A major foreign policy speech from Mitt Romney this week failed to convince tea party favorite Sen. Rand Paul who, on Wednesday, said the GOP presidential nominee is wrong on foreign policy regarding the Middle East, and on defense spending.
The Kentucky senator, considered one of the standard-bearers of libertarian conservatism and among the most popular names on the party's right wing, expressed concerns that the United States could get caught up in a war in Syria if Romney's muscular foreign policy plans came into being.
According to Paul, America won’t be made stronger or safer by pumping more money into the military, and the country’s treasure and armed forces shouldn’t be involved in every war.
Paul, the son of libertarian champion Ron Paul, first spoke publicly against Romney’s foreign policy in an opinion piece written Wednesday for CNN. He later appeared on Erin Burnett’s “Out Front” on that network, where he expressed dismay at the GOP presidential candidate’s speech earlier this week.
During the high-profile speech at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday, Romney continued his criticism of President Barack Obama’s response to the revolutions in the Middle East, and of planned Department of Defense budget cuts.
Attempting to sharpen the contrast between himself and Obama, Romney said his administration would take a more aggressive stance on the Syrian conflict. Romney called for the heavy arming of rebels in Syria to take on President Bashar al-Assad’s military. Though he didn’t specifically say the U.S. will be the one to give the rebels weapons, Romney did say he will work with others to promote their cause.
“I will work with our partners to identify and organize those members of the opposition who share our values and ensure they obtain the arms they need to defeat Assad’s tanks, helicopters and fighter jets,” Romney said.
This is exactly what irked the younger Paul, who made a classic point of antiwar Libertarianism, about the role of Congress in armed conflicts: “I think whenever we get involved in war or providing weapons or bombing countries it needs to go before Congress,” Paul told Burnett. “The Constitution says that is the prerogative of the Legislature, so that’s my first objection.
“My second objection is it is difficult to know who friends or foes are,” he added. “Within over a decade now in Afghanistan we have trouble telling friend from foe. The people we are training – the Afghan soldiers – are turning their weapons on us. So how are we supposed to know who in Syria is our friend, who is our foe? What do they stand for?”
As for defense cuts, the Pentagon faces automatic cuts of approximately $500 billion over 10 years beginning in 2013 if no debt deal is reached in Congress.
Against that background, Romney has pledged to raise military spending by 4 percent of GDP, hence adding a reported $2 trillion to federal spending, over a decade. Paul does not agree. “Conservatives like myself, who believe national defense is very important, will have to say not every dollar spent on the military is sacred, and liberals will have to acknowledge that not every dollar spent on welfare and entitlement is sacred,” he said. “They both will have to come together, but we have to reduce both and it can’t be increasing more."
"You can’t always make your country stronger and safer by throwing more money at the military," Paul said.
Nor by engaging in another conflict as the one in Afghanistan still drags on: “There is such great sorrow when you think about our soldiers being killed by the same Afghan policemen and soldiers that we are trying to help. I have seen a great movement in recent weeks towards really wanting to come home. And I don’t want Gov. Romney to think that it is electorally a good thing to appear more bellicose. I think there are many Republicans and many independents who don’t necessarily want a president who will begin a war in Syria. I think it is very important that we not express that as what we’re trying to promote.”
"Lets not decide that every war is something that the U.S. dollar as well as soldiers have to participate in," Paul said. "And so I do object to it and I think even in an election season we need to object. I am concerned that we could be at war with Syria even before the election if things escalate across the Turkish border."