The fundamental problem with Senator Rand Paul is that it is difficult to discern what he actually stands for. Or if he stands for anything at all. His defenders, and there are many in that category who rightly hope for a shake-up in American politics, often suggest that he will show his true colors and become a reincarnation of his father if he avoids all the pitfalls and is finally elected president. They claim that to evade all the traps that are being set to snare him Rand must constantly triangulate where he is vis-à-vis the powerbrokers in the GOP and perforce embrace some positions that he would otherwise find philosophically unpalatable. But that is the price of doing business if one wants to succeed in politics.
I would argue instead that Rand Paul should be held accountable for what he says and writes and that the public should assume that he is taking positions that he actually supports. Politics might well be a fool’s game, but that is not the way Rand’s father Ron Paul would have played it. Rand’s vacillations have unfortunately already revealed who he is – someone who does not have the, gravitas, depth of experience or the curiosity about the world that would qualify him to serve as president of the United States. That anyone would expect otherwise from a career ophthalmologist from Kentucky should in itself be astonishing. In his shortcomings, he is like President Barack Obama, a man who was elected in spite of the fact that he was a community organizer who became a do-nothing Senator before being nominated. Obama won because of what he appeared to symbolize and based on his unfulfillable campaign promises. He has since demonstrated that he is completely out of his depth as America’s head of state.
It has been observed that no president is elected on foreign policy but that foreign policy becomes a major distraction when one arrives in office, consuming more time and effort than any but the most pressing domestic agendas. Rand Paul, like his father, claims to find America’s recent military misadventures not to his liking, though with a certain ambiguity. He presents himself as a philosophical non-interventionist though he is always careful to qualify his stance by asserting that he would respond forcefully to genuine threats. Regarding the Iranians, for example, he has been on both sides of the fence, not directly endorsing a US attack while supporting legislation to tighten the screws and falsely describing Iran as a country that is “engaged in the pursuit of nuclear weapons and supports terrorism across the globe.”
Rand Paul’s persistent pandering to Israel and its Lobby illustrates what is lacking in his understanding of America’s foreign relationships as the lopsided relationship with Israel is central to America’s foreign policy malaise. Last week Paul “introduced” the Stand With Israel Act of 2014, Senate Bill 2265. It reads: “Prohibition on Foreign Assistance. (a) In General. Except as provided under subsection (b) and notwithstanding any other provision of law, no amounts may be obligated or expended to provide any direct United States assistance, loan guarantee, or debt relief to the Palestinian Authority, or any affiliated governing entity or leadership organization. (b) Exception. The prohibition under subsection (a) shall have no effect for a fiscal year if the President certifies to Congress during that fiscal year that the Palestinian Authority has (1) Formally recognized the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state; (2) Publicly recognized the state of Israel; (3) Renounced terrorism; (4) Purged all individuals with terrorist ties from security services; (4) Terminated funding of anti-American and anti-Israel incitement; (5) Publicly pledged to not engage in war with Israel; and (6) Honored previous diplomatic agreements.”
Randpac, where the bill is posted, describes it as halting “all U.S. aid to the Palestinian government until they (sic) agree to a ceasefire and recognize the right of Israel to exist.” First of all, the title of the bill suggests that Rand is trying to establish his personal bona fides as “Standing With” Israel whatever that is supposed to mean in the context of an American Senator representing Kentucky. So it is a political document issued by someone who wants to become president very badly and will do whatever is necessary.
And what follows in the bill’s text is far from simple. Recognizing Israel as a Jewish State would delegitimize the Palestinian Christians and Muslims who live there and ask them to accept that the Jews were perfectly right to destroy Palestinian society and put their own state in its place, which would be absurd. And it would legally recognize that Israel is a theocracy. Even the United States government does not recognize Israel as a “Jewish State” which means that Rand is demanding from the Palestinians something that presumably would not pass muster in Washington. Would Rand support a similar bill calling the US a Christian nation since more than 90% of the US population is nominally Christian? Of course not, and someone should tell him that fully twenty per cent of Israeli citizens are not Jews who will wind up with second class rights. Is Rand endorsing the already existing Israeli system of laws that give preference to Jews? Sounds like Jim Crow to me.
