Rand Paul

Rand Paul's Strategic Ambiguity

An unusual foreign policy stance has unusual political perils.


Rand Paul is campaigning for president as a different kind of Republican. Since entering the U.S. Senate in 2011, he has staked out unorthodox positions on foreign policy and civil liberties, rejecting what he and many of his fans see as recklessly interventionist militarism. The GOP brand, he wrote in his 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington, has become "tainted by neoconservative ideology."

But in the run-up to the Kentucky senator's April 7 announcement that he was officially running for president, Paul engaged in a series of rhetorical and parliamentary maneuvers that left many anti-interventionists openly worried about a politically inspired foreign policy drift.

On March 9, Paul signed a controversial open letter to Iran's leaders by hawkish Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.) that was widely seen as an attempt to undermine the Obama administration's efforts to reach a peaceful settlement on nuclear production and economic sanctions. On March 25, he proposed a budget amendment to increase military spending by $190 billion over just the next two years, a jarring idea from someone who has previously backed significant defense cuts and an audit of the Pentagon.

And in his announcement speech itself, Paul devoted less energy to his critique of nation-building than to a fire-breathing assertion that American prosperity and freedom "can only be achieved if we defend against enemies who are dead set on attacking us…The enemy is radical Islam. You can't get around it…I will do whatever it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind. We need a national defense robust enough to defend against all attack, modern enough to deter all enemies, and nimble enough to defend our vital interests."

Ron and Rand Paul
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Some Paul supporters were alarmed. Daniel Larison of The American Conservative, long an admirer, lamented in March that "it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish him from the rest of his party on the issues that were supposed to set him apart, and so he is bound to receive less support as long as that is the case." The firebrand Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com, who has previously defended Paul against libertarian criticism, complained in an April Los Angeles Times op-ed that "For the life of me, I can't figure out what he really believes-where he really stands, especially when it comes to foreign policy." Even at Rare, a Paul-friendly news and commentary site where former Paul aide Jack Hunter is politics editor, a headline called the Cotton letter signing "a step too far."

The Paul campaign had ready responses to the specific critiques. The Cotton letter, it said, was merely a useful reminder to the president that he can't unilaterally make vital foreign policy decisions due to the constitutional separation of powers Paul has long championed. The $190 billion military spending amendment, explained senior Paul campaign staffer Doug Stafford, was matched to a similarly priced amendment by presidential rival Sen. Marco Rubio (R–Fla.)—only Paul's, unlike Rubio's, came with matching spending cuts of the same amount. "This amendment is to lay down a marker that if you believe we need more funding for national defense, you should show how you would pay for it," Stafford wrote in a statement to the press about the amendment. "We can't just keep borrowing more money from China to send to Pakistan. And we can't keep paying for even vital things like national defense on a credit card."

Anti-interventionist skeptics might not be mollified by such talk of subtle gamesmanship, especially in the absence (as of press time) of Paul's actual proposed number for next year's military spending. Many remain puzzled by his support, announced last fall, for limited air strikes against ISIS. (The senator says they are necessary to protect U.S. diplomatic missions overseas.)

Once he was in direct competition with other Republicans on the campaign trail, however, candidate Paul again showed signs of anti-interventionist foreign policy gumption. At a New Hampshire GOP meeting later in April, the senator thundered about how "the other Republicans will criticize the president and Hillary Clinton for their foreign policy, but they would just have done the same thing-just 10 times over…There's a group of folks in our party who would have troops in six countries right now, maybe more."

In a late April fundraising letter, Paul tried to rally his own core supporters by complaining that "many in our party—including many announced and rumored Presidential candidates—would double down on the failures of the Obama-Clinton foreign policy of reckless engagement. Will you stand with me as I fight back against the irresponsible policy of wild foreign intervention?"

Many of Paul's once and future supporters would like to stand with Rand. But it still seems to be an open question exactly what kind of foreign policy, and what specific interventions, a President Paul might pursue. And that may well be exactly the way he and his campaign want it.

'That's Not Flip-Flopping'

Not all Paul fans are troubled by Rand's perceived changes of heart.

Greg Jent is a veteran Tea Party activist from Bowling Green, Kentucky, who has supported both Rand and his father, former Texas Rep. Ron Paul, over the years. Jent says he wasn't surprised by any of Rand's recent foreign policy positions because he spent some time with the Bowling Green–based ophthalmologist before he formally announced his candidacy for Senate in 2010. "We had lunch together at a local restaurant," Jent recalls. "And I got the opportunity to ask, 'Hey, I'm a Ron Paul guy from way back…Where are you different from your dad?'

