Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has thrown caution to the wind, perhaps tiring of keeping up the front that he is a mainstream conservative on national security. Unlike virtually every other guest of either party on the Sunday talk shows, he can’t seem to grasp that having a failed Middle East state spanning parts of Iraq and Syria, dominated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), is a threat to the United States.


Sen. Rand Paul (Timothy D. Easley/Associated Press)

He seems to be confused or intentionally misleading voters on certain points. He claims, for example, that we have been “arming ISIS” in Syria. To this rather outrageous untruth, Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security adviser, calmly replied: “The Obama administration has been giving non-lethal assistance to vetted Syrian nationalist rebels who are fighting the Assad regime and the Jihadis linked to Al Qaida, such as ISIS. If the senator has proof that the administration has deliberately or through incompetence aided ISIS, he would do us all a favor by producing it.” Alternatively, Abrams offered: “If he means that some of the aid has been stolen or seized by ISIS, that’s probably true — because it’s unavoidable in the middle of a war. But that’s not what he said, and he ought to speak with care and precision about these life and death matters.” Oh, “And by the way, if there’s a covert program to arm Syrian rebels and he knows about it, he ought not to be discussing it at all.”

When he says the Iraq situation is President George W. Bush’s doing, Paul repeats a Democratic talking point, a false one. Certainly, the junior senator from Kentucky remembers (although at the time he was practicing medicine and maybe was not paying close attention) that the Iraq surge worked and Iraq was functioning and stable when President Obama decided against leaving a force behind. But then, if Paul criticized that move, he’d be calling into question his own viewpoint, which is a whole lot like the president’s. (Not our concern. Retrench. End wars.)

As for his blame-Bush rationale, Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute observes dryly, “It would be nice to think that Rand Paul had some credible rationale behind his views, this not least among them. But the real answer is that Paul is an old fashioned isolationist. . . . Isn’t this the same brilliant fellow who said we oughtn’t to ‘tweak’ Putin over Ukraine?”

So far, no other 2016 contender is adopting the Rand Paul view of the world, suggesting that if Paul the Younger runs, he will be the odd man out (way out) on foreign policy, just like his father, Ron Paul, was in 2012. On Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had this exchange on CBS’s “Face the Nation”:

NORA O’DONNELL: I know you have said that, that what is happening in Iraq has a direct bearing on the future security of every American. How so?

RUBIO: Well, if you look at what happened before 9/11, the reason why al Qaeda was able to carry out the 9/11 attacks is because they had a safe operating space in Afghanistan that the Taliban had given them.

And now history is trying to repeat itself here. ISIS is trying to establish the exact same thing in the Iraq-Syria region that they’re increasingly controlling. And then from there, from this caliphate that they’re setting up, they will continue to recruit and train and plot and plan and eventually carry out external operations in Europe and potentially even here in the United States.

So, this is a very serious national security risk for the immediate and long-term future of our country. . . .

O’DONNELL: Your colleague Rand Paul wrote in “The Wall Street Journal,” kind of raised the question, what would airstrikes accomplish, that, in essence, they would become — we would become Iran’s air force by aiding them. Your take?

RUBIO: Well, I don’t agree with that statement. I think that’s quite an exaggeration.

The truth of the matter is that, if we do nothing, Iran is still going to be involved. And, in fact, if you think about it, imagine if Iran goes in there, becomes involved, and somehow helps the Iraqis turn back ISIS. You can rest assured that a future Iraqi government will be completely, 100 percent under the influence and in the pocket of Iran.

They will have expanded their strategic reach to include practical control not just over Syria if Assad survives, but also over Iraq, increasingly positioning themselves as a hegemonic power.

The United States has different hope for Iraq’s future. It belongs to them as to how they get there. But out hope is a country that includes Turk — Kurds and Sunni and Shia and even Christians, an inclusive country for its future. That is not Iran’s goal here.

To do nothing and allow ISIS to establish a base of operation, like what al Qaeda had before Afghanistan, places us in a very dangerous position from a counterterrorism point of view and puts Americans’ lives on the line down the road.

There are a few noteworthy points here.

First, the mainstream media interviewers rarely challenge Paul on foreign policy, most likely because they delight in his isolationist rhetoric and readiness to absolve the Obama administration of all blame. Paul will not have that luxury in a presidential campaign. It will be interesting to see how long he holds on to his aberrant views.

