIS conferees.

Senator Paul suggested that American foreign policy should be more moderate; recognizing constitutional constraints and demonstrating fiscal discipline.  “We need a conservative constitutional model for foreign policy,” he said.

He outlined two foundational premises, giving historical examples in support of each:

  • Intervention everywhere, all the time, leads to unintended consequences.  U.S. support of Bin Laden and the mujahedin to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan being a prime example.
  • We can no longer afford our current foreign policy.  “I am convinced,” said the senator, “that what we need is a foreign policy that works … within the confines of the Constitution and the realities of our fiscal crisis.”

He quoted President James Madison, who wrote that, "The Constitution supposes what history demonstrates, that the Executive is the branch most prone to war and most interested in it, therefore the Constitution has with studied care vested that power in the Legislature." 

Senator Paul went on to remind his audience that Congress has abdicated its role in declaring war.  “This administration, in an ode to Orwell, now even calls war a kinetic activity,” he said.  “War has been defined down to further abdicate everyone from responsibility.”

Suggesting that intervention against the will of another nation such as Afghanistan or Libya should require Declaration of War by Congress, Senator Paul predicted that proper implementation of such constitutional obstacles purposefully make it more difficult to go to war.  “That was the Framers' intention: To make war less likely,” he said.

“We did not declare war or authorize force to begin war with Libya,” observed Senator Paul.  “This is a dangerous precedent. We are now blatantly ignoring the Constitution and the War Powers Act.  Under the War Powers Act the President must get authorization from Congress within 60 days of starting military action. But it has been well over two months since the President intervened in Libya and he continues to flagrantly defy the law on this matter.”

“It is time for all Americans, and especially conservatives, to become as critical and reflective when examining foreign policy as we are with domestic policy,” said Senator Paul.  He went on to observe that it is the soldier's job to do his duty; but it is the citizen's job to question their government—particularly when it comes to putting our soldiers in harm's way.  “And of course,” he said, “the question we are forced to ask today is:  Can we afford this?”

Concluding that he looks forward to the day when American can return to a Constitutionally-based foreign policy, Senator Paul told the conferees:  “I hope this occurs before the crisis occurs and not amidst a crisis. To that end, I will fight to have a voice for those who wish to see a saner, more balanced approach to foreign policy.”

Sen. Rand Paul‘s Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy speech, May 8, 2011

Audio of Sen. Rand Paul‘s Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy speech

Watch Sen. Rand Paul on CNN Situation Room w/ Wolf Blitzer:

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About Thomas McAdam

At various times I have been a student, a soldier, a college Political Science teacher, a political campaign treasurer, and legal adviser to Louisville's Police Department and Board of Aldermen. I now practice law and share my political opinions with anyone who will listen.

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