A lot of otherwise smart people are twisting themselves into pretzels explaining why Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is taking the foreign and defense policy positions that he has. Paul’s latest gambit was to join in the looney tunes voices on the Likud fringe of the GOP in demanding more debate on the Chuck Hagel nomination by suggesting that the former Nebraska Senator might well have some unsavory foreign connections, an assertion for which there is absolutely no evidence. The apologists are noting that Paul did not actually vote against the Hagel nomination but merely to enable extending the debate, as if there are degrees of opposing a candidate even when there is no reason whatsoever to do so.
What is worrisome about Paul, an ophthalmologist by training, is his nearly complete ignorance of what a proper U.S. foreign policy should encompass in spite of his holding a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He should be asking himself why the world’s approval rating of Washington and its policies has plummeted in the past twelve years but instead he appears to be completely reliant on his equally afflicted advisers who carefully craft the positions they believe he should take to further his presidential aspirations. It seems that the coterie that so successfully executed his father’s presidential bid, headed by the inimitable $1.1 million dollar man Jesse Benton, is somehow coalescing around the son possibly in hopes of more fresh meat also known as consulting fees. Is evangelical outreacher and famous presidential chronicler Doug Wead, who enabled a meeting where father Ron agreed to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, somewhere lurking? Probably. Jack Hunter "The Southern Avenger" is already on the payroll as Rand’s New Media Director but who else is coming over to cash in? John Tate almost certainly will show up. As will Mike Rothfeld whose Saber Communications reportedly billed the Paul campaign for $1,196,376 for "advertising, bulk mail, and email services" in Virginia in 2011? Rand has also apparently been receiving briefings from former Mitt Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor and other neoconservatives, to include a number of meetings with Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.
No matter who is writing the script or pulling the strings, it is an effort worthy of a C-minus. I like to think of it in terms of asking what Rand is saying and doing that goes beyond what he has to say and do to maintain his viability in the Republican Party, which admittedly is necessary if he wishes to remain in the Senate. Just last week did Rand have to jump on the Ted Cruz bandwagon and imply that Hagel was hiding something sinister before casting the key vote to extend the debate? Of course not, but he did it anyway presumably because it made him look like a player in the Senate confirmation proceedings and also bought him some media coverage. If he wanted to vote against Hagel, or even if he wants to vote for him when the final ballot in the Senate comes up, he could have just kept his mouth shut but instead he chose to align himself with the demagogic Cruz – whom Rand endorsed and campaigned for in Texas – as well as John McCain and Lindsey Graham. If he votes for Hagel after voting against him he will inevitably and fairly be seen as flip-flopping to cover both sides of the argument. Dumb move Rand.
And then there was the famous Heritage Foundation speech of two weeks ago, which mixed fact with fiction in its foreign policy analysis, claiming incorrectly, for example, that the CIA had once armed and funded Osama bin Laden. Paul oddly advocated some kind of containment policy for dealing with Iran (while still threatening to bomb them), as if third world Iran is somehow a threat comparable to the Soviet Union with its massive military capabilities and global reach. Rand also made clear who the real enemy is – "radical Islam" – demonstrating full well both his complete cluelessness combined with his having absorbed the Bill Kristol first rule of foreign policy, which is that all Muslims are bad. Rand could have made a reasonable speech advocating a restrained and constitutional defense and security policy without the by now obligatory attacks on Iran and Muslims, but he chose not to. Dumb move Rand.
If Rand is seeking to bring about his father’s vision of a dramatic shift in how America sees itself vis-à-vis the rest of the world he is going about the task in a very strange way. Once upon a time, while running for the Senate, Rand actually criticized America’s inclination to enter into overseas wars and its worldwide military footprint, though at the same time he supported the war in Afghanistan and urged against too hasty a withdrawal from Iraq. He has since said that he would have voted against the Iraq War if he had been in office at the time. Shortly after his election in 2010, he, to his credit, called for an end to all foreign aid, began to criticize the conduct of the Iraq War, and has opposed any language in sanctions legislation directed against Syria and Iran that might authorize military action. He has rejected any direct U.S. role against the Assad regime in Damascus.
