American Lives on the Line in Paul vs. Perry Foreign Policy Spat

And positioning for a presidential run, too.


In a let's-try-this-again OpEd for the Washington Post, Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) slapped at "isolationists" in general, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in particular. He called them out for supposedly ignoring a threat that he suggests is more dangerous than the plotters that brought us the horrors of 9/11.

Paul struck back with an equally high-profile piece, setting the ground for a debate over foreign policy, political positioning, and the acceptable risks U.S. government officials should be taking with the lives of American military personnel.

Wrote Perry:

Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further.

That's why it's disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what's happening in Iraq. The main problem with this argument is that it means ignoring the profound threat that the group now calling itself the Islamic State poses to the United States and the world.

In the Islamic State, which came to prominence in Syria and now controls ample territory, weapons and cash in both that country and Iraq, the world is confronting an even more radicalized version of Islamic extremism than al-Qaeda. This group is well-trained, technologically sophisticated and adept at recruitment, with thousands of people with European passports fighting on its side, as well as some Americans.

The opinion column brought the unsuccessful 2012 Republican presidential wannabe—and his new eyeglasses—renewed attention in the lead-up to the 2016 race for the White House. While carefully disclaiming any interest in the fight, Sen John McCain (R-Ariz.), himself a one-time presidential contender, weighed in on Perry's side.

"Sen. Paul is part of a wing of the party that's been there ever since, prior to World War 1, in our Republican Party. And that is a withdrawal to fortress America," he told CNN.

Peter Beinart of National Journal and The Atlantic pointed out to CNN that Paul might be skeptical of military interventionism, but his views aren't isolationist by any traditional understanding of the term at all. The Kentucky senator actually supports continued military alliances and engagement with the world.

But Paul was capable of defending himself—which he did at Politico just days after Perry's broadside.

I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country — a nation the Iraqis won't defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Governor Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq?

I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an "isolationist," then perhaps its time we finally retire that pejorative.

Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans don't want to send U.S. soldiers back into Iraq. Is Perry calling the entire country "isolationist" too?

The let's-intervene-and-consider-the-consequences-later crowd left us with more than 4,000 Americans dead, over 2 million refugees and over trillions of dollars in debt. Anytime someone advocates sending our sons and daughters to war, questions about precise objectives, effective methods and an exit strategy must be thoughtfully answered. America deserves this. Our military certainly deserves this.

Polling does, in fact, find strong support for staying the hell out of Iraq after years of bloody intervention in that unfortunate country. Republicans, Democrats, and independents all view the Iraq war as a mistake.

A June YouGov poll found majority support among the American public only for defending the U.S. embassy there.

On CNN, Beinart speculated that Perry was targeting GOP donors with his piece, since Paul's views tend to square with those of the Republican rank and file.

The toll in Iraq from March 2003 to April 2014 includes 4,489 U.S. troops, 3,455 U.S. contractors, 12,096 Iraqi military and police, 318 allied troops, and at least 133,000 Iraqi civilians.

The reason for Perry's targeting of Rand Paul is no secret. Despite Perry's failed 2012 campaign, he still seems to harbor presidential ambitions—and at this point Paul is, by far, the front-runner for the 2016 GOP nomination.