Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was on Meet the Press yesterday, including the above segment about his recent charity trip to Guatemala, where he's been doing free eye operations since 1996. The clip above spends too much of its time debating whether or not the trip is simply a pre-advertisement for a presidential run (the short answer is yes, but so what).
But the topics covered also included the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, the drug war, militarization of police, and foreign policy and this is pretty meaty stuff (in bold)
Let's say none of this has to do with race. It might not, but the belief—if you're African American and you live in Ferguson, the belief is, you see people in prison and they're mostly black and brown, that somehow it is racial, even if the thoughts that were going on at that time had nothing to do with race.
So it's a very good chance that had this had nothing to do with race, but because of all of the arrest and…the way people were arrested, that everybody perceives it as, "My goodness, the police are out to get us," you know? And so that's why you have to change the whole war on drugs. It's not just this one instance.
On police militarization:
Homeland Security gave $8 million to Fargo to fight terrorism in Fargo, North Dakota. And I say if the terrorists get to Fargo, we might as well give up. I say that as a joke, but, I mean, it's like, "What are we doing spending $8 million in Fargo? What are we doing sending a tank?" There's an armored personnel carrier in Keene, New Hampshire.
On Democrats and Hillary Clinton:
…were I to run [for president], there's gonna be a lot of independents and even some Democrats who say, "You know what, we are tired of war. We're worried that Hillary Clinton will get us involved in another Middle Eastern war, because she's so gung-ho."
If you wanna see a transformational election in our country, let the Democrats put forward a war hawk like Hillary Clinton, and you'll see a transformation like you've never seen.
That last bit is a bit hyperbolic (like you've never seen?) but also on-target. Hillary is a hawk's hawk, which is one of the reasons Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic was so keen on talking to her and why she was so quick to slag President Obama as a prevaricator (rather than as simply another version of an ineffective interventionist).
On August 21, blogger and longtime Hit & Run reader Alan Vanneman flagged this bit, which has been described as the "money quote" from Clinton's Q&A with Goldberg. Read it closely and you start to understand why American foreign policy is so FUBAR:
I think we've learned about the limits of our power to spread freedom and democracy. That's one of the big lessons out of Iraq. But we've also learned about the importance of our power, our influence, and our values appropriately deployed and explained. If you're looking at what we could have done that would have been more effective, would have been more accepted by the Egyptians on the political front, what could we have done that would have been more effective in Libya, where they did their elections really well under incredibly difficult circumstances but they looked around and they had no levers to pull because they had these militias out there. My passion is, let's do some after-action reviews, let's learn these lessons, let's figure out how we're going to have different and better responses going forward.
As Vanneman notes:
Well, if that's a money quote, I want my money back. Hillary isn't saying that we shouldn't have gone into Iraq, or that we shouldn't have invaded Libya. No, our problem was that we didn't do it effectively! Yeah, that's the problem!
The Democratic National Committee responded to Paul's comments thus:
"Senator Paul's foreign policy vision is to retreat from our responsibilities abroad by ending all foreign aid to our allies—including Israel. That's the vision he's laid out and defended time and time again and that even conservatives have said would bring 'terrible misery' to millions of people across the globe."
The DNC is correct in noting that Paul has in the past proposed ending all foreign aid, including that to Israel. He has also denied that he proposed that, earning him a "pants of fire" rating from Politifact, the fact-checking operation. After releasing a budget proposal in 2011 that cut all foreign aid (and taking a ton of shit for it, especially the portion that would go to Israel), Paul released an amended budget:
Paul's new bottom line for foreign aid wasn't to cut it to zero. Rather, the proposal said, "Freeze foreign aid funding at $5 billion." Though the report doesn't say so explicitly, that would have been enough to cover the outlays for Israel.
That's an important reminder that Rand Paul is a politician and that politicians are given not just to changing their minds but denying that they have ever changed their minds.
And yet, he's still basically right that he and Hillary Clinton (who in this case is standing in for just about every possible Republican presidential wannabe and most other Democrats too) disagree about foreign policy in really important ways. I've written elsewhere that I don't consider Paul an isolationist (a tag that is pretty accurate regarding Ron Paul). But far more important, Rand Paul at this stage of the game is the ONLY national politician who seems actually to be interested in acknowledging the failure of the past dozen-plus years of U.S. foreign policy as a failure of vision, not simply of tactics. Obama, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, all the Bush admin flunkies, you name it: They're complaining that we didn't prosecute wars properly or do the right sort of occupation after various missions were accomplished. They're not really talking about larger questions of America's role in the world or thinking about jihadism as anything other than an excuse to keep growing the size and scope of Pentagon budgets, surveillance operations, and the like.
If Rand Paul remains the only major representative of either party who is willing to directly address those questions and offer up a less war-happy position, he's absolutely right that he's going to be incredibly attractive to independents and Democrats. Not simply because they're tired of "war," but they're tired of a generally failed policy being pursued with at best minor modifications.