Rand should also be made aware that the Palestinian Authority recognizes Israel, has cooperated with Tel Aviv to repress terrorism, and has no ex-terrorists in its government (unlike the Israelis past and present). What the authors of Rand’s bill are aiming at is something quite different – using the excuse that the PA is seeking to enter into a unity arrangement with Hamas controlled Gaza as a deal breaker. As long as the PA is cooperating with Hamas, no money from Washington while the Israelis themselves will refuse any negotiations and continue to steal Arab land. It is a perfect excuse to avoid having to make any hard choices, continuing the status quo indefinitely in which Israel is completely dominant.
Rand’s drafters also throw in incitement and the danger of war as sweeteners, the former an unfortunate bit of badinage that both Israel and the Palestinians engage in, and the latter something of a joke as the Palestinians have no army. But it is the last demand, “honoring previous diplomatic agreements,” that is the kicker. It is a requirement that Palestinians not go to the UN or any other international body in an attempt to obtain redress for the Israeli occupation.
Rand Paul introduced the bill and called for it to be unanimously approved, which he did not obtain and subsequently commented how he felt “deeply disappointed and disturbed by the Senate’s inability to stand with me in defense of Israel today.” For Paul defending Israel is punishing the Palestinians big time, with nary a comment about the persistent Israeli non-compliance with UN resolutions and the brutal occupation of the West Bank. Some Rand supporters are claiming that the pro-Israel pivot is actually all a clever move by him, that since AIPAC is supporting continuing aid to the Palestinians so that Israel will not have to pick up the tab Paul will be able to outmaneuver the Lobby by demonstrating his commitment to Israel when they attack him down the road. But that explanation is too clever by a half and Rand, who has demonstrated his fealty to Israel repeatedly in the past several years, is actually revealing that he knows who the power brokers in American politics are and, believe me, they are not the friends of Palestine.
That Rand should come down that way should surprise no one if one recalls his enthusiastic endorsement of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy. A clueless Rand frequently appears to be in thrall to his advisers, including leading neoconservatives and ex-Romneyites Dan Senor and Bill Kristol. It is no surprise that the esteemed senator from Kentucky has swallowed whole the “radical Islam is the enemy” narrative.
Rand has made his obligatory pilgrimage en famille to Israel to see “our Judeo Christian roots.” The trip was paid for by the anti-gay evangelical American Family Association, whose spokesman once asserted that Hitler surrounded himself with homosexual storm troopers because “straights” would have had moral objections to his policies. While in Israel, Rand discovered the meme that he has been beating to death ever since: that the U.S. should stop giving aid to countries that “are burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America’…No one is accusing Israel of that.”
After returning from his trip Rand called on the Administration to publicly declare that an attack on Israel would be considered the same as an attack on the U.S. At the end of May he spoke before a Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) gathering and picked up the theme yet again, praising the ZOA for its courageous display of support for his demand to end the flow of money and arms to Egypt and Pakistan. But not to Israel. Per Paul, “the U.S. and Israel have a great shared religious and cultural history.”
Rand has also appealed to the evangelical crowd by labeling Muslim demonstrators as “haters of Christianity,” adding that “American taxpayer dollars are being used to enable a war on Christianity in the Middle East, and I believe that must end.” But a recent State Department report on religious persecution notes that it is the Israelis who are frequently hostile to non-Jews. Desecration of churches in 1948 and 1967 was widespread and has also recurred periodically since that time, Christian groups have been attacked by zealots, and missionaries who try to convert Jews to Christianity can be imprisoned for five years. In 2012, the Vatican protested after a Trappist monastery’s doors were burned and “Jesus was a Monkey” was written in orange spray paint on the building’s walls. This year, the State Department annual Country Reports for the first time labeled attacks by extremist Jewish settler groups as “terrorism.”
Rand Paul is certainly free to believe whatever he wants but the argument that he must say and do various things, particularly vis-à-vis Israel, if he wants to become president has worn out its welcome. It is fundamentally dishonest, even in a politician, to say one thing while believing something else. If Paul is an honest man, which may or may not be the case, one should take him at his word. Unfortunately his word on foreign policy in general and on the Middle East in particular does not deviate much from the standard Republican cant on Israel. Rand Paul might well be the best of a bad bunch in the GOP, but that still makes him a poor choice for those who are longing for a genuine change of direction in US foreign policy.