The Campaign Spot

Rand Paul, Not Quite His Father on Foreign Policy

Looking ahead to tomorrow’s Kentucky GOP Senate primary, Patrick Ruffini asks, “Does Rand Paul’s success mean that national security is no longer a voting issue for the GOP primary base?”

If Rand Paul is in agreement with his father on foreign-policy issues, he obscures it well. Back in February, the Paul father-and-son duo did an interview with Wolf Blitzer, and the CNN host fished for a contradiction in their foreign-policy views. But if the younger Paul has an isolationist streak, it manifests itself in a much more soft-spoken skepticism of particular tactics, expressed in a way that would leave your average hawk nodding:

The most important thing that the federal government does is take care of our national security, bar none . . . It’s something that we can’t privatize, it’s something that we need the national government to do . . . It’s not enough to just say our national security is threatened, we need to have a full-scale debate on when our national security is threatened . . . The actual decision on troop deployment is the prerogative of the commander-in-chief and not necessarily of Congress . . . In the overall picture, we have to ask the important questions. For example, it troubles me and many veterans that I talk to that we’re paying the Taliban. We have a works program for the Taliban. We pay them $8,000 per fighter not to fight. We pay the Taliban to take their weapons back from them, and I had a Marine tell me recently, here in Kentucky tell me, he says, “Look, I’m a Marine, I’m trained to take weapons from our enemies, I’m not trained to pay for them.”

When discussing national defense, Paul avoids the now-moot question whether we should have invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and hits red-meat points: a moratorium on visas from about ten rogue nations, support for military tribunals at GITMO, and a preference for congressional declaration of war.

Paul’s campaign manager indicated he’s not for immediately pulling out all of the troops of either Iraq or Afghanistan: “He is not for wholesale withdrawal. Rand has advocated better defining the mission, but now that we’re there we have to win.”

I suspect that if Rand Paul had articulated his doubts about either mission in his father’s unparalleled blunt style, Trey Grayson might have been more able to paint him as out of the GOP mainstream. But the younger Paul sounds like a cautious and wary skeptic, not a forthright isolationist.