Hypocrisy is the compliment vice pays to virtue, I suppose. It is fair, then, to say that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) posturing as a Reaganite on foreign policy goes beyond hypocrisy to downright fabrication.
Recall that an essential part of Paul’s libertarian shtick was a foreign policy “less aggressive” than the Republicans’. He was going to “nation build” in Detroit, he once said, as opposed to funding foreign allies or the Pentagon.
Now that the world has blown up, Iran is striding toward a nuclear weapon and Russia is lumbering through Ukraine, he wants us to believe, as he said on Sunday, that he is in the mainstream of the GOP and in the vein of Ronald Reagan. This is nonsense on steroids.
The mainstream GOP — in fact, 77 U.S. senators and 43 of 45 Republicans — thinks the president’s Iran negotiations are misguided and destined to end in failure so long as sanctions are relaxed and no new sanctions await Iran if the talks don’t lead to a final agreement. Not Paul. He is aligned with President Obama, not the Republicans.
The mainstream GOP, Paul told us, was wrong to “tweak” Vladimir Putin, about invading its neighbor. In a rambling response on “Fox News Sunday,” he followed the Obama line that Putin would essentially choke on Ukraine. (“Ukraine. It will be a disaster for him, and so he needs to be fully aware of that.”) He suggests no sanctions or other moves to confront Russian aggression (other than pumping more oil). He is not within the mainstream of his party on Russia.
He is not within the mainstream of the GOP in defending Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad as good for Christians. He is not within the mainstream of the GOP in calling Christian Zionists warmongers. He is not within the mainstream of his party when he speaks approvingly of containment of Iran.
Why would he turn his back on his libertarian allies and pose as a mainstream Republican on foreign policy? Perhaps he is now odd man out in his isolation, since his policies have been proved yet again to be naïve, unworkable and in effect anti-Israel. (He wants to contain the existential threat to Israel, not remove it. He believes we have no interest in Syria, where Hezbollah acquires weapons to threaten Israel.)
Even more far-fetched is Paul’s association with Ronald Reagan, as we and other commentators have discussed many times. Reagan believed in a strong national defense. He believed in support for free peoples. He definitely believed in “tweaking” Russians – in fact he condemned the Soviet regime as evil. Is there anyone who really buys that Paul would bankrupt our foes through ample defense spending, turn down an attractive arms-control deal because we insisted on research on advanced missiles, keep missiles in Europe over Russian objections or aid democratic rebels (as Reagan did in Africa and Central America)? Does anyone really buy that Reagan would have praised Edward Snowden as a Martin Luther King Jr. figure, tried to take apart an effective anti-terrorism surveillance system or approved Chuck Hagel for defense secretary (Rand Paul voted for him)?
Even Paul’s devotion to George Kennan is un-Reaganesque. Reagan didn’t believe in containing the Soviet Union — his Cold War philosophy was “We win, they lose.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on Sunday was the first of, I am sure, many Republican 2016 contenders to distance himself from Paul. There was this exchange on “ABC This Week”:
KARL (voice-over): Cruz’s approach stands in stark contrast with fellow tea partier Rand Paul. Just days before Putin invaded Crimea, Paul said: “I think we need to have a respectful, sometimes adversarial, but a respectful relationship with Russia.”
(on camera): Senator Rand Paul said: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era, they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don’t think that’s a good idea.” What’s your reaction to that?
CRUZ: I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force aboard. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did.
When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” those words changed the course of history. The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.
KARL (voice-over): Senator Paul agreed to be interviewed on THIS WEEK to give his perspective, but at the last minute he backed out.
In hiding behind the canard that he is Reaganesque on foreign policy, Paul does not apparently have the nerve to defend his own isolationism. But we’ve seen in five years what happens when we have a reluctant commander in chief. Of the many difficulties Paul will have, one of them will certainly be that he’s trying to fake a foreign policy position in order to latch onto one that is not disqualifying as president. Good luck with that, senator.
Republicans have learned to spot a politician who doesn’t think America should lead, wants to ravage the defense budget, believes Guantanamo should be closed and thinks Iran can be managed as a threshold nuclear power. They don’t want another one.
UPDATE: As if on cue, after days of being hammered on his Obama-like rhetoric on Ukraine, Paul offers up a weak echo of some of the proposals conservatives have made. Does anyone believe this is anything other than political expediency?