Two Sides of Rand Paul
One inspires hope for the GOP; the other is less impressive.

Senator Rand Paul


Andrew C. McCarthy

To his great credit, Senator Paul tried to stop our government’s transfer of F-16 aircraft and Abrams tanks to Egypt. He certainly has that half of the equation right. At Heritage, he observed that while “the war is not with Islam but with a radical element of Islam — the problem is that this element is no small minority but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority.” I’d say “minority” is hopeful — at least in the Middle East, where, as Paul further noted, the enemy ideology grips “whole countries, such as Saudi Arabia.” Islamic-supremacism — what he called “radical Islam” — is, as he described, “no fleeting fad but a relentless force.” To empower Islamic supremacists is a grave mistake.

In his National Review interview, Senator Paul rightly faulted the 2012 GOP ticket for banking on the fallacy that victory lay in allowing no daylight between its own positions and Obama’s abominable foreign policy. But his critique then skipped the rails. The Romney/Ryan platform, he complained, “was sort of like, ‘We’ll . . . come a little bit slower out of Afghanistan. . . . ’ But Biden had a good response, ‘We’re coming home.’ And I think that’s what people want; I think that’s what people are ready for, that we’re coming home.” And why does Paul think Americans want to come home? Because of “war weariness.”

Americans are clearly not pining for our troops to come home from Europe, Japan, Korea, the Persian Gulf, or other locations where their presence assures the peace through strength on which our prosperity depends. In Afghanistan, Americans are not weary of war; they are weary — as they were in Iraq — of our government’s misconception of the war, the very thing Paul’s Heritage speech undertook to correct. They are weary of expending the lives and limbs of our best young people — and of wasting hundreds of billions of dollars in a time of existentially threatening debt — on nation-building experiments premised on the fiction that Islamic and Western cultures desire the same things.

Like Senator Paul, Americans are not anxious for war. But when it is necessary and fought for our vital interests — particularly our liberty and security — we are extremely supportive. Paul is right that war should be a limited-duration exercise. What he described at Heritage as a foreign policy that balanced our vital interests, our desires, and our strapped resources, is indeed one that, as he put it, “would target our enemy, strike with lethal force,” and exit expeditiously.

If that is truly where he is coming from, though, he ought to study what former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo actually says instead of using a Yoo caricature as a piñata — the tack he took in the NR interview, regrettably reminiscent of the way McCain and Graham have disserved Paul himself. I doubt my friend Professor Yoo would dare dabble in ophthalmology, but in trying his hand at constitutional law, Dr. Paul predictably commits malpractice. He has confused Yoo’s scholarship on the “unitary executive” with advocacy of the executive lawlessness known as the “imperial presidency.”

Yoo’s take on the meaning of the power to declare war that the Constitution vests in Congress is more narrow than mine, but, contrary to Paul’s intimation, Yoo most certainly does not “believe there is no limitation” on executive power. (Senator Paul might peruse “The Presidency Redefined,” Yoo’s essay in the March 11 edition of National Review, in which he contends, inter alia, that “conservatives would be more consistent in their quest to rein in the administrative state if they foreswore the vigorous use of executive power.”) What Yoo argues is that once war is commenced — whether by unilateral presidential response to threats against U.S. interests or by congressional authorization — the “target our enemy, strike with lethal force” approach that Paul commends is an executive responsibility. On that, both law and American history are firmly on Yoo’s side.

Any successful conservative foreign policy is going to marry the clarity about the enemy that animated Rand Paul’s Heritage speech with the clear distinction John Yoo draws between fighting war and fighting crime. And we’d better get about it because the stakes are high.

Foreign policy, inextricably intertwined with national security, must be a core concern of the political Right. It must derivatively be seen by voters as an issue on which trust is better reposed in the GOP — the major party that, in theory at least, is responsive to the Right. If this is not the case, then, as David Horowitz persuasively contends, Republicans are sure to lose elections. Ronald Reagan made the struggle against Soviet totalitarianism central to his campaigns. Mitt Romney regarded the struggle against Islamic-supremacist totalitarianism as something too politically incorrect to mention amid platitudinous five-point economic plans. There are reasons why eminently winnable elections are lost.

 Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and the executive director of the Philadelphia Freedom Center. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy, which is published by Encounter Books.