Second, the Obama-Paul view of the world is frightening to our only stable ally in the region, Israel. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin  Netanyahu responded to the question as to what the United States should do in Iraq:

I think that there are two actions you have to take. One is to take the actions that you deem necessary to counter the ISIS takeover of Iraq, and the second is not to allow Iran to dominate Iraq the way it dominated Lebanon and Syria. So you actually have to work on both sides. As I say, you try to weaken both. There are actions that could be taken.

Paul and other candidates have every right to argue that their own views are good for the United States and that they don’t much care if they harm Israel. But Paul isn’t going there; he’s claiming to be a true friend of Israel. This is one more indication that Paul’s attempt to convince voters that he’s really a friend of Israel – for a presidential candidate who is not has virtually no chance of getting the nomination in a party devoted to Israel’s security – has been for naught. (His opposition to the Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, again in keeping with the Obama administration’s views, is equally, if not more, problematic given that 44 GOP senators disagreed with him.)

And on another topic, Paul’s views on immigration reform have become muddled, to say the least. He previously went before a Hispanic group to argue for a path to citizenship. He told Silicon alley donors he would favor a comprehensive immigration plan. He then voted no against the Senate Gang of Eight bill (but presumably would have gone along with it had his amendment to require Congress to certify the status of the border each year passed). Now he is saying, well, judge for yourself:

SEN. RAND PAUL:  I think that everyone needs to be for some form of immigration reform because the status quo is untenable. So I consider myself a bridge to conservative community because I am about as conservative as they come, maybe a little libertarian too, but I think that if we do nothing, 11 million more people may be coming illegally, so we have to do something. But here’s the conundrum, I think the conundrum that is really being pointed out by the children being dumped on the border right now – there’s a humanitarian disaster of 50,000 kids being dumped on this side of our border. It’s because you have a beacon, forgiveness, and you don’t have a secure border. So that’s why conservatives who are for immigration reform, I am for immigration reform, but I insist that you secure the border first because if you have a beacon, of some kind of forgiveness, without a secure border, the whole world will come.

DAVID GREGORY:  Is a pathway to citizenship amnesty in your book?

SEN. RAND PAUL:  I think that that’s the whole point, that’s the whole problem what is amnesty? Because, I’ll give you an example, the platform in one state that I was in recently says no deportation and no amnesty. Well if you’re not going to deport people you are somehow changing the current law because the current law says everybody must go. . . .

DAVID GREGORY: But you don’t rule [a path to citizenship] out as an end game?

SEN. RAND PAUL: What I would say is that at this point in time I don’t think any type of immigration reform will get out of Washington that includes a path to citizenship. But I do think that there is a path to a secure border and an expanded work visa program.

Huh? Rand Paul wants to come across as the anti-politician. But that sort of rambling mush sounds like what you get from a typical pol trying to have it all ways.

 

UPDATE: The precise comment Rand Paul made was this: “We have been fighting alongside al-Qaeda, fighting alongside ISIS. ISIS is now emboldened and in two countries. But here’s the anomaly. We’re with ISIS in Syria. We’re on the same side of the war. So, those who want to get involved to stop ISIS in Iraq are allied with ISIS in Syria.” Later in the interview Paul says, “We are still arming the radical Islamic rebels in Syria. So, the homeland — they are going back and forth across the border. They go back into Syria, and that is a homeland that we are helping to defend for them.”
This is wrong. The United States is not “fighting” anywhere in Iraq or Syria. We are not on the same side as ISIS nor are we allied with al-Qaeda. We have not armed radical Islamists, i.e. ISIS, in Syria. As Elliott Abrams observed above, the United States has provided non-lethal aid to non-jihadi elements who themselves have been engaged against jihadi elements. In Iraq, with the help of Iraqi forces and Sunni leaders, we ended jihadi violence in that country; it has returned. As Dick Cheney, numerous lawmakers, analysts and administration figures have pointed out, we have tried to assist nonjihadis whose interests are not with a jihadi state. Sen. Paul seems unwilling to recognize that one can be against Iran and its allies such as Bashar al-Assad as well as be against jihadi insurgents (be they ISIS or al-Qaeda affiliates under another name). Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies observes, “What we do know is that by deluding ourselves that al Qaeda and other jihadist groups were not a danger to us (pre-9/11) or had been defeated by us (2012) we have allowed this cancer to metastasize. I’m afraid the policies Sen. Paul proposes appear no improvement on — indeed little different from — those of President Obama.”

 

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