Seemingly oblivious to the implications of what he was saying, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that he didn’t think it was a good idea to rule out containment of Iran:
I’ve repeatedly voted for sanctions against Iran. And I think all options should be on the table to prevent them from having nuclear weapons,” Paul said on “This Week” Sunday. But he said those who oppose the idea of containment — or living with an Iran with nuclear weapons — ignore that such an outcome has been necessary in the past.
“They said containment will never ever, ever be our policy,” Paul said of those who oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons at any cost. “We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons. If that would have been our policy toward Pakistan, we would be at war with Pakistan. We woke up one day and China had nuclear weapons. We woke up one day and Russia had them.”
“The people who say ‘by golly, we will never stand for that,’ they are voting for war,” he added.
Asked by ABC’s Karl if we could “live with” and “contain” a nuclear Iran, Paul said, “I think it’s not a good idea to announce that in advance.”
“Should I announce to Iran, ‘Well, we don’t want you to, but we’ll live with it?’ No, that’s a dumb idea to say that you’re going to live with it,” Paul said. “However, the opposite is a dumb idea too,” referring to the prospect of war.
His repeated refusal to rule out containment has profound implications for his presidential ambitions and may suggest he has given up on positioning himself as a mainstream conservative on national security. Why are his remarks such a problem? A whole bunch of reasons:
• No GOP elected leader or 2016 contender would agree with him. In fact, no elected Democrat probably would, either. It has been the position of three presidents that a nuclear-armed Iran is intolerable. It is an existential threat to Israel. It is not simply that it is “not a good idea” for Iran to get the bomb. He is far, far outside the mainstream on this — and far to the left of President Obama.
• Hillary Clinton would eviscerate him on that point and win over a chunk of Republicans. Whatever her faults on foreign policy, at least she understands that we can’t allow Iran to get a bomb and that suggesting we could consider it destroys our negotiating position and military threat.
• It reveals extreme naivete about how enemies read signals. If he thinks saying such things would not have a dire effect on Iran’s calculations, you can only imagine what things he’d say about Russia, China or any other foe that might be read as a green light for aggression.
• It reveals that he listens to no competent adviser. No knowledgeable foreign policy adviser would urge him to say such things. The sense that concocts theories out of whole cloth with no expert advice is cemented when he says things like this.
• It definitively de-Reaganizes him. Reagan did not say maybe we wouldn’t necessarily respond to a Soviet strike or maybe they’d win and we lose the Cold War. The idea that Reagan would consider allowing a reckless enemy of the United States with terrorists at its beck and call get the bomb is preposterous. One Republican wisecracked via e-mail, “Ronald Reagan is probably spitting his coffee out up in heaven this morning.”
• It confirms the link with his father, who said Iran has as much right to nukes as we do. If the question as to whether Rand Paul is his own, more reasoned pol or just his father in more respectable garb, these comments suggested the latter — and the garb is see-through.
• He apparently is tone deaf, not understanding how this will strike average voters. Former ambassador to the United Nations and potential 2016 candidate John Bolton observes, “One wonders if he understands what he is saying.” Alas, he gives no indication he understands the implications of such a dramatic reversal in U.S. policy.
• It ties him to President Obama, who many conservatives think is leading us down the garden path to effective containment (keep talking while Iran reaches a nuclear-threshold state). Paul desperately wants to be Reagan, but he is much more in tune with the far left. He tried to make light of Liz Cheney’s barb to Right Turn that he got his talking points from Rachel Maddow. But the left is delighted with his stances on foreign policy — from disabling the National Security Agency to closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center to defense cuts. It’s for this he was so warmly received at University of California at Berkeley.
• There was one more troubling aspect to his foreign policy remarks. He denied that in 2009 he had questioned Vice President Dick Cheney’s integrity and loyalty to the United States when he accused him of coming out for the Iraq war because of Halliburton, and then he did it again. “I’m not questioning Dick Cheney’s motives,” Paul said. “There’s a chance for a conflict of interest. At one point in time he was opposed to going into Baghdad. Then he was out of office and involved in the defense industry, and then he became for going into Baghdad.” What is that if not questioning the former VP’s motives — albeit in a backhanded fashion? He then assures everyone Cheney “loves his country” (I’m sure the confirmation coming from him is deeply meaningful to the former VP), but it hardly erases the charge. This will deepen the concern about character issues among potential supporters. (It is also one more sign of the effect on the conspiratorial far left and far right on his thinking.)
• These remarks clear up one more question, namely whether his views have changed since 2009. They haven’t.