Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is supposedly the titular head of the isolationist wing of the Republican Party. He has, among other things, suggested that containing a nuclear-armed Iran would be feasible, that we need fewer bases and overseas troops, that we should cut foreign aid and that we should not have intervened or remained in Iraq. He opposed the action in Syria and in Libya. And he has opposed aid to Egypt (either the military or non-jihadists when they were out of power) and to rebels in Syria.
But here’s the rub: His philosophical bent is not consistent with discrete policies he says he wants to pursue, which just happen to be near and dear to the hearts of Christian conservatives who turn out heavily in the GOP presidential primary and caucus contests.
Let’s take Israel, since he’s made a push this year to polish up his Israel credentials and visited the Jewish state. He’s moderated his views on aid, suggesting he’d keep military aid to Israel. He’s said we shouldn’t boss Israel around when it comes to the “peace process.” But his own policies leave a vacuum in the Middle East that is perilous to Israel, not to mention other allies and the United States itself. Russia, Iran and Syria extend their influence to terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, that directly attack Israel. Receding from the world is antithetical to providing strong support to Israel, which is safe and able to take “risks for peace” with a vibrant U.S. presence in the Middle East, helping to keep Iran and its allies at bay.
You see it’s harder than it might have appeared to a foreign policy novice to both keep his isolationist credentials and pose as a great friend of Israel. As to the latter, when the chips are down, would he support U.S. military action if needed to prevent Iran from going nuclear or vote to rearm Israel in the event Israel acted on its own? That there is substantial doubt on these points should raise a red flag for those who consider our relationship with the Jewish state to be a moral and geo-political necessity. His comments accusing “some Christians” of wanting war is reminiscent of his father’s screed and should raise a yellow, if not red flag, for Christian Zionists.
Then there is the matter of persecuted Christians in Muslim lands. I’ve written about it frequently, and it’s good to see Rand Paul has found out about it. The killing, arming and repression of Christians in Muslim lands is a topic that needs more attention, which he helped provide at the values voter summit on Friday by speaking exclusively on the topic.
But this creates some practical and intellectual problems for the junior senator from Kentucky. Let’s start with the practical.
There are rebels openly aligned with al-Qaeda and rebels who are not. By doing nothing to arm the non-jihadi rebels and ceding influence to Russia and Iran (which support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad), we not only passively allow the slaughter of all Syrians (Christians included) to continue, but we also run a real risk that al-Qaeda rebels will emerge victorious, thereby spelling doom for the Christians.
Sometimes it is not enough to withdraw aid to help the plight of Christians; sometimes we have to act affirmatively on their behalf. For example, is Paul now pushing for aid to the Egyptian government that is battling the Muslim Brotherhood? At the time of the Green Revolution, would he have supported aid to those seeking to dislodge the regime? If so, he’s come a long way from isolationism; if not, his concern for Christians persecuted there is apparently only rhetorical (just like President Obama’s).
We then get to the intellectual cul-de-sac. To be devoted to the protection of Christians abroad is noble and in keeping with American values to protect the oppressed and to support free peoples. But does he care about people of other religions? More than 100,000 innocents have been slaughtered in Syria by al-Assad’s war against his people. Doesn’t the senator care about them — or is it only the Christian victims? If the victims of Islamic terror are other Muslims, as is often the case, does his concern evaporate? If not, then passivity in the face of mass murder in Libya, Egypt or elsewhere is immoral. And if the victims are Jews, Hindus, other believers or even atheists, what is the moral argument for affording them less protection and concern than we do toward Christians?
Perhaps when Rand Paul learns more and visits more widely he’ll rethink some of his one-liners and snap judgments. The United States can’t intervene everywhere, but neither must we intervene nowhere. We should use all our tools, including aid, to bend events our way, to sway governments on the fence and protect imperfect friends. (He might get a copy of Jeane Kirkpatrick’s Dictatorships and Double Standards; it was one of Ronald Reagan’s favorites.)
Interestingly, Christian conservatives at the values voter summit this weekend didn’t find him all that compelling. He came in a distant fourth. Perhaps these valiant pro-Zionists don’t quite believe he is for real. They might be right.
Foreign policy doesn’t come a la carte. You have to adopt a worldview and apply it consistently so that friends, allies and those in between can rely on the United States. President Obama has not done this, to our great detriment. The cry that you hear from foreign leaders — “Where are the Americans?!” — is a sign of the absentee leadership of President Obama. The next president can’t make the problem even worse.