With his enthusiastic support for Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba, Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) again shows that his foreign-policy views are wrongheaded. With his bizarre mislabeling of his views and of those who disagree, Paul shows himself (yet again) to be truly ignorant about foreign affairs. And with his juvenile, nasty, strangely personal attacks on fellow Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Paul shows himself temperamentally unsuited for the presidency.
Rand Paul is no conservative; he’s a quack.
First, as for Obama’s policy change, the in-depth arguments against normalizing relations right now have been superbly laid out by the Washington Post, Andrew McCarthy, Rich Lowry, the National Review Online editors, Elliott Abrams, and Mark Krikorian, among others. This column won’t rehash all the arguments. Suffice it to say that while there might be some good arguments for asking Congress to modify the economic sanctions against Cuba, establishing “normal” diplomatic relations sends the horrendous message that human rights and liberty are irrelevant — and that we will ignore (or even reward) a half-century of active hostility 90 miles from our shores even though Cuba has never made amends.
In short, one can argue that some forms of economic liberalization might work in Cuba the same way that perestroika did in Russia — to undermine the regime rather than prop it up. But a greater and rightful world power shouldn’t dignify an evil and far lesser power by offering it diplomatic imprimatur free of charge.
Everybody is entitled to be wrong occasionally, of course. If Paul’s error were only that he conflated the embargo with fully normalized relations, while making a free-market argument for lifting the former, it would be one thing. It’s entirely another thing, and bizarre, to completely up-end the meaning of the word “isolationist” and use it as a cudgel against Senator Rubio, who is far less conventionally isolationist than he. This continues a long pattern of Paul demonstrating a real ignorance of basic concepts of defense and foreign policy.
In October, Paul made a speech at the Center for the National Interest in which he outlined what he called a new “conservative realism.” He was clearly trying to shed the label of “isolationist” that has hobbled his stature among large swaths of the Republican electorate. It was a strange performance. His version of “realism,” despite some tough-talking verbiage, amounted to asserting that “the best outcome” America could have achieved in Iraq was “stalemate”; that “our interventions in foreign countries may well exacerbate . . . hatred”; that the world “does not have an Islam problem” but instead a “dignity problem”; that you “can’t solve a dignity problem with military force”; that “we need a foreign policy that recognizes our limits”; that “in the end, only the people of the region can destroy ISIS,” which will happen when “civilized Islam steps up to defeat this barbaric aberration”; that in the Black Sea region we must “achieve a diplomatic settlement that takes into account Russia’s long-standing ties with Ukraine”; and that “though we will not abide injustice, we will not instigate war.” (Will we never “instigate war” to stop injustice? Would Paul have opposed the rescue of Grenada? The ouster of Noriega from Panama? The moral cause of evicting the Communist North from South Korea?)
Taken individually, most (but not all) of those pronouncements might be defensible. Together, they paint a portrait of a man as uncomfortable with American military and diplomatic robustness, and as naïve about the real nature of our enemies, as any senator this side of George McGovern or Barack Obama.
Remember, this is a man who wants to put an end to all foreign aid. Never mind the vast diplomatic advantages that the aid buys us, or the humanitarian problems that at least some aid helps solve. Yet he has the gall to call others “isolationist.”
This is a man who repeatedly has blamed American actions, not jihadist ideology, for having “created the chaos” in the Middle East and for making us “less safe in Iraq.” Really, Senator? Maybe no safer — though many of us would disagree — but less safe? Even more ignorantly, spectacularly so, were his assertions that “there were no WMDs, that Hussein, Qaddafi, and Assad were no threat to us.” No threat at all?
Worse, as I outlined earlier this year, Paul has repeatedly slandered Dick Cheney and even Ronald Reagan with outlandishly absurd lies masquerading as history. Anybody who still thinks Reagan armed Osama bin Laden is so monumentally ignorant and prone to conspiracy theories as to be dangerous.
One could write much more about the perilous loopiness of Paul’s antipathy to American arms and diplomatic robustness, but let’s concentrate on his meltdown concerning Cuba. Alone among potential Republican presidential candidates, Paul wholeheartedly embraced Obama’s prostration to the Castro brothers. Rubio, whose father emigrated from Cuba, quite naturally bristled when asked about Paul’s comments by Fox News’s Megyn Kelly: “Like many people who have been opining, he has no idea what he’s talking about.” Rubio then explained at length what he meant, without mentioning Paul again. It was neither a premeditated attack on Paul nor a deliberately personal one; he was taking aim at the “many people” he thinks are wrong on the issue.
Paul then had a hissy fit. First he took to Facebook with a two-paragraph, full-scale assault on Rubio’s position, including this strange passage: “Seems to me, Senator Rubio is acting like an isolationist who wants to retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat. I reject this isolationism.”
How, pray tell, is it “isolationist” to take an active stance to penalize another country? Existing sanctions against Cuba don’t isolate the United States; they isolate Cuba in ways that, as the Washington Post has pointed out, have actually worked to keep Cuba’s harms in check. To call American policy “isolationist” means that the United States is retreating behind its own borders, not that we are insisting (with significant, if tacit, support from other nations) that an evil regime remains within its own.
Paul didn’t stop there. Continuing his highly personal attack on Rubio, Paul emitted a series of at least four Tweets, each mentioning Rubio by name, mocking the Floridian and again accusing him of wanting to “build a moat.”
This is the kind of name-calling that middle-school debate-club members resort to, putting down others with snark to hide their own adolescent insecurities. Paul’s tweets were not so much reasoned debate as a variation of “yeah, and so’s your mother!”
Not only is this sort of foolishness unpresidential, it’s unsenatorial. And in an age when Harry Reid has dramatically downgraded the very notion of what it means to “senatorial,” one must work mighty hard to fall short of even the new, lowered standards.
Let’s not forget that Rubio is a Senate colleague of Paul’s, of the same party. And he’s somebody whose background — his life experience, family history, and political views — are profoundly rooted in a Cuban-American milieu that should earn him at least a little respect, even if Paul disagrees with him on points of policy.
But this is part of a pattern with Paul. He seems utterly unable to disagree on any matter involving arms or diplomacy without insulting his adversaries or questioning their conclusions, intelligence, or motives — or all three.
Thus, in Paul’s world, John McCain met with the Islamic State! Cheney started a war to enrich Halliburton! The “war caucus” in the Reagan years, including Reagan’s State Department, supported “radical jihad”!
At least he hasn’t yet called Dwight Eisenhower “a conscious, deliberate, and dedicated agent of the Soviet conspiracy.” (Although Paul did employ a long-time racial provocateur — to put it kindly — who once averred that “John Wilkes Booth’s heart was in the right place” when he assassinated Lincoln.)
Still, enough is enough. Nobody should ever again take seriously any Paulite pronouncements outside of domestic affairs. Months ago I thought he was a menace; now he’s just a joke.
— Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review Online. Follow him on Twitter: @QuinHillyer.