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Rand Paul: Promoting negotiations over war doesn't make you a Putin sympathizer

The senator told a friendly audience of conservatives that there is no reason to 'throw out our principal beliefs.'

Analysis | Europe

Republican Senator Rand Paul told a friendly audience of conservatives Thursday that he is standing firm on his principles as a constitutional restrainer, and while he thinks Putin's invasion of Ukraine is wrong and unjustified, he does not think that military escalation or regime change policies — or even sanctions with no defined goals — are right.

“If you say you don’t want to get involved in this war … people immediately think you’re on the other side, that you’re sympathetic with the other side," he told the “Up from Chaos” foreign policy conference in Washington. "I have not sympathized with Putin, what he has done is not justified. But that doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater and throw out our principle beliefs.” 

We can make it worse for the Ukrainian people with escalation and intervention, he added. “Almost all war ends in negotiation,” he charged. "It doesn’t justify (Putin’s) aggression, but I do think we need to find off ramps and exits even for our enemies.”

Paul also revealed that his brief comments to a reporter a few weeks ago in support of the Iran nuclear deal were hardly a one-off, in fact he has a pretty straightforward view of the situation.

 “Leaving the agreement didn't make anything better,” he said. He needled critics who bemoaned reports that the JCPOA renewal deal may not be as strong as the one that President Trump ripped up in 2018."It’s going to be ‘less for less’ because we rejected ‘more for more,’” he argued. 

He also took a swipe at JCPOA opponents, including his fellow Republicans on the Hill, who have criticized an agreement that has yet to emerge publicly from the tense talks in Vienna. "​​If you are condemning an agreement before you even see it aren't you simply condemning diplomacy?"

Clearly getting out of the deal allowed the Iranians to continue to enrich uranium, he said. Slapping on further “maximum pressure” sanctions and making Iran a pariah in the region didn’t work either,  he said. “There is no evidence that sanctions on Iran did anything.”

This was a rare receptive audience for restraint and non-interventionism in the heart the Washington — even rarer in that it focused on the right, hosting Rep. Thomas Massie, U.S. Senate hopeful J.D. Vance, Rep. Dan Bishop (who said critics complained he “joined the pro-Putin wing of the Republican Party” for questioning “war fever” on the Hill), and Fox News’s Mollie Hemingway. Co-sponsored by American Moment and The American Conservative, topics revolved around the current echo chamber promoting an aggressive posture against Russia, and attempts to silence dissent. 

Paul also said he had a general skepticism for the over-use of sanctions against U.S. adversaries, including Russia. "I don't think we should never use the threat of sanctions ... but...we have hundreds on Russia and China and no one has an idea of how to lift them; they end up having no value at all."

Senator Rand Paul at the 'Up from Chaos' conference in D.C., March 31, 2022. (courtesy of American Moment/Twitter)
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