But then last June Rand Paul got the ambition bug big time. He endorsed Mitt Romney for president of the United States and followed up by saying he would be "honored" to be Romney’s choice for vice president. Regarding Mitt’s foreign policy views, Rand Paul told the despicable Sean Hannity that Mitt "would be a very responsible commander-in-chief…that he’ll have a mature attitude and beliefs towards foreign policy." Rand apparently didn’t hear all Romney’s American Exceptionalism talk, chose to ignore that Mitt had virtually declared war on Iran, and also didn’t notice that Romney had turned over much of U.S. foreign policy to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And it was all unnecessary and even pointless because he will never be embraced by the GOP apparatchiks because of his father. Rand should have endorsed Romney as the GOP candidate and left it at that. It should also be noted that father Ron refused to endorse Mitt. Dumb move Rand.
Rand has been arguing that "The Iranian regime is engaged in the pursuit of nuclear weapons and supports terrorism across the globe," which is pretty much a straight neoconservative line that could have been parroted by Mitt Romney as written by Dan Senor. And none of it is true. That Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon is incorrect according to the CIA and Iran’s so-called support of terrorism consists of its relationships with groups that oppose Israel, so Paul’s indictment of Iran is basically a set of highly questionable talking points. After the November election, Rand Paul joined 99 other Senators in voting unanimously for increasingly harsh sanctions on Iran designed to crippled the country’s economy. He could have abstained or voted no. His father Ron had a different view in August, slamming a similar bill in the house and voting against it, calling the measures an unconstitutional "act of war." Ron was right and Rand was wrong. Dumb move Rand.
Since that time Senator Paul has been working particularly hard to dispel the notion that he is anti-Israel. He recently returned from a weeklong visit to the Middle East, most of which was spent in Israel, that was paid for by an evangelical group called the American Family Association (AFA), which is stridently anti-homosexual. One source reports that "Last year…AFA spokesperson and radio jockey Bryan Fischer…claimed that Hitler surrounded himself with gay ‘storm troopers to be his enforcers’ because according to Fischer straight storm troopers found moral objection to Nazism."
The Jerusalem Post reported that during the Rand Paul family visit, which Paul described as undertaken for "seeing our Judeo Christian roots," the senator said that Israel’s settlement policies are "none of our business" before adroitly backing away from any suggestion of cutting aid at any time soon by noting that a bankrupt America would not be a good ally for Israel and then explaining "This does mean that we have to reassess who to give aid to, and when we do reassess that, I would begin with countries that are burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America.’ No one is accusing Israel of that." So the supporter of eliminating foreign aid found that it is sometimes politically expedient to only cut it if it is going to Muslims.
Rand’s trip to Israel is only explicable in terms of his wanting to become president. Absent that, he didn’t have to see (sic) his roots or kiss Bibi’s ring or pretend that Israel is some kind of ally. Nor did he have to demonize what he calls "death to America" countries. And he didn’t have to give a free pass to the Israeli settlements, which he either knows or should know damage U.S. interests. Several dumb moves Rand.
Rand Paul also briefly visited Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, including a meeting described as follows: "U.S. Senator Rand Paul informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of his country’s opposition to the Palestinian intention to join United Nations agencies…the Republican Senator told Abbas after a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah that the United States will impose sanctions on the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) if it decided to join UN agencies." Rand didn’t have to beat up on the already constantly abused and desperate Palestinians, but I suppose he thought they were an easy mark to show how tough he can be and to convince the Christian Zionists in Kentucky that he is their boy. Dumb move Rand.
On January 24th, Paul doubled down to make sure his friends in Israel had heard him properly. He confronted Obama’s nominee for secretary of State John Kerry, complaining about Egypt, "You’ve heard President Morsi’s comments about Zionists and Israelis being blood suckers and descendants of apes and pigs, do you think it’s wise to send them F16’s and Abrams tanks?… They only understand… strength, if we keep sending them weapons they’re not gonna change their behavior…" He then went on to mention threats to Israel four times while a day later he continued in the same vein, stating that the United States government should publicly declare as policy that "Any attack on Israel will be treated as if it is an attack on the United States," a position that would tie Washington’s policy to that of Tel Aviv with the Israelis able to dictate developments. While there may be a lot of American who choose to think, as Rand apparently does, that Israel is essentially part of the United States, it just ain’t so. That was a really, really dumb move Rand.
Some friends of Rand note that in spite of his flaws he is nevertheless as good as it gets in the Senate. That may be true on some issues or even in general, but all too often in foreign policy he acts like John McCain, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, and the recently departed Joe Lieberman. This article is not, however, intended to suggest in any way that Rand Paul has not behaved honorably on a number of occasions because, after all, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.