The National Security Agency (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press) The National Security Agency (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) are hardly the favorites to win the GOP nomination for president. But I’d strongly urge them to run, if for no other reason than to stand up for a sane and strong national security stance for the Republican Party. As respected and tough-minded conservatives, they can be on the stage in debates, and in the mix more generally, to spotlight foreign policy and beat back some of the flakier ideas and dangerous suggestions circulating on the right. To some extent, Santorum played this role in confronting former congressman Ron Paul (R-Ky.) in 2012, chiding him for nonsense on Iran and hostility toward defense spending.

There will be other candidates as well, we can hope, who also will point out to Republican audiences the dangers of retrenchment, weakness and indifference to a dangerous world, all tendencies that President Obama has demonstrated consistently. The predictable result — Russian aggression, ongoing atrocities in Syria, Iranian nuclear weapons development, repression in our own hemisphere (in Cuba and Venezuela), China’s attempted intimidation of U.S. allies — has followed. Despite all of this, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and his clique would double down on Obamaism when it comes to the most important aspect of the presidency: the role as commander in chief.

Honestly, why would a Republican, for example, serve up a souped-up version of Obamacare? The same should be asked of a set of national security propositions that go beyond even what Obama has advocated.

Rand Paul would, for example, consider containment of Iran. That is a position the president won’t openly embrace. If Iran feels emboldened now to flaunt its refusal to shut down any nuclear facility, can one imagine what the mullahs would do with a president less willing than Obama to stand up for U.S. interests?

It also is time for conservative Republicans to stand up to paranoid attacks on the National Security Agency. You do have to laugh, though, that Rand Paul’s specious lawsuit against the NSA has actually caused NSA to hold onto the phone records the administration would like to put into the hands of third parties (“government lawyers are worried that if they shut down the program, they could violate evidence preservation rules requiring them to maintain the databases amid ongoing litigation”). Maybe the administration will discover that the lawyers aren’t the only ones who should hold on tightly to the “dots” we must collect to defuse terrorist plots.

In any event, Rand Paul’s notion that terrorists in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp need to be incarcerated in the United States or let go and his aversion to knocking off terrorists at cafes may please followers of his father and a new generation of 20-somethings, but it will, I strongly suspect, rub the vast majority of Republicans the wrong way. These are the voters most keenly aware of the dangers of radical jihadism and the need for U.S. strength.

Rand Paul has been trying to have it both ways. On one hand, from marijuana to the NSA to the Middle East, he’d like to assure his libertarian admirers that he’s one of them. On the other, he is smart enough to know that he has to make himself acceptable to Republicans who fully support Israel (who don’t take kindly to his accusations that they want war) and who understand we are in a battle against jihadists.

Until he is confronted with the absurdity of his views on national security by solid conservatives with foreign policy expertise, he’s going to skate along playing coy. In a real way, Obama has made Rand Paul’s task infinitely harder by demonstrating how untenable and how dangerous naivete can be in a world populated by terrorists, rogue states and despotic empire-builders.