Rand Paul

Rand Paul, Foreign Policy, and Republican Delusions of Interventionist Grandeur

The GOP operative behind Swiftboat Veterans for Truth is gunning for the senator's scalp.


Over at Bloomberg View, Josh Rogin reports that even as Rand Paul was rolling out his presidential campaign (to mostly strong reviews, even by those who don't particularly like the guy), a GOP group dedicated to bigger and bigger defense budgets is trying to kneecap him:

The Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, a 501(c)(4) group led by veteran Republican operative Rick Reed, will go live with its campaign against Paul on Tuesday, while the senator is in Louisville, Kentucky, announcing his presidential candidacy. The group will begin airing ads on broadcast TV, cable and the Web in several early primary states accusing Paul of being weak on Iran and tying him to the Barack Obama administration's Iran policy, which polls show is deeply unpopular among Republican voters.

"Paul supports more negotiations with Iran while standing against more sanctions that would hold the Iranian regime accountable. That's not a conservative position, that's Obama's position," Reed told me in an interview Monday. "His longstanding position on Iran and his agreement with Obama on Iran calls into question his judgment."

Reed is no piker when it comes to such attack campaigns—he was, writes Rogin, "the architect of the 2004 'Swiftboat Veterans for Truth' campaign that attacked John Kerry's national-security record and credentials." Whatever else you can say about it (and there's plenty), the Swiftboat stuff worked like a charm. The decorated war vet, Kerry, became the weak sister while the guy who managed to steer clear of fighting via the old National Guard dodge, Bush, became the embodiment of martial value.

Paul's changing posture toward national security and call for massively increased Defense spending is troubling to me and other libertarians. Here's hoping that attacks by Reed's group and other Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both of whom have castigated Paul for lacking sufficient bellicosity, will force the Kentucky senator to embrace his earlier, thoughtful foreign policy. His 2013 speech, "Islam and Containment," updated George Kennan's Cold War classic to modern times, when non-state actors are a major cause of regional and global destabilization. What that speech made clear is that it's a false choice to pick between massive, ongoing, and ill-executed interventions (see: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Iraq again, etc.) and total isolationism. What Paul was actually doing was proposing a foreign policy that included military options but also stressed economic and cultural engagment and diplomacy. That such a level-headed and eminently sensible plan was immediately attacked by hawks is a sign of their problems with reality, not Paul's. McCain might have called Paul a "wacko bird" for his stance on militarism and state surveillance, but it's clear that Paul is more tethered to the present and the future that Arizona's senior senator.

As David Catanese of US News notes,

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul cloaked himself in the same "peace through strength" concept 15 months before that, during an outline of his worldview before cadets at The Citadel.

It was a canny pre-emptive embrace of popular Republican rhetoric meant to mitigate concerns about his commitment to national defense and security. But at the same time, Paul likened some of the country's modern foreign forays to "an irrational offense," lamenting entanglements he sees as counterproductive to the national interest.

While there's no question that Paul has lately been more amenable to military intervention, his aides tell Catanese that he's calling neither for isolationism (indeed, he never was) nor a full-court neocon offense but rather "selective interventionism."

His task in the coming weeks will be to champion the revival of the "realist" position and convince Republicans to return to a humbler, more prudent approach to the world's hot spots. But his advisers are under no illusions about the complexity of the argument….

"He'll talk about the need to maintain a strong defense, the threat of Islamic extremism," [former U.S. Ambassador and Paul adviser Richard] Burt says. "But it's about smart intervention, not knee-jerk or mindless intervention. He wants the U.S. to be selective and to think through its intervention and make sure our vital interests are at stake."

Read more here.

As I've noted, I'm concerned about Paul's turns in foreign policy, but he hit most of the right notes today in announcing his run. I'm less interested in whether he gets far in the presidential sweepstakes than in whether he jumpstarts an urgently needed discussion about how the U.S. conducts itself abroad. The GOP is virtually completely in the grip of a strategy that has failed spectacularly in all of its major undertakings so far in the 21st century (and let's be clear: Obama, who has pursued many of the same general policies and betrayed a willingness to drone more and disclose less, is no genius at any of this either). The Democratic Party hasn't had any meaningful discussion either and certainly won't if Hillary Clinton is its nominee.

I'm not convinced that the GOP nomination, much less the general election in 2016, will turn on foreign policy matters. But win or lose, to the extent that Rand Paul alone is actually bringing something new and different to the table, all of us should be grateful.

NEXT: Surveillance Envy Drives France to Intrusive Law of Its Own

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  1. Nick, I think I speak for a lot of the commentariat when I say we are largely Paul’d out right now.

