Rand Paul calls for more “nuance” in foreign policy

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Friday, March 7, 2014.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is finding out the hard way that being a U.S. politician - and potential presidential candidate - doesn't always lend itself to expressing nuanced viewpoints.

That won't, however, stop him from trying.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Paul sought to clarify his position on Iran after saying in an interview on ABC's "This Week" Sunday that all options should be on the table in dealing with the nation's desire to acquire nuclear weapons. He also defended his vote against a 2012 Senate resolution that would have authorized the pursuit of a policy other than containment to prevent that goal.

"I am not for containment in Iran. Let me repeat that, since no one seems to be listening closely: I am unequivocally not for containing Iran," Paul said. But, he quickly added: "I am also not for announcing that the United States should never contain Iran. That was the choice I was given a few months ago and is the scenario being misunderstood by some in the news."

Paul argues in favor of the "strategic ambiguity" practiced by former President Ronald Reagan, which he defines as the idea that presidents should not announce to their enemies how they would handle hypothetical situations.

"It is a dumb idea to announce to Iran that you would accept and contain that country if it were to become a nuclear power. But it is equally dumb, dangerous and foolhardy to announce in advance how we would react to any nation that obtains nuclear weapons," Paul writes.

"Real foreign policy is made in the middle; with nuance; in the gray area of diplomacy, engagement and reluctantly, if necessary, military action," he continues.

Paul's attempts at articulating that nuance haven't done more to convince other lawmakers of his suitability for higher office. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who's also a possible presidential candidate, said on MSNBC Wednesday that a Paul presidency would insert a does of hysteria to foreign policy and national security discussions.

"I think his views would be disastrous," the New York congressman said. "I think he appeals to the lowest common denominator. This is an isolationist wing from the 1930s."

Other potential Republican presidential hopefuls have simplified their views on Iran by framing them in opposition to President Obama's actions. Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., called a temporary deal to halt Iran's nuclear program in exchange for conditional sanctions "a bad deal for America and Israel." And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called a promise from Mr. Obama's 2014 State of the Union address to veto any fresh sanctions bill that could undermine the nuclear talks, "one of the most dangerous things in the entire speech."

"He so wants to cut a deal that he's going to endanger U.S. national security," Cruz said.

Other prominent Republicans, perhaps sensing lack of opportunity for nuance, have shied away from the issue entirely.

Asked about the deal on CBS' "Face the Nation" last November, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., said, "When guys like me start to shoot off on opinions about this kind of stuff, it's really ill-advised. So I'll leave it to Secretary Kerry and the folks that are in charge of this to make decisions about where we go."

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.