"From that conversation, the first thing he said was that [he's] a little more hawkish than his dad is perceived [to be]. From my standpoint none of his current rhetoric is surprising. [Libertarians] call him 'sellout' or what have you. But I expected him to be more hawkish, because he told me he was."

Others in the senator's foreign policy orbit also tell me Rand Paul hasn't changed substantially, at least since he started speaking for himself instead of campaigning for his father. His more-hawkish-than-Ron nature has just gotten more attention as the younger Paul, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, became first a national figure and now a man vying to lead the GOP.

Paul's goal, he and his advisers insist, is to lead his party somewhere genuinely new, not to jump on the existing interventionist bandwagon. He wants to reform the GOP's foreign policy inclinations, to walk a path somewhere between the extremes. On one side is the "troops are for the homeland only" mentality, often called "isolationist" by its opponents. On the other is the "the world is full of crazed menaces who need to be taken out with military force" mentality, often called "neoconservative" by its critics. Paul's bet is that he can eschew both in favor of something better.

A presidential candidate with a Ron Paul-esque tendency to stress America's complicity in international crimes—who appears to take our so-called adversaries' point of view—risks alienating voters. It's much easier to sell the public on someone willing to say, as Rand Paul does, that when armed thugs behead Americans overseas, no matter the reason for their rancor, the U.S. needs to respond.

But Sen. Paul's foreign policy advisers and those who know him well deny political expediency is at play. Ryan Hogan, who worked both for Paul's Senate campaign and in the field for his senatorial office in Kentucky until September 2013, says Paul's tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he was privy to classified briefings, means he undoubtedly knows more about the world now than he once did. "When you gain new knowledge, that should change your opinions," Hogan says. "That's not flip-flopping. I do believe Rand still has a fundamental belief that less is better" when it comes to foreign intervention.

Paul's first major effort to define his foreign policy was a February 2013 speech at the Heritage Foundation, during which he attempted to place his foreign policy in the tradition of the Founding Fathers and Ronald Reagan. His ideas were neither neoconservative nor isolationist, Paul insisted. Instead, he was a "conservative realist"—someone who took seriously the distinction between "vital and peripheral interests," seeing only the former as worth going to war over. The vital vs. peripheral dichotomy was borrowed from the famous Cold War diplomat George Kennan, a man best known for advocating the principle that international opponents should be contained rather than merely fought.

Paul put distance between himself and his father by acknowledging that the U.S. is engaged in a "long, irregular confrontation" with radical Islam. He tipped his hat to the idea that our interventions in the Middle East can and do breed more enemies, saying: "Some libertarians argue that Western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam—I agree." Still, he insisted, the fact that past interventions contributed to our current problems doesn't mean we should rule out present interventions aimed at addressing new threats. And in a follow-up call with reporters, he said explicitly that the speech was intended in part to provide "separation" from the foreign policy views of his father.

Paul delivered a second, more polished speech defining "conservative realism" to the Center for the National Interest in October 2014. More than one of his foreign policy advisers has named that organization as the prime institutional and intellectual home for what could be called Rand Paulian foreign policy thinking. Founded in 1994 by Richard Nixon and called the Nixon Center until 2011, the center now publishes the journal National Interest.

In this later speech, Paul again endorsed the notion that our presence in the Middle East exacerbates radical Islam's hatred of the United States. But he stopped short of concluding that it would be healthier for us not to be involved in the region at all.

Paul makes many such on-the-one-hand/on-the-other formulations. These often succeed at making him sound like a nuanced thinker who sees the world in full, but they rarely add up to a comprehensive action agenda. For example, he'll say in one sentence that we "can't be sentimental about neutralizing" radical Islam, and in the next that "we also can't be blind to the fact that drone strikes that inadvertently kill civilians may create more jihadists than we eliminate." So are strikes that kill only confirmed jihadi enemies the goal? If so, it's an objective that our current drone masters haven't yet figured out how to achieve.

The Advisers

The younger Paul seems to have made a clean break from the foreign policy thinkers who influenced his father, including the likes of University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicidal Terrorism, which blamed that phenomenon more on occupation and less on radical Islam, and former CIA agent Michael Scheuer, author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror. No one from Ron Paul World is part of Rand Paul's current foreign policy team. In early April, I spoke with three of the people he has brought in to advise him instead.

