Possible 2016 contender Sen. Rand Paul says that the foreign policy potion of his own response to Tuesday's State of the Union address will focus on an old adage from his medical career: "Do no harm."
"I think one the biggest things about foreign policy is that you should think before you act, and that's one of the themes that I'll have tonight is: First, do no harm. As physicians, we're taught first to do no harm, which means think through," the Kentucky Republican said. "You have enormous power as a surgeon. Before you cut into someone, make sure you have the right diagnosis. Try not to make mistakes."
Paul is issuing his own video response, separate from the official message to be delivered by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.
In an interview in his Washington office ahead of the speech by President Barack Obama, Paul used the potential for additional sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as an example where Congress should avoid doing such harm. "My fear is that in eagerness, you know, to put more sanctions on those who are overly eager ... could get us to a point where there are only two solutions: either Iran gets a bomb or there's war, whereas right now we have a third solution which is a little better," he said.
"I've been talking with many Republicans and many Democrats to try to try find a way forward that does not ruin the chance for negotiations. I voted for sanctions in the past with the intention and the hope that we could find a peaceful outcome to this where Iran does not develop nuclear weapons," Paul said. "My fear is that if new sanctions are placed on that, the sanctions coalition will break up."
Paul pointed to recent comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron in opposition to U.S. lawmakers moving ahead with additional sanctions with the P5+1 talks ongoing.
"The proposition that I've been floating has been that we let Iran know that if they don't comply with the current agreement, the interim agreement, that sanctions would be resumed. I think this a better way than placing new sanctions on," Paul said. "Then what would happen is you would have presumption of what is already out there, and it would be based on Iranian noncompliance instead of Congress setting new parameters."
Paul said he was exploring the prospects of an alternative to an Iran sanctions proposal with California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer and other lawmakers, but that he agreed with a proposal from Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., to require a congressional vote on whatever agreement might result from the negotiations with Iran.
"I don't think we keep the unanimity of that sanctions coalition together if we pass new sanctions," Paul said, echoing comments made by administration officials. Obama has already pledged that he would veto new Iran sanctions legislation.
"[Former Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates got it right when he said that we've over-militarized our foreign policy. Should we be engaged in trying to encourage stability in the world? Absolutely. But we must think before we act. We must remember the maxim — first, do no harm," Paul plans to say in his response, according to an excerpt provided to CQ Roll Call.
"Hillary [Clinton]'s war in Libya is a prime example of acting without thinking. Libya is now a jihadist wonderland. Jihadists swim in our embassy pool," Paul's response says. "Our ambassador is dead and we are now more at risk from terrorist attacks than ever before."
In Tuesday's interview, he expanded on that point, particularly his criticism of Clinton, the expected 2016 Democratic presidential front-runner.
"Hillary's war in Libya has led to basically no government, hundreds of different jihadist groups, chaos and more danger to America from radical Islam," he said.
He also said he had criticism of the Obama administration's moves with respect to Syria.
"I think our involvement in the Syrian civil war has led to more instability and has allowed the rise of ISIS," Paul said, pointing to actions taken that have undermined the ability of Syrian President Bashar Assad to fight.
"Assad is by no means a great character, but there are 2 million Christians involved in Syria, and I have yet to meet a Syrian Christian, or the family member of a Syrian Christian who is excited about the prospect of ISIS taking over Syria," Paul said, adding he sees no good choices, discounting the idea of a moderate opposition rising up. "I think it's either ISIS or Assad."
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