Politics & Policy

Rand Paul’s Foreign Policy: For the Situation Room or the Dorm Room?

Sen. Rand Paul
His foreign-policy instincts are immature, to say the least.

The oil-services company Halliburton is an old obsession of the anti-Bush Left, and evidently of Kentucky senator Rand Paul.

The libertarian standard-bearer and almost-certain Republican presidential candidate suggested to audiences a few years ago that Vice President Dick Cheney’s views on the Iraq War were influenced by his time as CEO at Halliburton. Cheney had opposed going into Iraq during the Persian Gulf War under the first President George Bush; then, after a stint at Halliburton, he supported going into Iraq under the second President Bush. Q.E.D.

#ad#Asked about the Halliburton charge on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Paul softened his accusation by saying he wasn’t questioning Cheney’s motives, but he didn’t recant. In his dark suspicions about Cheney, Paul is effectively to the left of most mainstream Democrats, who may disagree with and even hate the former vice president but don’t think he supported a major war as a favor to his erstwhile company. Paul’s belief that the Iraq War may have been about padding a corporate bottom line echoes charges of “war profiteering” that have been a staple of the Left.

Rand Paul is a good-natured, thoughtful, and creative politician, and the GOP benefits from having such a high-profile figure who doesn’t look or feel like a typical Republican. But he will soon be running for an office where your view of the world matters profoundly, and his instincts sometimes seem more appropriate to a dorm-room bull session than the Situation Room.

There is no doubt that the Paulite persuasion on foreign policy has made extraordinary inroads in the Republican party. Rand’s father, Ron Paul, was a reliable punching bag on national-security issues during presidential debates in 2008. He got a more respectful hearing in 2012. Now, his son’s noninterventionism is closer to the GOP norm that would have seemed possible in, say, 2004.

But there are limits to how far Rand Paul can push it. The default position of the GOP is still toward strength, and the party will instinctively recoil from the distorted view of America implicit in some of Paul’s more impolitic statements.

If we launched the Iraq War for corporate profits, we have a poisonously corrupt government that is a threat to world peace. If we caused Japan to react angrily with ill-considered sanctions prior to Pearl Harbor, as Paul said in 2012, perhaps we were reaping what we sowed in what is usually regarded as one of the most notorious sneak attacks of all time. If we are guilty of tweaking Russia while it secures a traditional sphere of influence, as Paul said when the Crimea crisis first broke out, it’s no wonder that Vladimir Putin lashes out.

You can hear in all this a note of the blame-America-first libertarianism embraced by some Paulite thinkers and writers. Rand Paul himself is more circumspect. After the Japan comments surfaced, one of Paul’s advisers put out a statement in support of World War II, which usually goes without saying. Paul quickly toughened up his rhetoric on Russia as Putin’s Crimea invasion unfolded.

Paul likes to calls his foreign policy “realism,” but his record on Russia suggests the label is inapt. Last year, he thought what was wrong with President Barack Obama’s Syria policy was that we weren’t engaging the Russians enough. Earlier this year, he held out the Syria chemical-weapons deal — a humiliation for the United States that secured Bashar Assad in power — as a model for future diplomacy. He thought the Russians were a partner for peace, right on the cusp of their launching a war.

You don’t have to be a war profiteer to consider this dewy-eyed foolishness. Barack Obama’s can’t-we-all-get-along naiveté didn’t hurt him in his primary fight in 2008, but he was running in the other party. Rand Paul is running in a party that, while chastened on foreign policy, still has a hawkish reflex — and not because it is beholden to Halliburton.

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2014 King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Broward’s Cowards

It is impossible to imagine circumstances under which Broward County sheriff Scott Israel could attempt to perform his duties with the confidence of the public. He should resign immediately, and if, as he promises, he refuses to go quietly, then he should be shown the door by the people he professes to ... Read More
Culture

Courage: The Greatest of Virtues

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays. Dear Reader (Or Listener), As the reporter assigned the job of writing the article about all of Sidney Blumenthal’s friends and supporters told his ... Read More
Immigration

My American Dream

This morning, at 8 a.m., I did something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember: I became an American. I first applied for a visa in early 2011, and since then I have slowly worked my way through the system — first as a visa-holder, then as a permanent resident (green card), and, finally, as a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

CNN’s Shameful Town Hall

CNN recently hosted an anti-gun town hall featuring a number of grieving children and parents from Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., who aimed their ire at the National Rifle Association, politicians peripherally associated with the NRA, and anyone who didn’t say exactly what they wanted to hear. ... Read More
U.S.

The Gun-Control Debate Could Break America

Last night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second ... Read More