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US Rep. Justin Amash Foreign Policy Discussion with Reason

by Carl Wicklander, published
(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Continuing the earlier discussion of US Rep. Justin Amash, the congressman also recently sat down for a lengthy interview with Reason.

Talking with editor Nick Gillespie about everything from abortion to immigration, I'd like to call attention to some of Amash's answers on foreign policy. In light of a possible US Senate run, this is the area where Amash may be best able to separate himself from the potential pack of competitors. There were also a couple of answers that stood out.

Asked about whether the decision to intervene in Iraq was the correct one, Amash was careful to phrase his response with, "I don't think so . . . in retrospect. I was pretty young at the time."

"I was pretty young at the time." That's a pretty convenient way to back-track on the foolish decisions of one's youth. It can cover anything from working at a "modeling agency" to thinking that Chinese character neck tattoo was hip. It goes unmentioned, but in Amash's case, it was probably supporting the Iraq war. Four years older than I am and only 22 on the day the invasion began, Amash might be forgiven for the poor judgment of an impetuous youth, but it is an interesting insight to him as a man.

This may also be what separates Amash from his older colleagues. Not in office at the time of the invasion and the majority of the occupation, he was not beholden to the political exigencies of the day, freeing him from supporting the war and suffering the  political consequences of it. But Amash is probably also independent-minded enough that a reversal of his position on Iraq may have been in the cards anyway.

On Iranian sanctions, Amash toes a line similar to US Sen. Rand Paul's:

"I think that sanctions that are directed toward preventing them from getting weapons of mass destruction - I think those sanctions are useful and helpful, especially in the short run. I'm not sure you'd want to use them for 20 years. Eventually you have to say, 'Well, they're not working.' If they eventually develop a weapon, you just say, 'Well, what's the point of the sanctions?' There are other sanctions that are more targeted at the people of Iran. I think those are not beneficial to the United States."

In Amash's own answer, he seems to realize that sanctions to prevent an Iranian WMD are unlikely to work. So why does he support them? My conjecture is that like Rand Paul, he sees supporting sanctions as a "middle way" to be seen as "doing something" that avoids war while protecting himself from charges that he is a *gasp* "isolationist."

Avoiding war with Iran should be the objective, especially in the aftermath of Iraq, but sanctions have often been a precursor to war that ended up hurting the general population anyway.

As a student of the Austrian school of economics, Amash knows that government intervention into the economy leaves the people at the top of the chain of power sheltered from the consequences and the lower classes left to deal with the harsh realities.

Now, this may seem like nit-picking. Like many young Republicans, to the extent that young Republicans still exist, Amash seems to have learned most of the lessons from the mistakes of the Bush administration. Much of what he said in other parts of the interview, such as resisting arming the Syrian rebels, falls neatly in line with a Republican Party that needs to redefine itself as the party that can be trusted in the conduct of foreign policy. Still, his answer on sanctions will likely have people closely watching his future foreign policy pronouncements.

Something that makes the congressman unique is not simply his youth - he turns 33 this month - but the relatively short amount of time he has spent in the so-called liberty movement, so the Justin Amash foreign policy may still be gestating.

In the Reason interview, Amash revealed a number of times that he did not begin coming to his current way of thinking until he was either out of college or out of law school. For someone who is already considered a pretty pure ideological heir of Ron Paul, Amash may still come around to see the futility of sanctions.

Conservatives are fond of quoting Ronald Reagan's "Bold Colors" speech. Justin Amash would certainly be a bold color compared to the pale pastels of US Rep. Mike Rogers and the next Romney. Politically, if Amash chooses to run for US Senate, he may be in a good position because of these differences, but it wouldn't eliminate the other factors that would work against him in a statewide race.

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