Again and again, conservatives have cut Senator Rand Paul at least some slack when his pronouncements have moved in the realm of, but not fully shared, his father’s nuttiness on foreign affairs. It’s almost as if some nuttiness of his own was allowable as long as it didn’t go as far as his father’s did.
But just about every fortnight or so, a new Rand Paul speech or a newly resurfaced old video or news report shows not only that the senator is dangerously neo-isolationist and militarily penurious, but that he is also bizarrely spiteful toward those who disagree. Worse, just as in some of his father’s rants, the Kentuckian’s pronouncements bend toward wacky conspiracy theories of the “blame America first” variety. It recently emerged, for example, that just two years ago, he still was trafficking in the Buchananite fantasy that United States trade policy made it somehow culpable for Japan’s and Germany’s “anger,” which led to World War II.
The latest video to resurface is from a 2009 speech at Western Kentucky University, unearthed by David Corn at Mother Jones. In it, Senator Paul peddles the old leftist theory — one that is hideously insulting to the motives and character of former vice president Dick Cheney — that the decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003 was driven by the desire to increase the profits of the Halliburton oil-field-services company that Cheney once led.
“We need to be fearful of companies that get so big that they can actually be directing policy,” the senator said. He went on to blame Halliburton also for doing such “shoddy” work that “our soldiers are over there dying in the shower from electrocution.” Noting that Cheney in 1995 had defended the decision not to press the 1991 Desert Storm engagement any further, Paul said: “Dick Cheney then goes to work for Halliburton. Makes hundreds of millions of dollars, their CEO. Next thing you know, he’s back in government, and it’s a good idea to go into Iraq. . . . [And] 9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”
There are plenty of arguments to be made both for and against the 2003 decision to go to war, but to say that Cheney willingly put the lives of his countrymen at risk in order to make money — from a company he no longer worked for — is simply beyond the pale. And Cheney wasn’t the only one guilty of war profiteering, according to the Book of Paul. At a GOP event in Montana during the 2008 presidential campaign, he said: “Most of the people on these [congressional] committees have a million dollars in their bank account all from different military-industrial contractors. We don’t want our defense to be defined by people who make money off of the weapons.”
This is slanderous. Maybe there are a few Republicans out there who really do think Cheney is Darth Vader, and that multiple congressmen are equally corrupt and vicious. But Senator Paul has peddled similarly crazy and insulting notions about Ronald Reagan — namely that he and a “war caucus” stupidly armed Osama bin Laden and radical jihadists in Afghanistan, to ill result. Every part of this formulation, from a major speech he made at the Heritage Foundation, was dead wrong.
This propensity not just to disagree with others on foreign policy but also to denigrate them (and often to mischaracterize their actions or positions) is a staple of Paul’s remarks. In a January piece for The National Interest, he complained about name-calling in foreign-policy disputes: “It seems everybody’s got a name for themselves and even nastier names for their opponents. . . . If you don’t label yourself first, your enemies will.” Then he proceeded to engage in . . . name-calling. Criticizing the “neoconservatives” who “preach a doctrine that is hostile to diplomatic engagement,” he wrote: “To this crowd, everyone who doesn’t agree with them is the next Chamberlain.”
Again and again, he characterizes his opponents as flat-out warmongers, such as those “within the Christian community [who] are such great defenders of the promised land and the chosen people that they think war is always the answer, maybe even preemptive war.” Choices are always binary in his world — one must either follow his way of diplomacy or, as in his Heritage speech, take the position that “war is the only option.” In a recent speech at the Center for the National Interest, he built the same militaristic straw man. Those who favor bigger defense forces and more robust postures, he said, have the attitude that “diplomacy is distrusted and war is, if not the first choice, the preferred option.”
The worst warmongers in Paul World are always the nefarious “neocons,” sometimes directly associated with Israel, who are blamed for such a wide assortment of ills and bad motives that an uninformed listener might think they are more dangerous to world peace than the Soviets ever were.
On substance, Paul’s antipathy for American international engagement, and for just about any aspect of the Bush administration’s war on terror, is so strong that he (1) was among only 18 senators (and only four Republicans) who refused to sign a letter demanding strong terms for any agreement with Iran on its nuclear program; (2) suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could be accepted and “contained”; (3) actually compared the remarkably humane American facility for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay to the American mistreatment of blacks and Japanese; (4) argued against “tweaking” Vladimir Putin and said that Ukraine is rightly within Russia’s sphere of influence, just when Putin was beginning to threaten Crimea — in effect, giving Putin a green light; (5) later, was one of only two senators to vote against sanctions to punish Russia for its aggression; (6) denied that the United States is in any way a “battlefield” for terrorists; and (7) hinted that years of aid to Egypt were wasted (as if decades of peace in the Sinai were immaterial).
And this is not even counting the senator’s long-standing advocacy for an ever-leaner Pentagon, even though the Defense Department already has borne the brunt of Obama-era budget cuts. Senator Paul’s dovishness seems to know no bounds.
Granted, there is much to like about Rand Paul’s steadfastness on domestic policies. The cause of limited government has few such stalwart champions. But Paul is obviously considering a presidential race. This is frightening. A president’s first duty is to defend our nation and our international interests. By this standard, Rand Paul’s record and views are woefully, and sometimes nastily, shoddy.
— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.