Sen. Rand Paul’s long-time confidante and chief of staff Doug Stafford e-mailed me Tuesday evening regarding my post on his boss’s foreign policy incoherence. In particular, Stafford complained: “He supports keeping Gitmo open and military tribunals for foreign combatants. Been so since I have been with him. He reiterated that as recently as last month on ABC. ” Well, not quite.

Forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Rami Bleible/Reuters)
Forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (Rami Bleible/Reuters)

Understand that Gitmo is there not only to keep terrorists away from the general prison population, but to hold those terrorists who can’t be tried because of impediments to trial under the civilian court system (e.g. no Miranda warnings, evidence lacking a chain of custody).

Paul however has constantly spoken in favor of trial by jury without qualification. On Nov. 30, 2012, he got into a heated debate with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

“The American people don’t want to close Guantanamo Bay, which is an isolated military controlled facility, to bring these crazy bastards that want to kill us all to the United States,” Graham said. “Most Americans believe that the people at Guantanamo Bay are not some kind of burglar or bank robber. They are bent on our destruction.”

The amendment passed 54 to 41, with Paul voting for it, but the Kentucky lawmaker — who later voted to end indefinite detention of Americans in the United States — wanted to make clear that crazy bastards are people, too, and that they deserve to get trials in America.

Well, if you give them trials in the United States they have to be brought here and Gitmo effectively emptied. Paul: “This is an ancient right that we have defended for 800 years, for goodness sakes. To say that habeas is due process is absurd. It’s the beginning of due process. if you don’t have a right to trial by jury, you do not have due process. You do not have a Constitution. What are you fighting against and for if you throw the Constitution out?”

When Paul was campaigning for election in 2010, his then-spokesman declared:

Rand Paul feels that more important than the location of the prison is whether or not we should be detaining anyone, anywhere without a judicial hearing.

Rand Paul remains committed to his opposition to fighting “undeclared” wars. Rand Paul remains committed to the belief that we should not torture prisoners of war. Rand Paul remains committed to his belief that prisoners deserve trials and disposition not indefinite detention.

This current controversy, though, stems from whether or not prisoners of war should be treated identically to US Citizens. Should we read Miranda rights to prisoners captured on the battlefield? Should we release KSM because he was tortured? There are reports that a great number of detainees at GITMO were detained not on the battlefield but were turned in by competitors for their positions. The U.S. should not detain anyone indefinitely anywhere whether in the US or otherwise.

This was the same tune Paul was singing in 2011 on Fox News: “The interesting thing is I spoke to a mother who lost her someone on 9/11 in the Twin Towers attacks. She said to me she wants justice. And justice should be a trial against the people who are responsible for this. So indefinite detention, I don’t think is a good idea. Let’s go ahead and have trials and have justice.” He made the same case on the Senate floor.

Is it possible that Paul doesn’t understand the implications of his own policy? For if you give civilian trials to all terrorists, they must leave Gitmo and come to the homeland. This empties Gitmo. I guess technically you could keep the empty facility open, but I am certain the frugal Paul would call that incredibly wasteful.

Stafford also objects to the idea that Rand Paul wants to “slash” defense. Well, once again  Paul’s spoken out of both sides of his mouth, but mainly the left side. In 2012: “While I would always stand up for America and preserve our ability to defend ourselves, a less aggressive foreign policy along with an audit of the Pentagon could save tens of billions of dollars each year without sacrificing our defense.” If you don’t want to intervene anywhere, I guess you can save billions. But wait. In a budget then of about $676 billion isn’t tens of billions a big cut?

Fast forward to the Budget Control Act of 2011. In his own budgeting, Stafford argues, Paul put back in the sequester monies for defense. However, as the Washington Times reported, “Mr. Paul’s budget allocated $526 billion for national defense in 2014 and $5.6 trillion for national defense over the next 10 years. The House GOP budget, meanwhile, sets aside $579 billion for national defense in 2014 and more than $6 trillion over the next 10 years.” Don’t be confused: Rand Paul wants to spend a whole lot less on defense than Republicans. Remember, in the end, Paul voted to confirm Chuck Hagel, a fan of cutting defense. And, at Heritage earlier this year, he stated flat out that his foreign policy would have “less soldiers stationed overseas and less bases.”

Stafford also complained: “Saying the person who is trying to condition aid on things like the treatment of pro-democracy workers and religious minorities doesn’t care about international human rights in insultingly wrong.” Well, what is insulting is to take an isolationist position on genocidal slaughter in Libya and Syria. What is insulting is for him to adopt the president’s lingo deriding “nation building.”

In 2011, for example, Paul wanted Obama to move faster pulling out of Afghanistan, adopting the language of the far left: “Considering the elimination of Osama bin Laden, terrorist bases, and Taliban presence, it is time to turn our attention to bringing our troops out of Afghanistan. We cannot and should not police nations, build their bridges and roads, and spend endless resources doing so when here at home we are struggling with our own financial crisis.”

This exchange with Paul’s closest adviser serves to highlight the criticisms I raised in yesterday’s post. Paul likes to play fast and loose with facts and fails (apparently) to understand the consequences of his own policy pronouncements. (Andy McCarthy observes this phenomenon when it comes to Paul’s misunderstanding of the Fourth Amendment.) Is this what comes by surrounding himself with unknowledgeable advisers or does he willfully choose to rearrange law, facts and the Constitution to serve his political ends?

He seems not to understand that isolationism is inconsistent with support for human rights and a pro-Israel foreign policy. His foreign policy would look like Obama’s on steroids (fewer bases, fewer surveillance programs, fewer impediments to genocidal regimes) than mainstream Republican (which wants bases overseas and wants the United States to promote our interests and our values on the world stage).

Paul is walking a fine line here between trying to keep his libertarian, staunchly isolationist fans happy and trying to adopt enough buzz words to convince mainstream Republicans he’s really with them. You can’t do both. That’s the nub of his dilemma.

UPDATE: I am reminded by a foreign policy guru on Captol Hill that Rand Paul ran on returning Guantanamo detainees to Afghanistan. On Guantanamo terrorists this one made quite a stir: “[If] you’re not going to convict them and you can’t convict them, and you’re unclear, drop ‘em off back into Afghanistan, it’ll take them awhile to get back over here.”

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.