In 2012, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) learned how demanding a presidential run can be. You just don’t waltz in unprepared and expect people to fall down at your feet. A string of bad news stories, embarrassing clips from his unvarnished libertarian past and a defensive and testy candidate and campaign operatives suggest that Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is now getting that rude awakening.
Take Paul’s recent statements on the Islamic State. Recall that he first said and wrote that we didn’t have a dog in the fight in Iraq. Then he said he’d be amenable to aid for Iraq. Now he channels President Obama in saying, on military strikes in Iraq, that “I have mixed feelings about it. I’m not saying I’m completely opposed to helping with arms or maybe even bombing.” Those aren’t exactly the words of a credible commander in chief, are they?
What’s worse, Paul sounds once again like he doesn’t understand what is going on in the Middle East, claiming on a radio program that “ISIS [the Islamic State] is big and powerful because we protected them in Syria for a year. Do you know who also hates ISIS and who is bombing them? Assad, the Syrian government.” Thunk.
He might take a gander at a Wall Street Journal report that explains the Free Syrian Army, a non-jihadist group that the United States backed, is now looking at defeat at the hands of Bashar al-Assad and engulfment by the jihadist Islamic State. Islamic State is the same group in Syria and in Iraq that conservatives warned would fill the vacuum if we bugged out of Iraq entirely and failed to act in Syria. Even Hillary Clinton (sort of) gets this now. We didn’t build up the Islamic State; we let it flourish by doing nothing — exactly what Obama and Rand Paul urged.
In addition to seeming lukewarm about taking on a terrorist threat that virtually every intelligence and military official, every credible expert on either side of the aisle and every member of Congress views as a threat to the U.S. homeland, Paul is now in a bind when it comes to protection of Christians persecuted by radical Muslims. He told us that Assad was good for Christians and we should cut off aid to Egypt to help the Christians. But who is slaughtering Christians? The Islamic State in Iraq. You would think Paul would see Christians and others (e.g. the Kurds) pleading for U.S. help. In this case “helping Christians” neatly coincides with nothing militarily in Syria and cutting foreign aid, two libertarian crowd-pleasers.
None of this is all that surprising. Paul has held public office for less than four years. His upbringing, reading list and instincts all tell him that foreign policy should be about getting out of fights and lessening our footprint in the world. Confronted with a panoply of threats, he now seems not just wrong but uninformed. The country elected just such a person in 2008. Unless the GOP decides that a novice, pro-retrenchment president is just what we need now, Rand Paul will find it hard sledding — especially when facing a field of hawkish opponents (Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Perry, former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, etc.) who know their stuff. He might, however, consider an MSNBC talk show where he can expound on his foreign policy views.