    1. I’m at the point where I’m almost looking forward to a nutpunch, just to break up the monotony.

      1. Hasn’t a cop killed a dog anywhere today??

    2. Will Reason actually endorse him outright? Do they do that?

  2. The decorated war vet, Kerry, became the weak sister

    On account of he was pretty much the laboratory example of the ticket-punching officer, perhaps?

    the guy who managed to steer clear of fighting via the old National Guard dodge, Bush,

    Well, he did volunteer to fly one of the most insanely dangerous planes around, and tried to get transferred to Viet Nam (if memory serves).

    Perhaps regurgitating truthy talking points isn’t really advancing the discussion?

    1. “and tried to get transferred to Viet Nam (if memory serves).”
      Cite please.

      1. From a WaPo Article: “Had my unit been called up, I’d have gone . . . to Vietnam,” Bush said. “I was prepared to go.”

        But there was no chance Bush’s unit would be ordered overseas. Bush says that toward the end of his training in 1970, he tried to volunteer for overseas duty, asking a commander to put his name on the list for a “Palace Alert” program, which dispatched qualified F-102 pilots in the Guard to the Europe and the Far East, occasionally to Vietnam, on three- to six-month assignments.

        He was turned down on the spot. “I did [ask] ? and I was told, ‘You’re not going,’ ” Bush said.

        Only pilots with extensive flying time ? at the outset, 1,000 hours were required ? were sent overseas under the voluntary program. The Air Force, moreover, was retiring the aging F-102s and had ordered all overseas F-102 units closed down as of June 30, 1970.

        1. There was definitely some documentation/testimony by one of his COs that he requested to go under this program but was denied. I can’t recall where I read it but it was at the height of the Swiftboat campaign. Should certainly be taken with a large dose of salt since one or possibly two of his COs in the TANG were known for trying to curry favor with sons of prominent folks in both parties.

          The big issue though is the Thunderchief was being retired and he didn’t have the flight time. If you think he shouldn’t have been in the TANG in the first place…

          1. F-102 = Delta Dagger, F-105 = Thunderchief.

            Thanks for the other info, though. I was going to post something about that line, too. IIRC when Bush joined the TANG and learned to fly the F-102, the planes and/or the unit were being used in Vietnam.

            1. Shit, I knew I would fuck that up. The Thunderchief was what replaced the F-102, correct?

              1. I thought the F-106 replaced the F-102. The F-105 was more a fighter-bomber than an interceptor, IIRC. But you might be right that the 105 replaced the 102 in Vietnam.

        2. My general impression of fighter pilots (like W) is that they want to fight their planes, not just fly them around. Ego and all that.

  3. Fox News, fair and balanced; except when they prostitute out their air time for these kinds of political ads.

  4. Nothing is more critical to America’s security than our continued wealth and growth. Without that, everything falls apart. I see fixing the problems at home as important for both domestic purposes and for defense. And we can maintain our status as World Cop? quite easily on less money than we’re spending now.

    We’re really getting close to a point where we might not be able to fix things–it’s time to restrict the scope, spending, and insidiousness of government. And it’s time to free the American population of this ridiculous parasite.

    1. Hear, hear. If the economy can get fixed, everything else is secondary. (Well, beyond an Iranian EMP attack, say.) Which is why the GOP socons worry me less than the socialists in the Democratic Party.

      1. It’s not that there are no threats in the world to us–there obviously are, for whatever reasons–but the biggest one by a mile is our economic situation, coupled with an increasingly stifling and dangerous government.

  5. Nick’s being too nice. What Rand may have been saying between the lines is “If these people in the Middle East want to kill each other over religion, let them. We only intervene when there’s a direct threat to us.”

    1. I’d like to believe that. He needs to be clearer since I don’t hear that yet.

  6. Getting Republican Neocons to make Paul public enemy number 1 will only enhance his credibility and desirability in the eyes of the general public.

    If I had a secret plan to make Rand Paul the leading candidate in the general election, it would be to make sure that all the Republican war hawks attack him constantly and make it 100% clear he is in no way aligned with them.

    1. He’s not in the general yet. Best to remember that

      1. The goal of the Republican primary is to pick the candidate most likely to win the general.
        It it’s supposed to be.

        Apparently some people would rather nominate an unelectable candidate who shares their views on absolutely everything.

        1. Well, you can be sure the establishment won’t support an electable candidate who bids fair to overturn their rice bowls.

  7. What do the hawks actually want? Probably not violence as an end in itself, so then what?

    1. I’m a (highly selective) hawk and I only have the foggiest idea of what the WSJ neo-con type hawks want. They just seem to want a perpetual ‘Power Drive’ by America without the slightest let up. If we ever let up, Hitler wins! Or something.

  8. I’m concerned about Paul’s turns in foreign policy

    That’s because you’re a hipster dogmatist Nick.

  9. For the record, explanation (link) of the law and policy, fact basis for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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