Dick Cheney’s new group is all about Rand Paul


Sen. Rand Paul in October  2013. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

The op-ed penned by former vice president Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz that appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday is probably what you'd expect from the Cheneys. It argues that President Obama's administration has weakened America's global standing; Obama, they write, "seems determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch." The crux of the argument:

It is time the president and his allies faced some hard truths: America remains at war, and withdrawing troops from the field of battle while our enemies stay in the fight does not "end" wars. Weakness and retreat are provocative. U.S. withdrawal from the world is disastrous and puts our own security at risk.

Cheney's opponents on the left wasted no time in responding. The Atlantic's James Fallows compared the piece to Cheney's arguments for going into Iraq in the first place. Jonathan Chait at New York magazine suggested that the Cheneys want to call Obama a traitor, but never quite get there.

It should be apparent, though, that the Cheneys' target audience wasn't really America at large, and almost certainly wasn't liberals who are unlikely to reconsider their existing opinions of the former VP. Instead, the audience is Republicans. More specifically, Republicans inclined to support a 2016 candidacy by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

The Journal essay is part of a PR push for the Cheneys' new group, Alliance for a Stronger America. The Cheneys also released a video explaining the rationale for the organization. "We are forming the Alliance for a Strong America because we know America's security depends upon our ability to reverse President Obama's policies," Liz Cheney says. "We know ... that there is no substitute for American leadership around the world."

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter, LIz Cheney, announced the formation of a new group meant to offer a hawkish alternative to President Obama's foreign policy and national security strategy. (The Alliance for a Stronger America via YouTube)

 

To that end, the formation of a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, an entity of the sort that is in vogue for influencing American politics given the combination of loose guidelines around political advocacy and the ability to shield donors from public scrutiny. Creating a (c)(4) almost certainly means that the Cheneys aren't just hoping for a vehicle for more newspaper op/eds; instead, they want to be able to build a war chest to influence the direction of political decision-making.

Which brings us to Paul. Rand Paul is not a Dick Cheney Republican. The libertarian-leaning Paul has been widely described as isolationist, though his allies prefer "non-interventionist." He recently caused a stir when he suggested that he didn't support military action against a nuclear-armed Iran (though he later gave a more nuanced answer to that question).

What's more, Paul has repeatedly been critical of Cheney personally, largely for Cheney's role in the Iraq War. And Cheney has been critical of Paul, attacking the senator last year over government surveillance.

But in most recent polling, including by The Post, Paul leads (or is near the top of) the Republican field for 2016. The Republican that has most strongly opposed Dick Cheney is currently the most likely Republican to earn the party's nomination for president.

At the conservative National Review in April, Paul told those who advocate "unlimited involvement in foreign wars" to "sharpen your knives, because the battle once begun will not end easily." This is the sound of knives against stone: "Weakness and retreat are provocative. U.S. withdrawal from the world is disastrous and puts our own security at risk."

The Alliance for a Strong America includes among its aims:

  • advocate for the policies needed to restore American power and pre-eminence
  • provide information to citizens, policymakers and candidates about the critical national security issues facing the nation
  • explain the indispensable role America and American power must play in the world in order to defeat the broad array of threats we face today

That's a case for interventionism, one that, presumably given the Cheneys' prominence, will be backed by political money. And the target isn't termed-out Barack Obama. It's an ascendant Rand Paul.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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