Elise Jordan has worked at the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Afghanistan, and she has been a speechwriter for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (Her late husband was Michael Hastings, a journalist critical of the Pentagon's practice in Afghanistan, whose reporting led to Gen. Stanley McChrystal losing his job running U.S. operations there.) Jordan grants that "from a communication standpoint, if someone is always ready to go to war, that's easy to communicate. But having a nuanced, thoughtful way of looking at the world on a case-by-case basis—using a commonsense conservative realism—it's very important for foreign policy to move in this direction."

That Americans shouldn't fight wars not authorized by Congress is at the core of Paul's foreign policy, Jordan says. "Public debate comes out of getting such authorization that's important to galvanize. War shouldn't be a unilateral executive decision."

Richard Burt, another of Paul's foreign policy advisers, was an ambassador to Germany in the 1980s and a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiator after that. Burt says a scrappy bunch of foreign policy mavens, who feel like outsiders in a neocon age, has existed for a while. He got the sense that Paul could be their political horse to ride after the Heritage speech. So Burt and another future Paul adviser—Lorne Craner, former head of the International Republican Institute—introduced themselves to the senator over a meal. They became part of a small, informal group Paul would call on to hash out foreign policy questions.

Burt learned early on that Paul is "not bashful about providing a point of view and testing it in front of people. He does listen, and he does learn, and he's a voracious reader." Craner says another foreign policy intellectual he brought to a policy confab with Paul said the senator "may have been the smartest person in the room." Craner also notes Paul's rare-for-D.C. willingness to communicate with, be cordial toward, and try to learn from those he disagrees with.

None of these advisers claimed to speak authoritatively on specific Paul policy positions, but they offered a sense of the intellectual pond he has chosen to swim in. (The senator himself did not comment for this story.) Burt is not sanguine about nuclear proliferation, for example: "The problem with [unchecked nuclear proliferation] is it assumes everyone will be reasonable and rational," he says. "If you are a realist, you have to assume some people often do pretty irrational things."

Burt, Craner, and Jordan do not seem like the types to call for closing America's overseas bases and bringing all the troops home. But they all reject the country's current world-straddling mission. Burt recognizes, for instance, that while the U.S. might sometimes want to show the flag of its aircraft carriers in straits near China, it should understand that Chinese leaders are likely not "spending all their time figuring out how to invade the rest of Asia. They are mostly trying to figure out how to keep their population under control" and improve trade with the rest of the world.

Craner, who for years ran one of the do-gooding, democracy-bringing international aid groups Ron Paul types mistrust, says his experience taught him the ignorance and arrogance of the neocon mentality: "I did it for many, many years and I sense how hard it is," he says. "You don't just throw democracy dust onto a country and start stirring and two months later get democracy. People in general underestimate how hard it is and greatly overestimate our capacity in doing that. I would tell all my staff: It's their country, not ours, and they have to do the work.

"We can help on the margins," Craner says, but an obvious lesson of the past 10 years is that "we cannot install democracy into a country."

William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard and a standard-bearer for American intervention, doesn't think that Rand Paul is "as conspiratorial and cranky" as his father. But Kristol says he worries that the younger Paul's punctiliousness about drones and "really overwrought rhetoric about the [National Security Agency] shows a certain willingness to apply a libertarian suspicion of government to his own government" in a way that "leads to real concern about his foreign policy."

If Paul could imagine that "a military intelligence officer would target a U.S. citizen in a Starbucks," in other words, what other fringe positions is he harboring? Kristol doesn't think Rand represents a serious threat to the dominance of hawkish thought in America, but he admits that "when I speak to younger people, [Paul's] ideas have some resonance."

Burt agrees with the last point. "One of the reasons I wanted to get involved in this campaign is before I even knew Sen. Paul, I wanted to rebalance the debate within the party," he says. Looking back at the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, he continues, "there were neocons in those days, but they lost most of the debates. Under W. Bush, they won, and I wanted to address that issue. I think we are making headway, particularly among millennials. Younger people have seen us at war as long as they've been alive."

The 'Isolationist' Smear

Paul in March went as far as to spitball in a Breitbart News interview about having the U.S. help to form an independent Kurdistan, likely from the principle that we should be more helpful to peoples who are willing to fight bad guys abroad. But one source close to the campaign tells me that was an off-the-cuff remark rather than a carefully considered policy statement, and that we are not likely to hear much more from the senator about map-drawing.

During his time in Washington, Paul has voted for sanctions against Iran. But he's also voted to hold up further Iranian sanctions unless, as he put it in his Heritage speech, then–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) "allows a vote on my amendment that states, 'Nothing in this bill is to be interpreted as a declaration of war or a use of authorization of force.'" As he underlined, "The debate over war is the most important debate that occurs in our country and should not be glossed over."

