If you didn’t think Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) comments refusing to rule out containment on Iran were sufficient to disqualify him for serious consideration as president, this should do it: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
It is not the only time Paul has come running to the defense of a despot. Paul defended Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on the grounds that he is good for Christians.
His comments come at the moment Vladimir Putin is putting his troops on alert on the Ukraine-Russia border and after months of effort to prevent Russian bullying of Ukraine. The “tweaking” of Russia is consistent with 22 years of American foreign policy. Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute reacted via e-mail: “What a sad day for America when a prominent senator believes that standing for freedom and justice should be labeled ‘tweaking.'” A foreign policy guru at a centrist think tank expressed disgust. “This is pretty irresponsible, under the circumstances. If he were president and made statements like that, implying that Ukraine is somehow rightfully part of Russia, I think it would send a very green light to Putin, who just happens, as Paul speaks, to be holding impromptu emergency military exercises on Ukraine’s border.”
This sentiment is entirely at odds, I would suggest, with virtually all members of the U.S. Senate. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), head of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Sunday, “The United States should do everything possible to ensure Ukraine remains one country and that their territorial and political integrity is maintained, allowing them the freedom to choose a future within Europe.” Paul’s Putin defense is wildly at odds with the views of another favorite on the right, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.).
In the House, GOP offices were reluctant to speak on the record, acknowledging that Paul is a libertarian on these issues, not a conservative. One House aide commented, “This guy’s got the perfect foreign policy for the Victorian era. We’ve tried hiding behind two big oceans in the past. That doesn’t do you a lick of good in the fiber optic era. We live in a globalized world. International trade powers our economy. You either keep America out in front, or you don’t.” He added, “We’ve seen ‘Isolationism, the Movie‘ before. It ends badly for the U.S.”
And the head of Freedom House, David Kramer, tried to educate the junior senator from Kentucky, explaining in an e-mail, “It’s hard to have a ‘respectful’ relationship with Putin’s Russia when Putin has such utter disdain for the US in particular and for democracy and human rights in general, as well as for his own people. Respect should be a 2-way street, and I can’t imagine Putin changing his nasty, authoritarian stripes any time soon.” He emphasized, “Given Putin’s destabilizing and now threatening role on Ukraine, I don’t see any reason to show him respect.”
President Ronald Reagan, whom Paul says he admires, told the leader of the then-Communist Soviet Union, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I suppose Paul wouldn’t have wanted to “tweak” Gorbachev. Even George Kennan , whom Paul likes to cite, was in favor of containing the Russian Bear, not inviting him to gorge on Eastern Europe.
Comments like Paul’s suggest that it is possible to have a worse foreign policy outlook than even the Obama administration. They also belie the notion that Paul is only opposed to American “intervention.” The willingness to cede countries to Russian domination is plain old isolationism in the same vein as Pat Buchanan and the senator’s father, former congressman Ron Paul (R-Tex.). It is for this reason Republicans in the post-Obama era are highly unlikely to invest their confidence in him.