“No one, including myself, wants to see a nuclear Iran. Iran does need to know that all options are on the table. But we should not preemptively announce that diplomacy or containment will never be an option,” Paul said.
In those and other remarks on Iran, Paul expressed concerns heard mostly from liberal commentators, who have worried openly that the United States is positioning itself for another poorly thought-out war in the Middle East.
“Understandably, no one wants to imagine what happens if Iran develops nuclear weapons, but if we don’t have at least some of that discussion now, the danger exists that war is the only remedy,” Paul said Tuesday.
Paul said in a question-and-answer session with reporters after his speech that there are several areas of foreign policy where he lines up with Democrats, highlighting in particular his work with Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in support of speeding up the timetable to withdraw from Afghanistan. In his speech, however, Paul cited Afghanistan as an example of a U.S. military intervention that was warranted.
Paul has also been among a small number of Republicans who has joined with liberal Democrats in criticizing the Obama administration’s targeted killing program overseas, via drones, on civil liberties grounds.
The senator is at stark odds, however, with Democrats on foreign aid spending, which the party, as well as activist Republicans, believe is a necessary part of American security and diplomatic posture abroad.
On Tuesday Paul distanced himself from both parties, decrying what he described as a “monolithic” approach to foreign policy in Washington.
“Anyone who questions the bipartisan consensus is immediately castigated, rebuked and their patriotism challenged,” he said, pointing in particular to unanimity on Capitol Hill when it comes to Iran. There is more debate on potential strikes against Iran in Israel, he noted.
“In our foreign policy, our Congress has become not just a rubber stamp but an irrelevancy,” said Paul.
The senator made clear he is prepared to take it upon himself to change that.
At the very least, Paul might be able to tap into a growing desire among war-weary Americans to ratchet back the country’s ambition abroad. And Paul’s call Tuesday for fewer soldiers stationed overseas, fewer military bases and an end to “limitless land wars in multiple theaters” is where the U.S. military is likely headed amid belt-tightening at the Pentagon.
The senator made clear he is prepared to continue to take high-profile stands on that and other issues that have made him a gadfly in Congress.
“I do want to be part of the national debate and the international debate,” Paul told reporters.
And he did not shy away from talk of a run for national office in 2016. Paul said the fact that his policy positions don’t necessarily hew to party lines would appeal to moderate Republicans and independents and areas of the country where “we’re not doing very well” as a party.
He said the aim of his speech Tuesday was to explain his ideas on foreign policy and how they distinguish him from his father, retired Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and others in his party and in Washington.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.