As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Paul has argued for specific authorizations from Congress for new military actions, and he has argued against using the original post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force for Afghanistan as a catchall for eternity. He has tried to shore up his reputation as a friend to Israel—important in Republican politics—by regularly pushing a "Stand with Israel" Act to deny U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist, among other demands. And in an attempt to appeal to evangelicals, he has also promoted a bill to prohibit aid to nations that persecute Christians by law.

The financially ruinous problem of debt, much of it driven by vast spending for wars, was a common theme from both Ron and early Rand Paul; it remains to be seen how central it will be to the 2016 campaign. "The looming debt crisis will force us to reassess our role in the world," Rand told Heritage in 2013. That same year, the senator told me he wanted to make "Audit the Pentagon" as popular a slogan as his dad made "Audit the Fed."

Both Burt and Craner are open to the idea that the Department of Defense could run more intelligently on a lot less money. But Kentuckians Greg Jent and Ryan Hogan, both of whom are savvy about appealing to Tea Party voters, think Rand Paul has an even bigger foreign policy selling point than a desire to cut spending: the perception that he will be more careful, and more conscientious toward congressional prerogatives, when it comes to starting new wars.

Hogan, who did field work for Paul in Kentucky, says this may be especially important to veterans, military families, and soldiers themselves. He's found that Kentuckians connected to the military are quickest to wonder, "What are we fighting for? What are we doing?" The same mission-skepticism that made active-duty military a perhaps surprising source of campaign support for Ron Paul may also benefit his son in a GOP field crowded with hawks.

Paul is careful to distance himself from an isolationism he says was never his. In the October 2014 speech, he declared that "war is necessary when America is attacked or threatened, when vital American interests are attacked and threatened, and when we have exhausted all other measures short of war." Yet his political enemies still hope to hang the isolationist albatross around his neck.

In the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Nevada, a mysteriously funded group calling itself the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America ran a TV ad in the week after Paul announced for president. Among other things, it featured old quotes from Paul questioning whether a nuclear Iran is really a dire threat to our national security. Although Paul says he now definitely sees Iran as a menace, as recently as his February 2013 Heritage speech he was delighting libertarians with quotes from various Israeli officials saying Iranian nuclear weapons were not particularly imminent, not necessarily an existential threat to Israel, or something a preemptive attack could speed up rather than delay.

The Paul campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to the TV stations running the commercials, with his lawyers insisting they misrepresent Paul's current position on Iran. The Sunlight Foundation, in a report on the controversy, found no evidence that any station actually nixed the ads.

As they ran, Paul gave a stump speech in South Carolina in front of the World War II-era aircraft carrier U.S.S. Yorktown. He used the opportunity to touch on military matters, calling out anyone who "frivolously or cavalierly calls for war."

Slippery 'Realism'

Realism doesn't define itself. Nor are vital and peripheral interests always easily differentiated. Our beliefs about which things are worth going to war over will be colored, if not totally determined, by our ideological and emotional preconceptions. No two people's perspectives on the way the world works will ever be entirely the same.

Built into the conflict between foreign policy visions is the question of whether it's vital or just peripheral that the U.S. government gets its way outside our borders. Is it enough for Americans to be safe from attack and unmolested in our domestic life? Or do we have a vital interest in ensuring that everything our foreign policy elites would like to happen overseas becomes reality?

Neocons tend to imagine that the alternative to doing something is another Hitler, who will invade nation after nation until forcibly put back. Other people think aggressive military force should be reserved for responses to direct attacks on American territory. To us, it seems highly unrealistic to think the military can be used to eliminate nonstate enemies, save unstable foreign nations, or achieve a lasting peace. We look at the history of U.S. martial efforts, from Vietnam through Libya, and see little evidence that war making is good for America.

Paul's call for "realism" doesn't give either side enough information to confidently predict what actions he would take under what circumstances as commander in chief. For his part, adviser Burt says he detects in Paul "an aversion to this open-ended, values-driven idea that the U.S. has a mission to refashion or remake the world and engage in unlimited regime change and nation building. I think he recognizes that rational people would know that policy has failed."

Paul has also explicitly declared that strategic ambiguity is a virtue in diplomacy. Regarding Iran in particular, during his Heritage speech he said that "while I think it unwise to declare that we will contain a nuclear Iran, I think it equally unwise to say we will never contain a nuclear Iran." It doesn't pay, in other words, to let your diplomatic partners and opponents know exactly what you'll do.

