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A Critical Look at Rand Paul
He's made his foreign-policy speech, but what does the senator's record show?
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There are plenty of pundits and activists willing to make excuses for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. Some suggest that he is behaving strategically, knowing that he must lock in support from certain GOP constituencies if he is to have any chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude, anticipating the Senate vote on the nomination of Chuck Hagel for secretary of defense as a test of how far Paul will go to do what is right rather than what is expedient. Finally there are supporters who follow Rand out of reverence for his father, former congressman Ron Paul, who challenged the political orthodoxy in a number of areas where his son is now mending fences.

I am among those who believe that Rand Paul has already revealed what he is made of, at least in terms of foreign policy. To suggest that he says and does things strategically just to make himself more acceptable to certain special interests demeans him, and to determine whether the other accounts offered on his behalf are viable, it is necessary to review the senator’s foreign-policy record over the past two years.

On the plus side of the ledger, while running for the Senate Rand Paul criticized America’s inclination to enter into overseas wars and Washington’s worldwide military footprint, though 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. He has advocated strictly controlling the Mexican border against illegal immigration. Shortly after his election in 2010, he called for an end to all foreign aid. And he has opposed any language in sanctions legislation directed against Syria or Iran that might authorize military action. He has rejected any direct U.S. role against the Assad regime in Damascus.

Paul has consistently opposed extension of certain provisions of the Patriot Act expanding police powers, which—though not part of foreign policy per se—have been driven by the so-called War on Terror. But he supports trying all terrorism suspects before military tribunals at Guantanamo, not before civil courts in the United States. At the end of 2012, Paul co-sponsored with senators Dianne Feinstein and Mike Lee an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that appeared to prohibit the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens by the military, though in reality it did precisely the opposite by excluding those cases in which “an Act of Congress expressly authorizes such detention.” Such acts of Congress already exist in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and last year’s NDAA, which included the infinitely elastic “material support of terrorism” as a charge that could be dealt with by military detention. The Feinstein-Paul amendment did not make it into the final bill that went to President Obama, leading Paul to slam the entire NDAA as “unconstitutional.”

Last June, Rand Paul endorsed Mitt Romney for president and followed the endorsement by saying he would be “honored” to be Romney’s choice for vice president. Regarding Mitt’s foreign-policy views, Paul told Sean Hannity that “[we] had a very good and I think honest discussion about a lot of these things; and I came away from it feeling he would be a very responsible commander-in-chief, I don’t think he’ll be reckless, I don’t think he’ll be rash, and I think that he realizes and believes as I do that war is a last resort and something we don’t rush willy-nilly into, and I came away feeling that he’ll have a mature attitude and beliefs towards foreign policy.”

But Rand was wrong about Mitt, whose foreign policy would have been a repeat of George W. Bush’s—except it might be even worse. While Senator Paul was endorsing Mitt, a key Romney foreign-policy adviser, Richard Williamson, was in Israel telling an audience that “Iran will see that there’s a new sheriff in town” if Romney is elected. Williamson promised credible military threats against Iran—including using force to stop the Iranian weapons program—recommended arming the rebels in Syria, and reiterated extremely dangerous arguments that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe.”

Romney, who did not accept the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran has no weapons program, was the only Republican presidential hopeful proposing an increase in the Pentagon budget. He frequently extolled American Exceptionalism to support his belief that the United States should both dominate militarily and lead the world. Rand’s endorsement of Romney, which explicitly included his foreign-policy positions, sent the signal that working one’s way through the system is everything and that the details don’t much matter. Rand’s father refused to endorse Romney.

Senator Paul has supported sanctions against Iran while contending that such actions should not be construed as a license to go to war. He was the only senator to vote against a resolution last fall maintaining that Iran cannot ever acquire a nuclear weapon; he said: “A vote for this resolution is a vote for the concept of pre-emptive war.” But his essentially constitutional position on war powers has not stopped him from arguing that “The Iranian regime is engaged in the pursuit of nuclear weapons and supports terrorism across the globe.” That Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon is incorrect according to the CIA.

