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Interview with Rand Paul: 'I Can't Support Anybody to Be Our Secretary of State Who Didn't Learn the Lesson of Iraq'

For the libertarian-leaning senator, just about anybody would be better than John Bolton or Rudy Giuliani.

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Paul
Gage Skidmore/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Sen. Rand Paul implored President-Elect Donald Trump not to pick Rudy Giuliani or John Bolton to run the State Department and suggested he would be inclined to vote against their confirmation.

In an interview with Reason, Paul described Bolton and Giuliani as representatives of "the most bellicose interventionist wing of any party" and the antithesis of the restrained foreign policy platform Trump ran on. The selection of either man would be a serious betrayal of Trump's supporters, who wanted a clean break from the rabid interventionism of the past GOP administration.

"I can't support anybody to be our secretary of state who didn't learn the lesson of the Iraq War," said Paul.

After dropping out of the GOP presidential race, Paul focused on his own re-election to the Senate, and didn't offer Trump much in the way of vociferous support. But like many other libertarians, Paul found something to admire in Trump's stated opposition to neoconservatism.

"I don't think anybody believed that he was going to be libertarian on foreign policy, but there was at least a glimmer of hope that he would be less of an interventionist than Clinton," said Paul. "The things he says unscripted on the campaign trail were much less hawkish than Hillary Clinton."

That was a fair assumption, given Hillary Clinton's extreme hawkishness. Sen. Clinton was a key supporter of the Iraq War. And though she later regretted that vote, Secretary of Clinton repeated the error—and then some—when she pushed the Obama administration to intervene in Libya. The U.S.-backed ousters of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi have destabilized the entire Middle East and contributed to the rise of ISIS.

But Trump's leading secretary of state candidates—Bolton, especially—have embraced all of Clinton's worst foreign policy blunders and would push the federal government to do even more. Indeed, Bolton has made public his support for taking the country to war with Iran.

Paul described Bolton as "unhinged."

"It concerns me that Trump would put someone in charge who is unhinged as far as believing in absolute and total intervention," he said.

Bolton would have almost no chance of getting Paul's support, unless the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations repudiated virtually everything he stands for. Giuliani would face a similarly uphill battle to persuade Paul, he said.

As Reason's Brian Doherty noted, Paul could make trouble for an unacceptable secretary of state pick. Paul sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is currently split 10-9. If he voted with the Democrats, he could certainly send a message—though this would not prevent the full Senate from voting to confirm, according to The Washington Post.

When asked to name a suitable alternative, Paul pointed to Sen. Bob Corker—who is also on Trump's short list—as a better choice.

"I would say, while not being libertarian, [Corker] is more of a reasonable, realist kind of person," said Paul. "I think he would be less likely to say tomorrow we need to drop bombs on Iran."

In any case, it's unsettling that Trump was so immediately tempted to choose unrepentant hawks to run his State Department—especially considering that he owes the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party very little. Most neoconservatives abandoned Trump and supported Clinton, Paul noted.

"[Bolton and Giuliani] don't represent even the mainstream of foreign policy," said Paul.

It's too soon to say whether Trump will betray his non-interventionist supporters. But the possibility of a Bolton or Giuliani running the State Department is truly frightening, and libertarians should be grateful that Paul was willing to speak up in defense of principle. We can only hope it makes a difference.