The Rand Paul campaign seems to think that ambiguity might also be a virtue in politics—that to tell everyone what you intend to do in a given situation is to risk giving voters a reason to reject you. The problem is, when it comes to those voters who do identify with one of the extremes that Paul and his foreign policy advisers hope to move the country away from, ambiguity gives them insufficient reason to be for you, either.

NEXT: Brickbat: Stolen Valor

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  1. Shorter: Paul will be happy to say whatever he thinks it takes to get him elected. We can hope that what’s underneath is libertarian, but remember the last guy who presented himself as a Rorschach test, encouraging voters to project their own beliefs onto him.

    Surprise, he’s a politician!

    1. Huh, thats not at all an accurate short version of the article. Im guessing you didnt read it.

      1. And you’d be wrong.

      2. When you read shit like this:

        Many of Paul’s once and future supporters would like to stand with Rand. But it still seems to be an open question exactly what kind of foreign policy, and what specific interventions, a President Paul might pursue. And that may well be exactly the way he and his campaign want it.

        it’s hard to draw any other conclusion.

        1. Or, you know, he is trying to position himself as a reagan republican. Seems a better short version.

          1. Not saying your version is wrong, just that it wasnt the point of the article.

            1. Irrespective of Brian’s intent, the facts and quotes he presents unambiguously lead to this conclusion.

              1. But “shorter version” implies same intent.

                And no they dont. I actually thought your shorter version was going to be accurate before I read article.

                1. And no they dont.

                  How many more quotes do I need to present? He’s flopping around like a hooked marlin of ambiguity. I mean, sure, that’s *possibly* better than being a straightforward tard, but the end result may well be the same.

        2. Or, you know, he is trying to position himself as a reagan republican. Seems a better short version.

  2. OT: Why Schools Alone Can’t Close Achievement Gaps (from the Economic Policy Institute)


    Some good points:

    – parenting practices that impede children’s intellectual and behavioral development

    – single parenthood

    -parents’ irregular work schedules

    A self-admitted unsupported point:

    – inadequate access to primary and preventive health care

    “No research directly associates physician access with children’s cognitive or non-cognitive outcomes, but a relationship is easy to intuit.” (read: we have no evidence for this, but we never let the lack of evidence get in the way of politics)

    And a point that Steve Chapman argued earlier this week: https://reason.com/archives/201…..-stay-poor

    -Exposure to and absorption of lead in the blood

    1. I am skeptical about the lead poisoning. What is the source of the lead?

      1. Locally sourced, organic lead.

      2. I am, too. From the summary:

        “Although lead was removed from gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s, lead remains on the ground and is frequently stirred up into breathable air. Lead also remains in windows, window frames, the walls of older buildings, and pipes carrying water to residences. Lead cleanup is expensive, but it would result in substantial overall savings in reduced special education placements, reduced criminal behavior, and greater worker productivity from adults with greater cognitive ability.”

        In the body of the study, the authors indicate that lead exposure has decreased drastically over the last decade or so. This implies that we should see better academic performance from those populations in question.

        1. Since we are not seeing better academic performances in these populations as a result of lead removal, and the authors admit that their fourth point is unsupported by actual evidence (but by “intuition”), the real causes are likely found in the first three points.

        2. Lead has to be ingested in order to poison a person and the only way that can happen is if it is dissolved in acid. Metallic lead isn’t poisonous. Eat it or breath it in and it will get you. Otherwise it is harmless.

          Lead on the ground? In windows? Frequently stirred up into breathable air? That is all bullshit. I have been around people like that before, people who think lead is as poisonous as cyanide solution. I goad them into a hysterical fit and get them to make ridiculous assertions (one told me that anyone working with lead would die after a few years) before telling them that I have worked safely with lead all of my life, or better, showing them my extensive collection of bullet molds and stockpile of lead.

          1. Lead poisoning is a serious issue in very historically Democrat controlled city.

            Nine people died of lead poisoning in Chicago just over Memorial weekend..

    2. Interesting that they don’t cite Jeynes, who has been doing work on this topic for a while. I recently read his last article, which was a meta-analysis of 30 other studies. Unfortunately, the article is behind a pay wall and the abstract doesn’t give any spoilers. Long story short, the two factors with the largest effect size in closing the gap were Religiously-Oriented Schools and Religious Faith. Family Factors and Curriculum also had a statistically significant effect, but not as high as the first two factors.

      1. So what role is religion playing?

        1. Discipline.

          The people I have known who were mired in poverty had breathtakingly bad judgement. Really, watching them go through an average day was stunning. 100% of their bad judgement was due to self-indulgence. They had zero self-discipline.

