Will Americans want to replace President Obama with a candidate who thinks critics of his failed Middle East policy are “warmongers,” who thinks containment of Iran shouldn’t be ruled out, who opposed imposition of the Menendez-Kirk sanctions, who thinks Guantanamo Bay terrorists should be moved to the United States for trial, who wanted all troops pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and who didn’t want to take any action in Syria? It seems Hillary Clinton doesn’t think so, and I suspect she’ll start running from Obama’s Iran policy just as she has from his treatment of Israel and refusal to take action in Syria. Why then does Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) think the Republican Party will accept positions that even Hillary Clinton can’t stomach?
It was Paul who called Christian evangelicals “warmongers.” It was Paul who held out the prospect for containment of Iran, trying to make the case that this was akin to George Kennan’s concept of containing Communism. (When confronted with this extreme position, Paul’s advisers insisted that he wasn’t advocating containment, just not ruling it out. That’s as bad, of course, since holding out the prospect of containment signals to the mullahs that we are unserious and uncommitted to multiple international resolutions demanding disarmament.) It is in any case not Reaganite in the least. Reagan didn’t favor containment of Communism; his formulation was “You lose, we win.”
It was Paul who aligned himself with Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama after the interim deal to oppose sanctions against Iran. He previously tried to gum up sanctions legislation in the Senate. (Subsequently he voted for sanctions. Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) tried the same sort of two-step on Iraq funding.) Paul seemed not to worry about the sunset clause that Obama had already given to the mullahs or the implicit recognition of the right to enrich in the interim deal. He was going to give diplomacy a chance, he told us.
It was Paul who repeatedly voted with liberal Democrats against conservatives who wanted to foreclose the president’s ability to bring Guantanamo Bay terrorists to the U.S. homeland, where they would be tried and, if convicted, housed in prisons in the United States.
It was Paul who insisted that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was good for Christians and that we should not aid the rebels or act militarily. He staunchly opposed enforcing the red line after Assad had used chemical weapons.
Moreover, he has gone far to the left of Clinton and even Obama on a number of issues. He advocated in a detailed budget proposal eliminating all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. He claimed that we had no dog in the fight in Iraq and that any action there would be helping terrorists. (Later he said he’d favor aid to Iraq, but it’s not clear why we should if he believed we had no interest in Iraq. By the way, his no-foreign-aid pledge would have made this impossible.) He wanted to go much further than the Obama team in dismantling the National Security Agency surveillance program and compared the traitor Edward Snowden to Martin Luther King Jr. He opposes droning American jihadists overseas unless there is an imminent threat.
There is a reason that left-wing MSNBC commentators fawn over Paul on foreign policy. He offers a philosophy more in tune with their own philosophy than even Obama. He is now getting a taste of the criticism he will face not only from hawkish opponents and pundits, but also from ordinary voters and grass-roots activists in early primary states. The Hill reports:
[M]any state GOP observers say Paul’s missteps show he has work to do if he wants to remain one of the state’s frontrunners.
“This has been rough seas for Rand in Iowa this go-around. What he did here, it’s not a deal-breaker but it shows you he might not be as prepared to run for president as he thinks he is. It’s been a very rough week for him,” said Craig Robinson, a former state GOP political director and the editor of The Iowa Republican.
“While he’s been here a lot before this is his first real dose of what a presidential race would feel like and how the media would treat you. It’s eye-opening to anyone and I bet he’s learned a lot,” said Robinson.
Paul’s biggest slip was saying that he’d never supported cutting foreign aid to Israel.
Paul risks alienating both traditional conservatives and his father’s supporters if he strays too far from doctrinaire libertarianism:
“It’s been a very tough balancing act for him to keep his dad’s base happy, take some stances the evangelicals don’t typically support, and still reach out to them,” said Greg Baker, the political director of the socially conservative Iowa Family Leader. “It’s eroded trust with both groups … I’ve seen him speak a few times. He seems like he’s pretty good on marriage or Israel when I see him and then I see him on TV and he contradicts himself.” . . .
Some of those who backed Paul’s father feel the same way.
“A lot of people are concerned that he’s not coming off as authentic as his father did. The real debate among liberty folks is whether his perceived lack of authenticity is just a campaign tactic or is it something we’re going to see persist,” said Joel Kurtinitis, a former Ron Paul staffer and the outreach director of the libertarian group Liberty Iowa. “We’re really waiting for someone to take that stand the way Ron did without any backtracking or lack of sureness in his statements.
Like Obama, Paul repeatedly underestimated the jihadist threat and would deconstruct terrorist architecture that lawmakers and intelligence and military professionals say have worked. That’s going to turn off voters in Iowa and elsewhere he will need to break out of the family’s libertarian circles. His candidacy comes at a particularly inauspicious time for isolationists. The problem the past 5 1/2 years has not been too much U.S. involvement in the world, but too little. It has not been overreaction to looming dangers, but blindness.
If anything, the string of Obama foreign policy failures has moved the GOP away from Obama and Paul toward a more muscular foreign policy that recognizes the essential leadership of the United States in the world and the impossibility of delegating this task to others.
Paul will either have to run much further than Clinton when it comes to his own foreign policy positions — thereby offending the hard-core libertarians and forfeiting whatever authenticity he claims to have — or he will have to bet there is a hidden appetite for Obama-Hillary foreign policy in the GOP. If he runs in 2016, he will be facing a phalanx of Republicans — Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.). and Marco Rubio (Fla.), Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Pence of Indiana, to name just five potential adversaries — who are tougher on foreign policy, more consistent on support for Israel and less vulnerable to self-contradiction from prior statements and votes. (And don’t forget about Rick Santorum, who bedeviled Paul the Elder and the doggedly pro-Israel Mike Huckabee.) Protesting that he is continually misunderstood or his record misrepresented just isn’t going to cut it. To the contrary, whining suggests that Paul is unprepared and ill-suited to sustain the bumps and bruises of presidential politics.