The mainstream media and a good number of Democratic spinners (a few Republicans as well) like to say that the GOP is divided or at war with itself over foreign policy between the internationalist wing and the Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wing. But in fact what we’ve seen is that the Paul wing is just Rand Paul. (This is the flip side of the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party that didn’t extend beyond former senator Joe Lieberman.)
The extent of Rand Paul’s extremism is slowly coming to light. American Enterprise Institute’s David Adesnik has analyzed Paul’s recommended summer reading list. “The foreign policy section of the list consists entirely of works that blame the United States for the rise of Islamic extremism while offering solutions that verge on isolationism. Most of the books also express a sharp hostility toward Israel and toward those who believe that U.S. foreign policy should serve the cause of human freedom.” Specifically, he includes Pat Buchanan’s anti-Semitic tract: “If Ron Paul’s message isn’t clear enough, the curious student may turn to another book on the list, Pat Buchanan’s critique of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, Where the Right Went Wrong. ‘America’s huge footprint on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia led straight to 9/11. The terrorists were over here because we were over there. Terrorism is the price of empire.’ . . . Buchanan explains that ‘the Beltway Likud was plotting and propagandizing for war on Iraq long before 9/11.’ The distinctive trait of this clique is that it sees ‘U.S. and Israeli interests as identical.’ ” Unfortunately it’s becoming clear that Paul’s views are virtually identical to his father’s (who has three books on his son’s list). Suffice it to say, there is no elected Republican in Congress who would embrace these ideas.
On Sunday, Gov. Rick Perry got some help in taking Paul to task for his blindness to the ISIS threat and isolationist outlook. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had this to say on CNN’s “State of the Union,” my comments are in brackets:
Senator Paul is part of a wing of the party that’s been there ever since — prior to World War I in our Republican Party. And that is a withdrawal to fortress America. And I believe that the president of the United States has shown, absent American leadership, what can happen in the world today.
So I’m not particularly interested in getting between Senator Paul and Governor Perry [actually I am, so here goes ... ], but I do believe that the things we’re seeing in the world today, in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime, is a direct result of an absence of American leadership. And we are paying a very, very heavy price now, and we will in the future, until we decide to understand that America is an essential role in maintaining peace and stability throughout the world, and that does not mean sending combat troops everywhere.
Then there was former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on “Meet the Press”: “I’m with Rick Perry on that.”
Previously, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) let it be known he’s not with Paul on foreign policy. In his internationalist, anti-Putin, anti-containment of Iran stances, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) also stands on the other side of the divide from Paul. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) put forth a budget that increases defense spending and has spoken out about the need for U.S. leadership in the world. If you go down the list of potential 2016 contenders (e.g. Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeb Bush) there isn’t a Rand Paul-type on foreign policy in the batch. Save one other senator, Paul was at odds with every member of the GOP conference on the Menendez-Kirk bill, choosing instead to side with Majority Leader Harry Reid and others who wanted to give President Obama time for diplomacy (but without the threat of sanctions hanging over Iran).
Even more important, Perry drew praise from the largest pro-Israel group in the country, Christians United for Israel. (CUFI previously tangled with Rand Paul over his accusations that certain unnamed Christians wanted war in the Middle East.) Its executive director, David Brog, told Right Turn, “Governor Perry’s argument will resonate with our membership. We know there are no easy answers for stopping ISIS without boosting Iran. But Perry is right to stress the threat posed by ISIS and the need for American leadership to combat this and related threats in the long run.” Candidates and GOP consultants, not to mention the media, underestimate at their peril the importance of foreign policy to Christian conservatives.
There is little appetite in the GOP at large for following the Obama example of retrenchment; there is even less support for taking containment of Iran seriously, as Paul does, or objecting to “tweaking” Vladimir Putin, as Paul did, or nixing the use of drones against American jihadists overseas (except if actually in combat, whatever that means), as Paul does. Because his views really don’t fly in the mainstream GOP, Paul has already tried to plead that he is Reagan-like on foreign policy and tried to distance himself from his “we have no dog in the fight” notion about Iraq (now saying he’s for aid to Iraq’s government). Likewise, the rest of the GOP recognized that the Iraq war was won when it was handed off to Obama and that the failure to leave a stay-behind force was a critical Obama-Hillary Clinton error; Paul seems to think President George W. Bush is to blame for the implosion there. (Paul of course was perfectly content with Obama’s refusal to leave troops in Iraq.)
Indeed, as the Obama foreign policy vision collapses, our allies openly bemoan the lack of U.S. involvement and events spin out of control in Iraq, Paul’s credibility as a potential commander in chief is cracking badly as well. He can try to use invective against critics and shimmy away from his own bizarre views on everything from the start of World War II to former vice president Dick Cheney’s motivations for the Iraq war), but ultimately if he runs, it will be him on the debate stage sounding on foreign policy like Obama (but worse) and everyone else.
Perry deserves credit for landing the first real blow (Cruz to an extent as well) from a potential 2016 opponent, but others are likely to follow. There simply isn’t any political mileage to be gained from agreeing with Paul’s views – unless of course you’re a liberal Democrat.