Josh Rogin, writing at the Washington Post, contemplates the supposedly frightening shadow of Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) hovering over some of President Donald Trump's recent foreign policy decisions. Rogin's piece adds to some unsourced musings from Beltway types that the most influential adviser to Trump on foreign policy right now is not anyone on his staff or a member of the Pentagon brass, but the Kentucky senator known for his skepticism about endless foreign adventuring.
Rogin thinks it fair to say that Paul, via informal communication with golfing buddy Trump, "is quietly steering U.S. foreign policy in a new direction." Among the public evidence for this is Trump tweet-quoting Paul after announcing his intention to pull U.S. troops from Syria on how "[it]t should not be the job of America to replace regimes around the world."
Paul's influence is bad, Rogin maintains, because "Trump may be taking Paul's word over that of his own advisers. Moreover, Paul has a history of pushing false claims and theories."
The implication, against all evidence, is that government foreign policy experts somehow do not "push…false claims and theories," even though their beliefs about such matters as Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, and the supposedly positive aftereffects of toppling Middle Eastern dictators such as Saddam and Libyan Colonel Muammar Gadafi, have been disastrously wrong.
Paul is specifically accused of not quickly accepting claims that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was definitively responsible for poison gas attacks in Syria. This is a hollow criticism considering that former Defense Secretary James Mattis publicly accused Assad while "the intelligence community was still assessing the evidence." To Rogin and the foreign policy establishment he speaks for, it's always better to err on the side of intervening first and getting answers later.
Rogin further falls back on a linkless assertion that "Trump should realize that most Republicans — and most Americans — favor a robust U.S. foreign policy. Most voters recognize that worldwide threats to our country are growing and believe now is a time for American leadership, not American retreat." This claim totally ignores strong recent evidence to the contrary. What we know about public sentiment in the last election says that foreign policy is a motivating issue mostly to people like Rogin and the Washingtonians responsible for decades of insanely ineffectual and destructive foreign interventionism; barring attacks, the American people are mostly (and rightly) concerned with domestic business.
Rogin chooses not to address any actual reason why Trump pulling back the troops, possibly under Paul's influence, should be alarming. He treats it as self-evident that American troops must stay indefinitely wherever we send them, and he ignores the dangers of overthrowing dictators in favor of Islamic revolutionaries. He also fails to acknowledges that America has failed many times over the last century to bring conflicts in other countries to permanent and happy ends.
It's not that I don't feel for Rogin. The reflexive defense of U.S. intervention everywhere and always is a hard game; merely asserting that it's a self-evident good because "expert advisers" said so is the best they can do. If Rand Paul's influence is, as the unnamed sources seem to believe, pushing Trump to actually make good on campaign promises to shrink America's military footprint overseas, then that is definitely for the good. Rogin fails to make the case that it's not.