        2. Discipline.

          The people I have known who were mired in poverty had breathtakingly bad judgement. Really, watching them go through an average day was stunning. 100% of their bad judgement was due to self-indulgence. They had zero self-discipline.

        3. Jeynes guesses that if one is religious, then one is less likely to engage in behaviors that are miseducative (i.e., teen pregnancy, drugs, etc.). He also thinks that their might be a connection to a Weberian “Protestant Work Ethic” thing going on.

      2. People in chronic pain chronically take pain relievers

        The purpose of Prohibition is to further debilitate such people and those who supply them.

  3. For a piece with this level of focus you’d think that we’d be able to get beyond the “interventionist/non interventionist”, “neocon/isolationist” false dichotomies that serve to elide more than they clarify.

    All “foreign policy” involves ‘intervention’. When people like sheldon describe trade and diplomacy with former soviet states as “interventionism”… you’re a vegan accusing everyone else of “Meatism” – including those traitorous vegetarians who eat eggs.

    Foreign policy cant (and shouldnt) be reduced to “how interveney or not” it is. It should be described in concrete terms of what specific goals we want to achieve

    1. Foreign Policy should serve our self-interest as defined by a broader philosophy of rational self-interest.

      1. I think you could fit every FP school that has ever existed under that umbrella with ease

        By ‘specific’, i meant things like = a rough outline defining what our primary interests are vis a vis other major powers, and what RP would look to change versus the current status quo

        That sort of thing doesnt even have to be comprehensive. E.g. “heres where we want to see US-China relations in 10 years. And here’s why we should scrap NATO… and here’s why Democrats have their head up their ass about Israel, etc”

        1. I disagree. It is hard to square sacrificing our young men and women to nation-build in Iraq.

          1. “nation-build in Iraq”

            is that what that was?

            i think that misunderstands both the original intents, & what was actually done. the term made sense in context of Bosnia… since then, not so much.

      1. He leaves out the most important point: oysters are basically phlegm. There is a reason that expectoration is often termed, “Hocking an oyster.”

        1. Yeah, they don’t make good collateral, they spoil fast.

    2. Rand stands to get shit on twice by that false dichotomy. Libertarians oft slap the label of interventionist on him while Neocons call Rand an isolationist. His personal plans for acceptable war scenarios aside, my primary concern is whether he would stand behind his declaration that war is the call of congress if sitting in the oval office.

      I give him a pass for signing that open letter to Iran. The known terms- such as leaving Iran’s icbm program out of the deal, have me thinking this deal reeks of legacy building for the president rather than creating a nuclear free Iran.

  4. If anything, Rand Paul is tainted by association with Ron Paul.

    1. “Right-wing dynasty”

    2. Yeah, that’s tough, especially since none of the other candidates carry any baggage.

  5. Geez, Brian We all already know rand paul is, like, the bestest ever. We’ve determined that from the 3,000 articles you all have written about him.

    My question is that after he gets about 6% of the vote in the primaries and drops out which Republican pro-lifer we’re all going to turn the libertarian moment over to? Rubio or Jeb– compare and contrast, please.

    1. I think most pro-lifers would make an exception in your case

      1. Hey gilmore,

        How many decades are right-wingers like you going to feel like the righteous victim when someone makes a death threat and then gets a visit from the cops? Three?

        1. makes a death threat statement that was willfully mischaracterized by a mendacious prosecutor pretending that anyone who is not on the autism spectrum could ever confuse those statements, being as Constitutionally protected political satire with plausible threats of violence.

          Unless you think, like Saudi Arabia, we should prosecute against acts of necromancy.

        2. witless, AND incoherent. getting the day started early?

          1. It giggles and touches itself when you give it attention.

            1. Nah… Mostly I just incredulously guffaw.

          2. I’m just maintaining my link to an American pacifist and war tax protester and not changing it to a commercial for a tractor. Together, we can all make it through this greatest threat to the 1st amendment since someone threw a pie at ann coulter.


              1. HM, you haven’t edited your profile so you can tell us how big of a blowhard you are.

              2. In the name of Allah and with Allah: in the name of Allah-that which Allah wills (takes place); in the name of Allah- there is no power nor strength save with Allah. Musa said : What you have brought is sorcery; verily Allah will soon make it vain: verily Allah does not put in order the work of the mischief-makers.
                Thus the truth was established, and what they were doing was made vain.So there and then (Firawn and his enchanters) were defeated and made to look small, humiliated

    2. which Republican pro-lifer we’re all going to turn the libertarian moment over to

      Your mom…unfortunately?

