The War Party vs. Rand Paul

by , November 22, 2010

A couple of years ago, I complained to my old friend, the late Burt Blumert, that some libertarian or other was getting a bit too hot under the collar and needed to cool down a bit: I forget the exact personalities or circumstances involved, but basically I was arguing that we had to police ourselves so as not to give our enemies ammunition. Relax, he told me, it doesn’t matter what you say or do: they’re going to smear you with the same old epithets anyway!

I was skeptical, but, as in so many other instances in which Burt gave me advice, I’ve since discovered he was absolutely correct. Example number one: the attack on Rand Paul launched by Sen. John McCain at a recent gathering of the neocons’ “Foreign Policy Initiative.” “I worry a lot,” McCain said,

“Because throughout the history of the Republican Party in modern times, there’s been, obviously, as we know, two wings: The isolationist wing, manifested before World War II and at other times; and the internationalist side. And so I think there are going to be some tensions within our party.”

McCain then singled newly-elected libertarian Republican Senator-elect Rand Paul as the focus of his worry. While McCain said he “respects” Paul, he criticized him for openly calling for cuts in the defense budget:

“Already he has talked about withdrawals from, or cuts in defense, et cetera. And a number of others are… So I worry a lot about the rise of protectionism and isolationism in the Republican Party.”

Coming from McCain, the charge of “isolationism” bears less weight than it otherwise might: after all, the Arizona Senator, known for his fiery temper, has called for the deployment of “boots on the ground” in every conflict and potential conflict since the end of the cold war. He wanted to send US troops into the former Yugoslavia, back when Bill Clinton was bombing Belgrade, was keen to send US troops into Darfur, and openly called for the deployment of US troops to the former Soviet republic of Georgia when that country rashly invaded two breakaway provinces, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Naturally, “Hair Trigger” McCain was one of the first to call for the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and as a measure of McCainiac madness all you have to do is Google “McCain ‘boots on the ground’” – and the result is over 277,000 hits.

Now Rand Paul has hardly been a vocal advocate of either cutting the military or withdrawing our troops from overseas: indeed, during the campaign, after being attacked by his Republican primary opponent for doing an interview with Antiwar.com, in which he expressed mildly anti-interventionist views, Rand pulled back and said almost nothing about foreign policy issues for the duration, and what he did say was decidedly ambiguous. None of this mattered to Rand’s opponents, who were determined to tag him as “weak” on defense, thus confirming Blumert’s prediction, which, in this case, can be boiled down to the dictum that the War Party will smear you no matter what you say or do – unless, of course, you pledge allegiance to their program of perpetual war.

I can’t find any record of Rand Paul’s reply, if any, to this criticism, but what’s significant is that another Republican Senator rose in Rand’s defense. Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, shot back with:

“It’s not hard to cut the defense budget and keep our defense exactly where it is. That’s how much waste is over there. Nothing is sacrosanct, it can’t be.”

Coburn, no anti-interventionist, is nevertheless a deficit hawk and he’s taken a special interest in cutting the tremendously wasteful “defense” budget. The neocons over at the Foreign Policy Initiative, however, aren’t interested in balancing the budget – not if it means cutting back on the purchase of their favorite toys, and cutting out some of the subsidies that go to enrich their friendsand funders – among the military-industrial complex. If Paul is an “isolationist” – and, oddly, a “protectionist” – for stating the obvious fact that spending on the military is out of control – then Coburn, too, is part of the dreaded “isolationist-protectionist” axis, even though his votes in Congress on foreign policy issues closely parallel McCain’s.

McCain’s preemptive strike on Rand Paul is an indication of just how nervous the War Party is about its increasingly tenuous position: in the GOP, at least, it can’t allow any deviation from the party line of perpetual war and skyrocketing “defense” expenditures, especially with a budget crisis looming on the horizon. For the logic of the “tea party” revolt against spending and big government requires, as Sen. Coburn put it, that “nothing is sacrosanct” – no, not Lockheed’s profit margin, nor even the hegemonic fantasies of Bill Kristol and the Kagan Clan.

The logic of the anti-spending, anti-big government sentiment that swept over a hundred congressional Democratic incumbents out of office, and spawned a national grassroots activist movement, leads inevitably to anti-interventionism. Because the fact of the matter, simply put, is that our overseas wars are unsustainable. We can return to fiscal sanity, or we can continue our rampage through Central Asia, slaughtering innocents and creating more terrorists in our wake – but we cannot do both.

A few days after his slam-dunk election victory, Senator-elect Paul appeared on This Week with Christiane Amanpour and not only came out for cuts in the military, but also made the case that a decade of war and occupation in Afghanistan may indeed be enough. For that he is being attacked by the War Party, as well as the administration loyalists among the liberals, and you can bet the smears have just begun. He has so far shown that he is every inch his father’s son, and I very much regret implying – or, rather, openly stating – otherwise. Rand Paul proved me wrong, and I have never been happier to make a public contrition.

The movement of which Rand Paul is a leader has the potential to turn American politics – and American conservatism – upside down, and pull off a fundamental political realignment in this country. No amount of smears and jeers from the upholders of the status quo is going to stop them, at this point: only they can stop themselves, by failing to follow through on the bright promise of their pledge to cut the American State down to its proper and constitutionally-mandated size – both at home, and abroad.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

Dear Reader,

Okay, we’ve got one last chance to avert the financial crisis that’s afflicting this web site, and threatening to interrupt – and even permanently halt – our efforts to effect meaningful change in American foreign policy. But everything depends on you ….

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