A lot of otherwise smart people are twisting themselves into pretzels explaining why Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky is taking the foreign and defense policy positions that he has. Paul’s latest gambit was to join in the looney tunes voices on the Likud fringe of the GOP in demanding more debate on the Chuck Hagel nomination by suggestingthat the former Nebraska Senator might well have some unsavory foreign connections, an assertion for which there is absolutely no evidence. The apologists are noting that Paul did not actually vote against the Hagel nomination but merely to enable extending the debate, as if there are degrees of opposing a candidate even when there is no reason whatsoever to do so.
What is worrisome about Paul, an ophthalmologist by training, is his nearly complete ignorance of what a proper U.S. foreign policy should encompass in spite of his holding a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He should be asking himself why the world’s approval rating of Washington and its policies has plummeted in the past twelve years but instead he appears to be completely reliant on his equally afflicted advisers who carefully craft the positions they believe he should take to further his presidential aspirations. It seems that the coterie that so successfully executed his father’s presidential bid, headed by the inimitable $1.1 million dollar man Jesse Benton, is somehow coalescing around the son possibly in hopes of more fresh meat also known as consulting fees. Is evangelical outreacher and famous presidential chronicler Doug Wead, who enabled a meeting where father Ron agreed to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, somewhere lurking? Probably. Jack Hunter "The Southern Avenger" is already on the payroll as Rand’s New Media Director but who else is coming over to cash in? John Tate almost certainly will show up. As will Mike Rothfeld whose Saber Communications reportedly billed the Paul campaign for $1,196,376 for "advertising, bulk mail, and email services" in Virginia in 2011? Rand has also apparently been receiving briefings from former Mitt Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor and other neoconservatives, to include a number of meetings with Bill Kristol of The Weekly Standard.
No matter who is writing the script or pulling the strings, it is an effort worthy of a C-minus. I like to think of it in terms of asking what Rand is saying and doing that goes beyond what he has to say and do to maintain his viability in the Republican Party, which admittedly is necessary if he wishes to remain in the Senate. Just last week did Rand have to jump on the Ted Cruz bandwagon and imply that Hagel was hiding something sinister before casting the key vote to extend the debate? Of course not, but he did it anyway presumably because it made him look like a player in the Senate confirmation proceedings and also bought him some media coverage. If he wanted to vote against Hagel, or even if he wants to vote for him when the final ballot in the Senate comes up, he could have just kept his mouth shut but instead he chose to align himself with the demagogic Cruz – whom Rand endorsed and campaigned for in Texas – as well as John McCain and Lindsey Graham. If he votes for Hagel after voting against him he will inevitably and fairly be seen as flip-flopping to cover both sides of the argument. Dumb move Rand.
And then there was the famous Heritage Foundation speech of two weeks ago, which mixed fact with fiction in its foreign policy analysis, claiming incorrectly, for example, that the CIA had once armed and funded Osama bin Laden. Paul oddly advocated some kind of containment policy for dealing with Iran (while still threatening to bomb them), as if third world Iran is somehow a threat comparable to the Soviet Union with its massive military capabilities and global reach. Rand also made clear who the real enemy is – "radical Islam" – demonstrating full well both his complete cluelessness combined with his having absorbed the Bill Kristol first rule of foreign policy, which is that all Muslims are bad. Rand could have made a reasonable speech advocating a restrained and constitutional defense and security policy without the by now obligatory attacks on Iran and Muslims, but he chose not to. Dumb move Rand.
If Rand is seeking to bring about his father’s vision of a dramatic shift in how America sees itself vis-à-vis the rest of the world he is going about the task in a very strange way. Once upon a time, while running for the Senate, Rand actually criticizedAmerica’s inclination to enter into overseas wars and its worldwide military footprint, though at the same time he supported the war in Afghanistan and urged against too hasty a withdrawal from Iraq. He has since said that he would have voted against the Iraq War if he had been in office at the time. Shortly after his election in 2010, he, to his credit, called for an end to all foreign aid, began to criticize the conduct of the Iraq War, and has opposed any language in sanctions legislation directed against Syria and Iran that might authorize military action. He has rejected any direct U.S. role against the Assad regime in Damascus.
But then last June Rand Paul got the ambition bug big time. He endorsed Mitt Romney for president of the United States and followed up by saying he would be "honored" to be Romney’s choice for vice president. Regarding Mitt’s foreign policy views, Rand Paul told the despicable Sean Hannity that Mitt "would be a very responsible commander-in-chief…that he’ll have a mature attitude and beliefs towards foreign policy." Rand apparently didn’t hear all Romney’s American Exceptionalism talk, chose to ignore that Mitt had virtually declared war on Iran, and also didn’t notice that Romney had turned over much of U.S. foreign policy to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And it was all unnecessary and even pointless because he will never be embraced by the GOP apparatchiks because of his father. Rand should have endorsed Romney as the GOP candidate and left it at that. It should also be noted that father Ron refused to endorse Mitt. Dumb move Rand.