      1. Too late, right-wing dumbass. Right-wing dumbass above beat you to it.

        1. Too late

          Unless my progeny develop a Terminator? equipped with a device to stimulate a miscarriage and have your fetus egested directly into an atomizer it might well be too late. Just in case, do you prefer to be scented or non?

          1. C’mon…you can’t post something like that without the theme song.

    3. Hordor!

    4. You say “pro-lifer” like its anathema to libertarianism. That’s horribly inaccurate.

      1. It either is what it says it is, or it’s a troll. Either way you shouldn’t give it the attention it so desperately craves.

  6. Sen. Paul’s foreign policy advisers and those who know him well deny political expediency is at play.

    Of course they do.

  7. Yesterday I was surprised to learn that two acquaintances I had thought were progressives are planning to vote for Rand. One’s even a registered L.

  8. You know what I call ‘strategic ambiguity”? Smart diplomacy. A President cannot and should not always be clear about his intentions in a particular area or conflict. The problem with always being clear is that it commits the country to that position and makes backing it up, even if it means using force, a question of national credibility. So some President shoots off his mouth and says “we will not let Russia invade country X”, well then Russia does it and the US is now painted in a corner. It no longer can judge its response by the merits of the situation because US credibility is on the line.

    At the same time, you don’t want a President who makes it clear he will never do anything either. This encourages aggression and encourages our enemies to miscalculate and stumble into a war. No matter how weak or isolationist a President, there are some things no President of the US and indeed the American public will tolerate. You don’t want our enemies miscalculating and doing those things causing a war.

  9. What you want is strength with a good measure of ambiguity. You want our enemies to respect and fear us but also never be totally sure how we will respond to a provocation. The ambiguity allows a President the freedom to choose how to provocations without worrying about damaging US credibility by not coming through on an explicit promise. You need to wherever possible give yourself an out if you need one. The strength gives our enemies pause and encourages them to avoid provocation altogether.

    To put it in plainer terms, a President should be very careful about drawing lines in the sand and at the same time should not appear weak.

    1. Just don’t say “All options are on the table.”

      1. There is nothing wrong with that. IN fact, that is exactly the kind of ambiguity I am talking about. All options are on the table doesn’t mean I am going to use force. It just means I might if I decide to. It is asking our enemies “do you feel lucky?”

        1. I would have to agree with John here. Sure Belichek is going to try and steal your playbook. Doesn’t mean you should hand it over. I would also agree with Gilmore above about false dichotomies. It’s almost like foreign policy is complex and may not fit into ideological talking points. The world is full of dangerous creatures. Doesn’t mean you go around kicking them all, but they should at least believe you’re prepared to if necessary.

    2. To put it in plainer terms, a President should be very careful about drawing lines in the sand and at the same time should not appear weak.

      I don’t disagree with this.

      Where you get into trouble is when you begin to believe that every nail requires pounding and/or thinking you can eliminate all the nails.

      For instance, terrorist acts should certainly be responded to with force. The question is to what extent. Are you going to punish those responsible or are you going to attempt to eliminate terrorism from the face of the earth (an unrealistic/untenable goal)? Terrorists are certainly a threat, but in the big scheme of things, not a very large one when compared to say a nuclear conflict or even an invasion. The latter two have the potential to significantly harm the country’s population and way of life (rights). THAT’s a “real” threat. Terror is a nuisance. You deal with each threat with the minimum amount of force required to rectify the situation.

      An effective foreign policy is being responsible with limited resources, being able to distinguish a real threat from the chaff and being responsible enough to not act based on feelz.

    3. You available for Secretary of State in a few months?

  10. Hi,

    I’m a leftist libertarian who believes that the government should stay out of the private lives of its citizens and not reinforce the privileges and pleasures of the wealthy and politically connected. That said, I see my role here as a regular commenter as a soother. In that vein, I’d just like to tell the wood chipper clan that there probably isn’t a gang of ATF agents outside your home or business. You can thank me later.

    1. I’m a leftist libertarian who believes that the government should stay out of the private lives of its citizens and not reinforce the privileges and pleasures of the wealthy and politically connected.

      Unless their “private life” includes, owning a gun, eating the wrong foods, making decisions about or paying for their health care, or what kind of appliances they use up to and including the nature of their toilet, or having sex while intoxicated or without each party explicitly saying yes to each act, then the government needs to be in complete control because that stuff isn’t really private. Private is only gay sex and abortion and nothing else.