After the November election, Paul joined 99 other Senators in voting unanimously for increasingly harsh sanctions on Iran designed to cripple the country’s economy. His father Ron had a different view back in August, slamming a similar bill in the house and voting against it, calling the measures an unconstitutional “act of war.”

Since that time Senator Paul has been working particularly hard to dispel the notion that he is anti-Israel because he opposes foreign aid. He recently returned from a week-long visit to the Middle East, most of which was spent in Israel, that was paid for by an evangelical group called the American Family Association.

The Jerusalem Post reported that during the Rand Paul family visit, the senator said that Israel’s settlement policies are “none of our business” before backing away from any suggestion of cutting aid any time soon by noting that a bankrupt America would not be a good ally for Israel and then explaining, “This does mean that we have to reassess who to give aid to, and when we do reassess that, I would begin with countries that are burning our flag and chanting ‘Death to America.’ No one is accusing Israel of that.”

Regarding the settlements, Rand seems uninterested in or unaware of the damage being done to U.S. interests due to Washington’s continued substantial funding of Israel’s defense budget, support that frees up money for the illegal settlement expansion. Settlements are very much Washington’s business, as U.S. citizens are paying the tab and taking much of the blame.

The senator also visited Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas during his trip. The meeting was not covered by the U.S. media, but Xinhua news service did describe it as follows: “U.S. Senator Rand Paul informed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of his country’s opposition to the Palestinian intention to join United Nations agencies, a well- informed Palestinian sources said Monday. The source told Xinhua on condition of anonymity the Republican Senator told Abbas after a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah that the United States will impose sanctions on the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) if it decided to join UN agencies.” If the account is accurate, Paul has joined the chorus demanding that the Palestinians be punished for seeking statehood.

On January 24 Senator Paul confronted outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over the events in Benghazi in September 2012, when four Americans were killed. Paul called Benghazi somewhat hyperbolically “the worst tragedy since 9/11” and insisted that if he had been president he would have relieved Clinton of her post for not personally responding to the incoming cables from Libya as the situation was developing. Paul’s comments might appear to be scoring points in support of his own personal ambitions, projecting himself as a president in shaping his response. But they are also unfortunately reflective of his failure to understand how overseas embassies operate. The secretary of state receives millions of messages every day, many of which are completely contradictory as officers on the ground attempt to describe evolving situations. The secretary is head of a large bureaucracy and has an experienced staff that handles developing crises. The situation in Beghazi was only clearly understood long after it was over.

Rand has stated that the United States government should publicly declare that “any attack on Israel will be treated as if it is an attack on the United States,” a position that would tie Washington’s policy to that of Israel—with the Israelis able to dictate developments. Rand, together with a number of American politicians and pundits, seems to believe that the United States has an alliance with Israel. It does not. Israel has resisted any restraint on its behavior that a formal alliance would entail. It is not possible to imagine how an alliance would even be defined, as Israel has no fixed borders and is constantly expanding its definition of how and where it is threatened. Israel is a Middle Eastern superpower well able to deter any aggression against with responses up to and including its own nuclear arsenal, while the definition of “attack” is itself elusive—does it imply war with another nation-state or rockets fired from Gaza?

That Rand could make such a suggestion, apparently unaware of the problems it could create for the United States, might be due to the advice he is getting. Rand has reportedly received briefings from former Romney foreign-policy adviser Dan Senor and other neoconservatives, including meetings with Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard.

Judging based on how he has voted and what he has said and done, Rand Paul insists on adherence to the Constitution for going to war but is not necessarily against interventionism and does not appear to have well-defined views on what measures are appropriate in counterterrorism. He opposes some infringements on constitutional liberties as part of the War on Terror. He favors cutting foreign aid for “unfriendly” countries first and friends like Israel sometime after that, advocates punishing Muslim countries that do not fully support our policies, and promotes an Israel-centric foreign policy in the Middle East. He relies on neoconservatives for foreign-policy guidance and is willing to support the demonization of countries like Iran in spite of the lack of evidence that they constitute a threat.

Rand hasn’t revealed whether or not he will vote to approve the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. As the Hagel nomination has been strongly opposed by various components of the Israel Lobby, Paul could further burnish his pro-Israel and pro-evangelical credentials by voting “no,” or he might reassure libertarians and traditional conservatives by voting “yes.” The uncertainty about the vote highlights the central enigma of Rand Paul: how will he act if his eye is on 2016?

Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Rand Paul 
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  1. spite says:

    The secretary of state receives millions of messages every day, but they are not normally in the form of: “we are under attack”. If the excuse is that the huge bureaucracy is to blame, then it logically follows what was done to deal with this huge bureaucracy ? Clearly nothing, its not surprising that a former CIA director would use such daft excuses.

  2. Andy says:

    I see it as Rand having to throw the republican establishment a bone every now and then. I was troubled by his “an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States”comment though. Still, his foreign-policy views are far superior than the rest of the GOP.

  3. icarusr says:

    “Rand Paul insists on adherence to the Constitution for going to war but is not necessarily against interventionism and does not appear to have well-defined views on what measures are appropriate in counterterrorism.”

    So in other words he is as ignorant as he is cynically opportunistic, with a dollop of ambitious megalomania thrown into the mix for spice.

    Not, I should imagine, a great combo.

  4. I am confused. In this magazine, Pat Buchanan stated Iran “has no nuclear weapons program, according to the unanimous verdict of our 16 intelligence agencies . . .” But this article says “Williamson promised credible military threats against Iran—including using force to stop the Iranian weapons program . . .” Which is it? Or is Williamson not referring to a nuclear weapons program?

  5. Im a big Ron Paul supporter so I had had a lot of hope for Rand. Sadly as soon as he shifted into position to try woo over the neocon/Zionist crowd he lost any interest I had with him. We have two parties stuffed with enough of these fools already. And look where it has gotten us. Thanks but no thanks.

  6. Mario says:

    Don’t forget Rand bashed Romney’s major foreign policy speech in an op-ed to CNN. In fact, it almost seemed as if Rand used that “endorsement” to feel more free in disagreeing with him, as he did on issues such as defense spending (brought up in his convention speech) as well as intervention/sanctions in places such as Syria. More importantly, I think Rand has started a debate on Republican foreign policy, and 3 years ahead of the time. Maybe by late 2015 we will have changed the view on a traditional conservative foreign policy. Remember many of these same conservative insurgents were cheering Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996. Surely they weren’t complaining about limited intervention back then?

  7. Bill says:

    Certainly not a chip off the old block.

    As for the State Dept they don’t call it Foggy Bottom for nothing.

  8. If Rand Paul is truly relying on Neocons for military and or foreign policy expertise, he doesn’t deserve our support. How could he be that divorced from reality?

  9. Jessie says:

    This seriously bummed me out. I had so much hope invested in this guy. 🙁

  10. Gerry says:

    This guy seems to have an agenda against Rand Paul. Just because he is not as ideologically uncompromising (notice I didn’t say pure) as his father does not mean that we should discount him. What exactly was accomplished with Ron Paul’s uncompromising stances in Washington? During his tenure in Congress there were minimal to no changes in policy or electoral wins. While I admire the heck out of Ron Paul he was simply not able to convince enough people to make noticeable changes in policy. Unfortunately many great ideas espoused by Ron Paul that were considered mainstream in the 1700’s and 1800’s are long gone and considered radical by the undereducated masses today. It will take time and the right arguments to move peoples opinions back towards constitutional government. We need more leaders like Rand Paul who understand where we want to get to, but have the tact and diplomacy to get us there. Republican government means some compromise as long as you are trending in the right direction. If you want every issue to be exactly as you see it, you will need to be a King or Czar.

  11. duglarri says:

    Rand Paul has no hope of being nominated for President for the Republicans. None. He doesn’t represent any significant faction inside the Republican party, and has no allies to speak of, and there’s only one constituency he can get in front of- his father’s- but that group is antiwar and anti-empire, and is easy meat for the tea partiers. So the fact that he turns out to have fallen hook, line, and sinker for the core principles of Neoconism- Israel first- doesn’t matter a whit.

