Unluckily for Rand Paul, The GOP Has No Room for Mainstream Foreign Policy

Apparently, segments of the GOP political apparatus are trying to put the kibosh on Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential run before it is even officially announced. Paul’s 2016 Republican contenders and their wealthy backers hate his foreign policy so much that they are willing to spend time and resources to destroy his electoral chances.

Reason‘s Matt Feeney has posted a round up of right-wing loathing for Rand Paul’s foreign policy (or, rather, what they think his foreign policy views are) and of recent reporting on GOP plans to shoot Paul’s embryonic presidential campaign dead in its tracks.

“According to several donors at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference held in Las Vegas last weekend,” Feeney writes, “the billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is prepared to fund a campaign against Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) if he picks up increased support during his widely anticipated presidential run in 2016.”

Among DC politicos, it is a near-consensus that Rand Paul’s alleged foreign policy views will handicap him in the GOP primaries. Republicans, they say, just aren’t going to go for anything less than demagogic diatribes disparaging peaceful diplomacy as weak and naive. Right-wing primary voters need the comforting reassurance that their GOP presidential candidates will issue hard-line sermons about the need to bomb Iran, to intervene in Syria, to meddle in Ukraine, and to maintain global primacy through the use of force, coercion, and an ever-expanding military budget that is beyond reproach.

That might be true, but then why does Adelson et al. feel the need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to cripple the Paul campaign? I wonder.

There are two issues at play here. The first is what Rand Paul’s foreign policy views actually are, and the extent to which perception and reality differ. The second issue is the fact that the mainstream foreign policy spectrum has become so belligerent and fringe that the basically establishment views of Rand Paul get vilified as ideologically extreme and unworkable.

Something similar happened during the fight over Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as Obama’s Secretary of Defense. You see, Hagel committed some cardinal sins for a Republican. He criticized Israel’s inhumane treatment of the Palestinians and called out the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, DC. He spoke out against the Iraq war, describing it as “a dangerous foreign policy blunder.” He suggested economic sanctions aren’t an effective foreign policy tool. Hagel even expressed an openness to cut defense budgets!

Appalling stuff, I know. For these thought crimes, Hagel was attacked as an extremist anti-Semite whose views are dangerously outside the mainstream. I actually had to write an Op-Ed at the conservative Daily Caller arguing that Hagel’s foreign policy views were not extreme or isolationist, but firmly within the traditional boundaries of the mainstream. It’s just that what passes for mainstream in the GOP these days is the kind of uninformed pugnacity that you’d think would thrive mainly on the fringes.

On whatever foreign policy issue is hot at the time, the right-wing invariably holds that America must do more, we must act and react forcefully. If we can’t act militarily, we must walk that line and convince the world that U.S. bombs and troops will be forthcoming if Washington faces anything other than absolute fealty on the international stage. Anything less than issuing threats or actually using force is condemned as weakness or appeasement.

On Ukraine, the Republican right insisted on an immediate show of force demonstrating military preparedness with NATO allies. It was also imperative to impose harsh sanctions on Russia and to combatively face down Putin.

But there were plenty of mainstream voices calling for calm and restraint. Henry Kissinger urged prudence. “Public discussion on Ukraine is all about confrontation,” he lamented, arguing that “the demonization of Vladimir Putin is not a policy; it is an alibi for the absence of one.” He advised that “the United States needs to avoid treating Russia as an aberrant to be patiently taught rules of conduct established by Washington.”

On Syria, you saw Republicans outraged at the Assad regime’s apparent insubordination in the face of America’s dictates. Not only was this the result of Obama’s gutless reluctance to go to war on a whim, they argued, but Assad’s actions made a U.S. military response absolutely imperative.

But then people like Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote Op-Eds strongly urging the United States to stay out of Syria. “The various schemes that have been proposed for a kind of tiddlywinks intervention from around the edges of the conflict—no-fly zones, bombing Damascus and so forth—would simply make the situation worse,” the former Carter adviser wrote before adding that we must steer clear of getting “bogged down again in the Middle East.” (Incidentally, the Defense Department had similar views).

And on Iran, the GOP engaged in fanatical tirades about how untrustworthy the ayatollahs are and how only war could make the world safe from a soon-to-be-nuclear Tehran. All the while, mainstream foreign policy elites like Stephen Walt, one of the leaders of the realist school, criticized the “increasingly draconian economic sanctions” against Iran, the “covert actions” and the “repeated threats to use military force.”

Former CENTCOM Commander, Admiral William J. Fallon explicitly condemned the “constant” talk of “war, war, war.” Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright said a war on Iran would be wrong and counter-productive to preventing an Iranian bomb.

Is there anyone seriously about to argue that Kissinger, Brzezinski, and the former CENTCOM Commander are radical non-interventionists who rest dangerously outside the mainstream? Of course not. But their views certainly are unorthodox to the current crop of pro-war advocates occupying the power center of the Republican Party.

