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Rand Paul’s problematic views

In response to our posting a 2012 video of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaking at length about his views on a military option for Iran and his take on World War II (specifically his view that U.S. sanctions provoked the Axis powers) his longtime adviser, Paul Stafford, claimed that Paul’s comments had been taken out of context and that reports were intentionally misleading.  The full video is available for readers to assess for themselves.

Stafford’s comments, however, were revealing in a number of respects. First, he did not repudiate Rand Paul’s specific assertions, namely his embrace of discredited notions about U.S. sanctions against Germany and Japan. (“There are times when sanctions have made it worse. Leading up to World War II, we cut off trade with Japan. That probably caused Japan to react angrily. We also had a blockade on Germany after World War I that probably encouraged some of their anger.”)

Slate’s Dave Weigel has an intriguing explanation: “The idea behind it, the idea that America supported lunkheaded blockades that angered the Nazi state needlessly, is pretty mainstream within the paleoconservative community. The Ludwig von Mises Institute, which employs old-time Ron Paul ally Lew Rockwell and frequent Ron Paul literary collaborator Tom Woods, has published several pieces advancing the argument.” In other words, for Rand Paul, such theories are taken as fact and are not even controversial; they are the commonplace in the Paul family reading list.

This is not unlike the episode in which Rand Paul was forced under to stem an outcry over his hiring of the so-called “Southern Avenger.” After several days defending his hire, Paul and his aide finally parted ways but Paul did not repudiate the views of pro-Confederate right-wingers or apologize for hiring a person who advocated these sentiments. Instead, he preferred to knock down a straw man, asserting that no one in his office discriminated against anyone.

If voters have concerns about how closely Paul follows far right-wing ideology and how closely his views track his father’s, these episodes should heighten their fears. The degree to which eccentric and conspiratorial views of history have shaped Paul’s outlook will remain a concern should he decide to run for president. And for Paul supporters tracking down and explaining away an unknown number of statements that voters will find bizarre may become daunting.

Stafford also claimed “Sen. Paul supports and has voted for the use of sanctions against Iran and Russia.” As for Russia, Paul voted against Russian sanctions several times last month. On March 24, he voted against cloture on S. 2124: Support for the Sovereignty, Integrity, Democracy, and Economic Stability of Ukraine Act of 2014. When a substitute measure without language regarding the International Monetary Fund to which he and other Republicans objected was presented, Paul was one of only two senators to vote no. I asked Stafford to explain his assertion that Paul was in favor of sanctions against Russia. He did not respond. (In the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Paul stated that he supported Russian sanctions but offered an amendment to strike all loan guarantees to Ukraine, claiming this money would benefit Russia. The motion was defeated. He voted no in committee on the overall sanctions bill.)

While it is true that Paul has voted for Iran sanctions, he stands out as one of only two senators who has refused to sign a sanctions bill that would take effect if no final deal is reached. He was one of a handful of GOP senators who refused to sign a letter advocating the president adhere to contours of a final deal that would permanently disable Iran’s illicit nuclear program. That letter also advocated imposition of new sanctions if Iran violated the interim agreement or did not sign a final deal.

Most curious perhaps was Stafford’s silence regarding Paul’s 2012 denunciation of a military option in Iran. This contrasts with elected Republicans and other 2016 contenders who have urged that the White House make the military threat more credible. As we have previously reported, this is consistent with Paul’s comments at the Heritage Foundation in 2013 that containment of a nuclear Iran should be considered. Containment has been repeatedly rejected as a viable option by Congress and every 2016 GOP contender who has spoken on the issue.

These remarks and votes will make it more difficult for Paul to convince voters that he is within the mainstream of Republican thought on foreign policy and to be in the mold of Ronald Reagan. Whether 2016 GOP primary voters will accept someone with Paul’s views on history and national security remains to be seen.