      Whoever is running this trolling act sometimes hits comedy gold.

    2. Hey AMSOC. Knock Knock.

    3. You don’t stand up for NAP, so you aren’t a libertarian.

      (Unless I’ve missed the definition of the term entirely.)

  11. Ron Paul was a purist in his belief and actions. Unfortunately his son Rand is just another political hack trying to stake out territory so he will appear different than all the other political hacks. There is only one person who can beat Hillary and she won’t get the nomination.

  12. Such a gentle criticism, Brian, of Paul’s foreign policy inclinations which at the end of the day seem fairly close to Obama’s. And maybe even worse considering Paul’s active attempt to scuttle negotiations with Iran.

    It’s only “ambiguous?” When Obama holds his cards close to his vest, to Reason that is confused foreign policy, maybe even neoconish. Paul wants to lead his party to a new foreign policy? Walk the middle ground between two extremes? Obama using scaled back military overseas is him being no different than Bush…at least according to Reason.

    Come on…at least be consistent in your outrage.

    1. Come on, Ace. You can’t judge a politician by what he says or what he does– like bring a hundred thousand troops home from Iraq. You have to divine his intention, preferably with a divining rod.

      If paul essentially parrots obama’s rhetoric on foreign policy, he’s a brave politician sticking it to the Republican Party elite. If he essentially parrots the Neocon elite in the Republican Party by proposing massive increases in defense spending or saber-rattling with Iran, he ‘a demonstrating his electability. You can’t lose or be left wondering on what basement floor rand paul left his integrity on with those forgiving metrics, I’ll tell you!

      1. It’s the consistency thing that they keep struggling with here. They are very selective when it comes to outrage.

      2. “bring a hundred thousand troops hime from Iraq”

        President Obama did that? You sure?

        1. PH2050. Neither one of those goofs are going to answer you. They both know that they are liars.

  13. We need a national defense robust enough to defend against all attack, modern enough to deter all enemies, and nimble enough to defend our vital interests.”

    What’s the issue here? That couldn’t be more libertarian.

    Note he said “defend against all attack”…not prevent all attack. “Modern enough to deter all enemies” means you maintain a technological advantage. And “nimble enough to defend our vital interests” should we be aggressed upon. That’s what you have a military for.

    There is nothing there that says he’ll continue the policies of preemptive killing of the last two administrations.

    The spending increase over the next two years is required…IF you are going to maintain the current National Military Strategy, as the last 14 years of idiocy have ground our equipment into the ground. He realizes that and voted in kind. It doesn’t mean he won’t change national strategies to reduce/cut the scope of the military once he has the ability to do so.

    My only concern is his position on ISIS. There may be some political gamesmanship happening here, unless he knows something I don’t.

    Libertarians are non-interventionists, not isolationists or pacifists. You keep the force required to deter being fucked with and able to defend if you are. Speak softly and carry a big stick.

  14. On Jefferson’s inauguration as president in 1801, Yussif Karamanli, the Pasha (or Bashaw) of Tripoli demanded $225,000 from the new administration. (In 1800, Federal revenues totaled a little over $10 million.) Putting his long-held beliefs into practice, Jefferson refused the demand. Consequently, in May of 1801, the Pasha declared war on the United States, not through any formal written documents, but by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate. Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis soon followed their ally in Tripoli.

    In response, Jefferson sent a group of frigates to defend American interests in the Mediterranean, and informed Congress. Although Congress never voted on a formal declaration of war, they did authorize the President to instruct the commanders of armed vessels of the United States to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”

    1. =======================

      BTW the same gang Jefferson fought against has declared the same thing they declared in Jefferson’s day.


      In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (or Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). When they enquired “concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury”, the ambassador replied:

      It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.



      Sure seems like we are facing the same enemy today. And I’m glad Rand at least in some small way sees that.

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  17. Among the Republican candidates, Rand Paul is probably the least likely to play ball with moneyed interests. While that is something that I admire greatly, it is a huge detriment to his chances in the primary. Politics is largely a criminal enterprise dominated by those who believe in exploiting the system for maximum personal benefit. Half of all political money is illicit and that is often the half that separates winners from losers. Sad but true.

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  19. Never mind all that stuff. Somebody *please* tell me that Rand Paul has a serious chance of winning the Republican nomination and beating Hillary in the general election, because I still don’t see it.
    I’ll hold my nose and vote for Rand, because even though I don’t think he’s as good as his father, he’s still better than 99.9% of all the other politicians out there, especially those cornballs running for president.

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