Sen. Rand Paul, a newly reelected member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this morning that he is inclined to oppose former U.N. ambassador John Bolton or former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani if either is nominated for secretary of state.
“It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.”
Paul argued that Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign-policy establishment.
“I’m hoping that if there’s a public discussion of this before it happens, people in the incoming administration realize that regime change made us less safe and the Iraq War made us less safe,” Paul said. “We don’t need, as our chief diplomat, someone whose idea of diplomacy is dropping bombs.”
Paul, one of many 2016 presidential candidates who was swept aside by Trump, largely avoided the national spotlight as he won reelection to the Senate. But he was the most prominent of many libertarian-minded Republicans who made peace with Trump because of his ex post facto criticism of the Iraq War and his criticism of intervention in Libya and Syria. Even Alex Jones, the conspiracy-minded radio host who turned his show into a months-long Trump telethon, told viewers this week that electing Trump had prevented a new world war.
But the discussion of plum roles for Bolton or Giuliani have given some libertarians and “paleoconservatives” pause. Tuesday morning, at a post-election D.C. conference hosted by the American Conservative magazine, a series of “realist” foreign-policy writers criticized the names floated for Trump’s State Department. Daniel Larison suggested that former senator Jim Webb of Virginia — a Republican-turned-Democrat who weighed a presidential run as an independent after dropping out of the Democratic primaries — would be a fairer choice and that Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) would be “the less aggressive choice” for the Defense Department.
Paul is one of the few Republicans in a position to influence this. As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he will get to vote on whether to recommend Trump’s nominee for secretary of state. The results of the 2016 elections will give Republicans a 10-to-9 majority on the committee, meaning that Paul could cast a decisive vote, with every Democrat, against recommending a Trump nominee. That would not stop a full Senate vote on the nominee, but it would expose fissures in the Republican Party in the first weeks of a Trump administration.
According to Paul, a nominee such as Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) would have an easier time navigating the Senate. He also suggested that realists would get a broader hearing than “the neocons” who had advocated for war in the past, many of whom went on to endorse Hillary Clinton for president.
“There’s going to continue to be a right-left continuum in the Senate on issues like selling arms to Yemen,” Paul said. “As far as the neocons go, he shouldn’t touch those people with a 10-foot pole.”