Critics of Rand Paul's Iran statements should think twice
This week, Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky made statements on our policy concerning Iran's nuclear program that drew severe backlash from critics on all sides of the aisle. In an interview with ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Paul criticized politicians that claim they will never accept a world in which Iran has nuclear weapons. "The people who say, 'by golly, we will never stand for that,' they are voting for war," he said. When pressed on whether he would ever support a nuclear containment policy toward Iran, Senator Paul declined to reveal any potential future positions. He argued, "Should I announce to Iran, 'Well, we don't want you to, but we'll live with it?' No that's a dumb idea to say that you're going to live with it. However, the opposite is a dumb idea too." Paul has been harshly criticized for being too lenient toward Iran and unclear in his position. These criticisms are unfair and reflect a troublingly hawkish attitude.
Firstly, Paul has made it quite clear that he strongly opposes Iran's attainment of a nuclear weapon. He was repeatedly voted for sanctions and has called for all options to be on the table in our goal to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He has consistently and adamantly expressed his desire to prevent this. His statements should not be misconstrued to suggest he would like, or is even remotely comfortable with, a nuclear-armed Iran. Paul is merely arguing that it is unwise to proclaim to the world that we will never accept a containment policy should Iran develop a nuclear weapon. By doing this, we are making a commitment to wage war on Iran to destroy its nuclear capabilities. None of us can predict what horrors such a war would unleash. Perhaps the threat to its very existence would goad Iran into using its newly acquired nuclear arsenal, a possibility too terrifying to contemplate. Perhaps we may be forced into the absurd position of initiating a nuclear war with Iran in order to prevent a nuclear war with Iran. What is certain is that a pledge to prevent a nuclear empowered Iran at all costs would force the American people to bear the costs of a destructive preemptive war. Politicians who make these claims fail to recognize the cost of this type of war is prohibitively high and the sacrifice required too dear. Paul merely recognized that it is unwise to commit a future generation of Americans to carnage and slaughter due to our position on some eventuality we do not yet face.
Through his statements, Paul was critiquing our "line in the sand" foreign policy. It was most recently on display during the Syria debacle. President Obama had previously announced that should the Syrian government use chemical weapons, the United States would be compelled to intervene militarily. Unfortunately, this was a claim the American people were unwilling to back up when the time came. When the Syrian government used chemical weapons and the Obama administration began to beat the drums of war as promised, the American people were overwhelmingly loath to support such action. Luckily, President Obama was saved from taking the nation to war by a last-minute diplomatic breakthrough. Yet, it was clear that our previous statements on the possible use of chemical weapons forced the administration to choose between an unpopular military engagement and losing face in the international community. This is a choice we should not have to face as a nation and Paul recognizes that.
Paul merely expressed the belief that we should act in the moment and deal with the situations we are currently facing, rather than commit to an action that has not yet happened. He believes, and rightly so, that the American people should have the opportunity to debate policy as events develop. Should the American people go to war, it should be after a full and free debate given current circumstances; action should not be preordained by injudicious past statements. Rash statements should not be made about potential policy actions that would lead the people impulsively into military conflict. This is the principle Paul is advocating. Perhaps those who attack him for it should consider whether they are willing to commit to a potentially nuclear future war before they criticize his position.
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