Platitudes in foreign policy are often a smokescreen for true intentions. “Amidst the chaos of the Middle East we have always had one friend that never leaves our side — Israel.” Or this one: “We must have the strongest military on earth, not because we are eager to use it, but because no one would ever dare challenge us.” Those were lines in a speech Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave at the Citadel in South Carolina on Tuesday. But I’m sure President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry have said similar things. That is why they have no meaning — they tell us nothing about what the speaker would do in any given situation and do not set out any particular policies.
You see, just about every pol except Paul’s father would say Israel is a great friend, and we need to stand by our closest ally in the region. But foreign policy is about the how as much as the why. When you say, as Paul does, that “We have no legitimate [is there an illegitimate one?] national interest in Syria,” he conveys either a lack of understanding or of will that being a good friend of Israel entails, among other things, checking Iranian aggression and deterring the use of WMD’s.
It is more than odd, frankly, during one of the most consequential weeks for U.S.-Israel relations that he didn’t comment on the proposed interim nuclear arms deal or his views on the potential use of force against Iran. He previously said we should keep containment as an option. Does he still think so?
Perhaps Paul is yet to move off platitudes. But here’s the hitch: Christian conservatives are highly engaged on Israel and take the Obama team’s actions as hugely irresponsible and in violation of assurances given to the Israeli prime minister. Paul is either with them, or he’s not. And if he is, then I’m not sure his libertarian admirers will be so thrilled.
Moreover, if you posit that helping Israel requires more than words, then you have to be willing to keep a sufficient army and navy, to make alliances with friendly Sunni states who act as a check against Iran and to use a drone or two when need be. Your voting record would need to suggest you are willing to do hard things and not simply mouth platitudes.
Paul, when it comes to Israel, as one Christian conservative recently told me, is “much more clever than his father.” But those who are concerned about foreign policy need to listen more carefully and ask probing questions. Otherwise, just like liberal Jews got taken for a ride with President Obama, conservative Republicans will get snowed by his niceties that cloak an unwillingness matched by Obama to act in ways consistent with our friendship with the Jewish state.