WASHINGTON — In a series of cable news interviews and a primetime rebuttal to President Obama's speech Tuesday night, libertarian Republican Rand Paul touted the eleventh-hour emergence of a diplomatic solution that could keep the U.S. military out of Syria — and awarded credit to the bipartisan anti-interventionist movement he has championed over the past week.
"Some will say that only the threat of force brought Russia and Syria to the negotiating table," Paul said, referring to a Russian proposal that Syria yield control of chemical weapons to the international community in order to avoid U.S. airstrikes. "In fact, though, Russia has been negotiating with the U.S. for over a year to find a solution to the Syrian civil war."
"One thing is for certain: The chance for diplomacy would not have occurred without strong voices against an immediate bombing campaign," Paul continued. "If we had simply gone to war last week or the week before as many advocated, we wouldn't be looking at a possible solution today. The voices of those in Congress and the overwhelming number of Americans who stood up and said slow down allowed this possible solution to take shape."
Paul was not tapped by the Republican Party to deliver an official response to the president, but the extensive coverage his brief pre-taped speech received — it was aired in full on Fox News shortly after he gave a live interview to the network covering much of the same ground — illustrates his rapid ascent within the GOP as a leader on foreign policy and national security issues.
While Paul praised Ronald Reagan's foreign policy doctrine and, more tacitly, George W. Bush's military action in the aftermath of the September 11th terror attacks, he also sounded several decidedly non-interventionist notes. He expressed skepticism that American airstrikes would solve any problems in the Middle East, and emphasized the constitutional requirement that the executive branch seek congressional approval before taking the country to war.
"I will not vote to send my son, your son, or anyone's daughter to war unless a compelling American interest is present," Paul said. "I'm not convinced that we have a compelling interest in the Syrian civil war."
Paul's dovish approach to foreign conflicts has worn well on a war-weary country, as well as a GOP that is eager to distance itself from the mistakes of its last standard-bearer.
But it didn't take long Tuesday night for it to become apparent that the Republican Party has not unified itself behind Paul's brand of foreign policy. As soon as Fox News finished airing the Kentucky Senator's speech, anchor Greta Van Susteren turned to Karl Rove, who began running through a list of areas where he differed with Paul.
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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