    Pretty astonishing that he calls for a declaration that an attack on Israel is an attack on the US. As Phil mentions, Israel is not an ally of the United States. There is no treaty of alliance between Israel and the United States, not for lack of trying. But when American military officers sit down with Israelis and say, okay, now an attack on Israel is, where exactly? And their Israeli counterparts sort of wave their hands over the map and say, well, between the Litani, to the north, and the Euphrates over here, and the Nile, Israel is in there, somewhere… the Americans pack up and go home.

    How do you agree to mutual defense of a country that won’t say where its borders are?

    He’s drunk the neocon Koolaide. And his father’s supporters are just going to tune him right out, which leaves him with – nobody.

  12. It’s said above that Ron Paul accomplished no policy changes through his uncompromising stances against failed Washington orthodoxies.

    It’s not understandable to me that genuinely agreeing with those failed policies instead will somehow change them.

    Ron Paul by refusing to back down showed that his criticisms did have public support and had credibility. He forced the status quo of the elites into defense mode.

    Unfortunately, our political economy has fallen to such low estate, that a truthful politician can’t any longer get into any actual position of authority to change policy, no matter how sensible his real views might be or actually represent most ordinary peoples’.

    But there is a real problem with putting one’s faith in yet another lying politician, if that is what one believes that Rand Paul is. That will mean most likely more change we can’t believe in.

  13. Clint says:

    Rand Paul’s Chief Of Staff Clarifies Rand’s Recent Israel Comments

    “The questions asked of Senator Paul in recent days were regarding an unprovoked attack on Israel. In one case the question was regarding a nuclear attack on Tel Aviv from another state. ”

  14. Rehmat says:

    Republican Sen. Rand Paul was in Israel to gain Jewish support for his GOP presidential nomination bid in 2016. It seems he has not learned a lesson from his father Rep. Ron Paul’s failed bid for GOP presidential nomination last year because the Jewish Lobby considered him a vicious antisemite. Like his father, he too, believes in stopping USAID to Israel, Egypt and Pakistan – and no US wars for Israel.

  15. Roman says:

    Rand is playing the necessary game of politics in order to get things done and move forward with his career. His father was the torchbearer of the libertarian movement and was needed as an ideological “father” in order to spur factions within the NeoCon establishment. Look at how many people running for office and who have gained office that were motivated by Ron and his work as a Congressman. Rand would not be able to do what he is doing without his father. What he is doing is much needed and he knows exactly how Washington works. He knows what it means to vote with leadership and against leadership. It’s naive to think that things can get done in such a “pure” fashion which is often so eloquently stated on the political blogosphere. It’s Washington and it’s a game of chess. Remember, Ron played the game too in order to get some things done (like bringing money back to his district). All politicians do it and know it’s necessary. What they do it FOR is what matters. I honestly believe Rand is doing what he is doing to gain momentum, credibility and a position to bring about change over the long-term. Politics is strategy just as much as it is ideology.

  16. Jim says:

    Rand is going to give the Teabagger response to the president’s State of the Union address. I didn’t realize the Teabaggers were an actual political party, I just thought they were like the cousins from Georgia who come to the family reunion uninvited and make the rest of the hillbillies embarassed.

  17. Rand Paul is not going to get the support of his father’s detractors, and may lose even more by trying to toady to them. He may win the support of those who encouraged Chuck Hagel’s presidential bid in 2008, such as myself, as well as other “realists” in the realm of foreign policy, who are far more numerous in the GOP than they are vocal. If Rand Paul cannot match the adherence to principle and courage of his father in Congress he may be forgiven. But if he can not even adhere to far more modest standards achieved by Chuck Hagel and be seen to support them, what would be the point of electing him?

    In the early 80’s, John McCain came to the U.S. Senate as a breath of fresh air, sounding the call for America to desist from military adventures abroad. He, like Chuck Hagel, had a record of military service that made it impossible for the warmongers to attack him. I think this is why the two worked together in the 2000’s race for the Presidency, even though McCain took needless shots at Christian conservatives during that campaign. In the succeeding years the two Senators diverged, but it was McCain who changed more than Hagel, to the point that the Arizona Senator could join in what was once unthinkable – attack a man with Hagel’s military awards and commendations as unfit to head our military services. It is John McCain’s lowest hour. Rand Paul has not yet achieved such distinction to afford to fall so low.

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