Over at The American Conservative, Daniel Larison has done his best to decipher Sen. Paul’s endorsement of Mitt Romney – more specifically, the Kentucky senator’s suggestion that the soon-to-be GOP nominee is endowed with “mature attitude and beliefs toward foreign policy.”
For many of his father’s supporters, Sen. Paul’s suggestion rings false – at best, it affords an expedient endorsement, and at worst, it reveals Rand’s tacit approval of muscular, Boltonian statecraft. As Larison notes, Romney “supported the war in Iraq […] has given the public every reason to expect he supports an attack on Iran, and he backed the illegal war in Libya.”
Of course, Larison’s absolutely right. On its face, it’s nearly impossible to sync Paul’s reticence to engage America’s military with Romney’s avowed taste for promiscuous power. In his endorsement on Hannity, Paul suggested that Romney understands that “war is a last resort;” Larison cannot square that statement with Romney’s presumptive support for every major post-Cold War military action. Upon first glance, neither could I.
This problematique is confounded by a candidate whose most detailed foreign policy positions center on a country that hasn’t posed a viable threat to the United States since it was known by its four letter acronym; not to mention a man who appears alternately unwilling or unable to admit that America’s security posture is constrained by financial crisis and a decade of war.
Larison suggests that Romney’s attitude to risk – or more precisely, his aversion to it – offers a theoretical framework to explain his decision making process, and perhaps Paul’s appreciation of the man’s strategic and psychological conceptions of choice.
On the one hand, Romney (The Candidate) couldn’t possibly conduct foreign policy as brashly and carelessly as he says he will. Cue “etch-a-sketch” callbacks and his primary pendulum swing to the right. “Risk aversion” in this case was determined by political practicality, and the necessity to talk the hawk on the campaign trail.
On the other hand, Romney (The Businessman) could be equally risk averse. Any and all threats are compelling and potentially disastrous for America’s national security – this echoes that old Condaleezism that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” It also calls for war – early and often.
Of course, aversion to risk is a compelling topic for Sen. Paul. The distance between his father and the rest of the GOP field hinged on whether overt bellicosity can start a war more quickly than excessive isolationism.
However, risk aversion proves unwieldy in application to the study of international relations. In the economic scheme, concave utility function delineates the decision maker’s options. For better or worse, a president can’t depend on concavity when weighing his choices – unlike the investor who’s willing to forego uncertain payoff for the more certain (but possibly lower) anticipated payoff, the president cannot choose from international objectives, calculable by face value.
So where does this leave us in relation to Rand and Romney? Well, let’s adjust Larison’s “risk attitude” lens to consider the former, as opposed to the latter.
International relations may prove a slippery subject when applied to utility function, but our choice in November is considerably more limited. Barring fulfillment of Mayan prophesy, Americans will be asked to choose between an incumbent President (whose foreign policy is essentially borrowed from George W. Bush’s second term) and Mitt Romney (armed only with his dog-eared and underlined edition of “Empty Platitudes”).
Personally, professionally, academically – however you slice it – neither serves my cup of tea. But let’s be honest – they aren’t that different. Romney’s sound-bite solutions about “getting tough on Iran,” aren’t particularly helpful – but they’re absolutely expected, at this time and place. The president can’t afford to abandon more measured tones. After all, he’s still president and the whole world’s listening. When you boil down bluster to policy preference, they aren’t radically different.
So, let’s discuss Rand Paul’s options from the same perspective:
Risk aversion is, fundamentally, a rational actor’s reluctance to accept a bargain with an uncertain payoff instead of the “sure thing.” I can appreciate the fact that Romney’s jingoism is repellent to Ron Paul supporters, but Sen. Paul’s endorsement won’t suggest a compromise of his principles until he starts to change the way he legislates.
Rather, if Sen. Paul is a rational actor (and I can assure you, he is) he is faced with several definitive choices. Consider his attitude towards risk:
1. Endorse Obama? Ha. Sky-scraping risk, zero reward.
2. Support a third party – say Gary Johnson on the Libertarian ticket? Not unless we’re revamping our electoral system, and Paul decides to revisit his Republican registration. High risk, microscopic hope of return on investment.
3. Recognize that conservatism, writ large, can provide the proverbial big tent, and save some seats for his dad’s movement – not to mention earn interest on his political prestige should things shake out for the Romney ticket? In contrast, that sounds downright artful.
Of course, there’s a fourth option, and one that seems most popular with many disenchanted Ron Paul supporters. Rand Paul could have kept quiet. Absent endorsement, he would have remained politically chaste, and totally devoted to the identities and values ascribed to him by his father’s faction. In this case, abstaining from endorsement is equated to ideological asceticism.
But political austerity doesn’t gain his father’s movement anything – not a speech at the convention, not a committee chairmanship, not one ounce of political capital.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” put to practice in political terms.
And wholly unacceptable to anyone who believes a movement lasts longer than the most recent election cycle.
Reid Smith is a doctoral student, graduate associate, and Soles Fellow with the University of Delaware’s Department of Political Science and International Relations. He writes for the Foreign Policy Association and The American Spectator.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire