The Politics of Anti-Interventionism

The response to Rand Paul’s historic filibuster continues to generate waves – I keep calling it "historic," and I know some of my more skeptical readers think I’m simply being hysteric, and yet…

I have never listened to Rush Limbaugh’s radio program, but perhaps I should start. Because I do read Conor Friedersdorf, I discovered that the embodiment and symbol of all that is Red State is taking Rand Paul’s side against neocon blowback from the usual suspects – the "amigos," the KristolKrauthammerFrum axis of hubris, and their various journalistic spear-carriers. Here’s Rush:

"There is a fear among McCain, Lindsey Graham, and others who favor an interventionist foreign policy. Think of the neocons. Think of going into Iraq and not just securing Iraq, but building a democracy. Nation building, if you will. Think of the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the people on our side who thought, ‘Wow, this is wonderful. This is the outbreak of American democracy,’ when it wasn’t. It was the exact opposite. Rand Paul, they’re asking themselves, is he his father’s son or is he on his own here? They’re worried that he’s his father’s son. They’re worried that Rand Paul is an isolationist. They’re worried that Rand Paul’s diatribe on drones really means that Rand Paul wants to bring the military home and not use it unless we’re attacked. He doesn’t like it being used in an intervention. This is what they fear. And as he succeeds in making a connection with the American people, they are worried, the neocons are worried that they are being undermined by this."

You’ll notice Limbaugh deploys none of the usual epithets – "appeasement," "anti-American," "cheese-eating surrender monkey" – that usually accompany any criticism of our foreign policy of perpetual war. Also note Limbaugh’s critique of how wrong the neocons and the administration were in their analysis of the so-called Arab Spring, which he brings up later in the broadcast:

"And there’s more to it than that, too. It’s also the whole notion of jealousy in power politics. Let me put it this way. They, I think, are worried that Rand Paul might be skillful enough to move the Republican mainstream away from the McCain, Kristol, neoconservatism view of the world and toward a position that is not as extreme as his father’s, but is suspicious of interventionism, suspicious of Islamic democracy building, suspicious of financial and military support for dubious regimes."

Putting aside the dig at the senior Paul – after all, Limbaugh has to justify his past record – the last part of this paragraph is significant: "Islamic democracy building" is indeed at the core of our foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, and those conservatives who were so gung-ho about the war on "radical Islamist jihad" are particularly sensitive to its contradictions.

Libya, the ongoing intervention in Syria, and all the rest is a continuation of the Bush administration’s "Sunni turn," in which we allied with the very elements that make up al-Qaeda’s base against the alleged threat emanating from Iran. As the consequences of the Iraq invasion coalesced into an Iraqi-Iranian de facto alliance, the tactical turn that started with the "Anbar Awakening" morphed into a full-fledged strategic turnaround – so that, today, Washington is contending with the black-flag-flying Al Nusra and its allies for control of the Syrian opposition.

Limbaugh-style conservatives, who are incapable of re-examining their own past positions, are understandably baffled by this. And they’re angry: but they don’t have any answers. Rand Paul, on the other hand, does have answers, and more: he has the gumption to stand up and say "No more!" That’s what has Rush denouncing the McCain-Graham "old bulls," who are just plain "jealous" of the conservative movement’s newest folk hero, and "I’ll tell you why, he says:

"Rand Paul made a connection with the American people. These other people do not. He made a connection. Therefore, he has the ability to influence and motivate people. I’m telling you what their fears are. They thought that Ron Paul was absolute nutcase, wacko. That’s why they’re calling Rand Paul a wacko, ’cause that’s what they thought of Ron Paul. Libertarian, fruitcake, nutcase, isolationist, shut down the US military, speak positively about Islamists, all this kind of stuff. They are afraid that’s who Rand Paul is, and they’re afraid that what Rand Paul was doing with this filibuster was not just speaking out against the use of drones on American citizens on American soil. They’re afraid that Rand Paul is actually setting the stage for building up public support to stop the interventionist usage of American military might and foreign policy all over the world. It’s a fear that they’ve got."

The neocons are absolutely right to be fearful of the junior Senator from Kentucky. Rand Paul managed to combine the conservative critique of untrammeled state power with the distinctively libertarian critique of our interventionist foreign policy, showing how the neocon program of perpetual war abroad must at some point lead to the end of constitutional law at home. It is a powerful case that rings true with all the elements needed to forge a new national coalition – one that can wrest power from the War Party.

That Limbaugh is defending Sen. Paul against the neocon onslaught is an indicator that at least one element of that potential coalition – the "wingnut" grassroots – are finally shedding the interventionist dogmatism of the Bush era. It is a transformation greatly accelerated by two stunning electoral defeats, in which the party’s neocon commanders went down in flames. Republicans are tired of losing, and Sen. Paul very deftly picked up on this yearning for a breakthrough by going after his detractors from the CPAC stage: "The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered," Paul said. "I don’t think we need to name any names here, do we?"

We sure as heck don’t.

Limbaugh perceptively frames the Rand Paul vs McCain-Graham brouhaha in terms of populism versus elitism:

"It was a very simple question he was posing, and all this was going on while our guys are out dining with Obama, dining with the architect of this current nationwide mess. Rand Paul was standing up opposing this while these guys were out yukking it up with the architect of it all. You know it was a great example of the ruling class and the country class, and the ruling class not liking what this country class senator was doing. It’s no more complicated than that, but a lot of people are ticked off about this, too."

Limbaugh has it exactly right: the country class versus the ruling class – that’s what it’s all about.

This explains why contempt for the Paulian upsurge extended from the neocon "right" to the "progressive" sectors of Washington’s political class: they were defending themselves against a populist upsurge, expressing their utter disdain for the peasants-with-pitchforks who came out in support of Sen. Paul on Twitter and talk radio. Putting aside their differences, the fake-"conservatives" and authoritarian "progressives" came together against the Paulian country party threat.

Senator Paul has pointed the way to understanding how change – a real change in our militaristic foreign policy – can come about in our lifetimes. The answer to that ever-vexing question is: by flying the banner of the "country party," and storming the fortress that is Imperial Washington. In showing how a war with no temporal or geographic limits means gutting the Constitution, Sen. Paul is showing us the way forward.

To say I’ve had my differences with Sen. Paul in the past is surely an understatement, but in wartime the question is posed pointblank: which side are you on? For my part, there can be no question: I #StandwithRand!


I’m having great fun on Twitter and I urge you to join me on this wonderfully interactive site: you can do so by going here.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy my biography of the great libertarian thinker, An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), here.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].