If Rand Paul was a non-interventionist like his father, there might be some more credibility in the establishment’s condemnation of being “outside the mainstream.” But Rand is decidedly not his father. Instead, he is comfortable working perfectly within the mainstream, while erring on the side of restraint on some important issues. Rand isn’t going to dissolve NATO, close down our global military presence, or cut the defense budget in half.

“Branding Paul as an isolationist will be a popular line of attack for his opponents in the Republican primary,” writes Thomas Skypek at The National Interest. “This, however, is a fundamentally inaccurate representation of Paul’s view.”

“As he begins to assemble the outlines of a 2016 platform, Paul should move quickly to define himself as the Republican champion of selective engagement rather than let his political opponents define him as an isolationist,” Skypek advises, noting that selective engagement represents the foreign policy views of academics well within the mainstream who, for example regularly publish at Foreign Affairs (the standard establishment outlet).

Rand Paul is not an isolationist, and he’s not a non-interventionist. From what I can see he is a realist who argues for restraint in certain cases. That this would be attacked as fringe and worthy of defeating politically is indicative of how far the Republican War Party has descended down the rabbit hole.

17 thoughts on “Unluckily for Rand Paul, The GOP Has No Room for Mainstream Foreign Policy”

  1. So, shouldn't you, as a staunch defender of libertarian ideals, be condemning Rand Paul (along with the decidedly mainstream Vlad Putin) for being a statist?

  2. Rand Paul's pro-intervention, pro-empire stands will cost him a lot of the cross-over support that Ron Paul received. For example, Ron Paul swept the Denver city area caucuses, as the antiwar movement backed him as the only choice in that day's caucuses. That support will not translate to Ron Paul's much more 'mainstream' views of interventionism and constant demonization of one 'enemy' after another. Rand Paul can not continue the coaltion that Ron Paul had started to build.

      1. That's the spirit! And the level of discourse I'd expect on a website founded after Clinton went to war against Serbia.
        I wonder just how many of you Rockwell/Paul fans realize you're being played and used to support nefarious causes.
        Then again, I don't really care. Some people have a pretty good lock on what's really going on. And slowly it will come out… but not too slowly. http://www.webster.ac.th/2012/pdf/thesis/2012-13/

        1. Looking at Dugin in the paper is very interesting. Dugin has a romantic streak, and if one can get past it, his thoughts are very insightfull. Putin's own understanding of the modern human's yearning for tradition and stability, for natural conservativism as opposed to the revolutionary urges of American neoconservatives — is somewhat rooted in Dugin's understanding of history and the contemporary humans. Dugin's insight is based mostly on the tradition of Orthodox Christianity, the only Christian thought left in the world that does not confer on humans to interpret good and evil, and hence dependant on politics. Putin's view is much broader in its understanding that the world today is exausted of chaos, revolutionary neoconservative American zeal that seeks to remake the world into isolated individuals subject only to market forces — the new God in the image of Ayn Randt. He believes that the world over there is a strong yearning for tradition, conservative mentality that does not destroy societal harmony for the sake of perceived — not real, benefits.
          At the same time, today's China is taking the traditionalism on the higher level, by looking harder at the destruction of society, environment and harmony that accompanied rapid growth. A new review of history is emphasizing the contributions over ages, not allowing failures to dominate the discourse, and divide people. Emphasis on tradition has taken a form of new phylosophy that is taking roots in Russia and in China, and its practical implication is denying the Western concept of universal human rights, and universality of ideology such as free markets, liberal democracy, etd. The universality of human rights has been challenged on the grounds of cultural differences. Naimely, in the west, there is no universal definition of good and evil — as it is redefined depending on political interest — and thus, withouth such fundamental understanding among cultures, one cannot build larger and binding understanding.

    1. This is not a sober look. it is the standard MSM hit piece racist news letters, they want people to to pot heads, they dare to criticize GOP demigods like Lincoln and Milton Friendman,,,,,,

  3. Randall_S,

    Far from being a “sober look”, the nyyrc piece you refer us to is an absurd smear of leading libertarians from start to finish. Example: implying that because Lew Rockwell shares the same last name as George Lincoln Rockwell that Lew may share his namesake’s racial views. The New York Young Republicans must be a pathetic lot pushing the slander you cite.

  4. I submit that it is a fantasy that Rand could get the nomination. The GOP money men will do ANYTHING to stop him. His only realistic option is to wreck the GOP by leaving it and going third party. But he should not run as a libertarian – that gets him 2%. Too bad Perot's Reform Party has dissolved. How about bringing back the "no labels" people who failed to produce a candidate last time after they promised to do so?

    But it really doesn't matter much what the GOP does. Queen Hillary has already been anointed and the Dems have a huge edge in voters nationwide. Her hawkish pro-Israel views are in line with the War Party anyway so they have nothing to fear.

    1. I don't think Queen Hillary will end up running. Biden is more likely. Hillary has too many health issues.
      Hillary, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul? God help us.

  5. I am very concerned that Republicans in their attempt to break free from the neoconservative control of both parties have not found a way to DEFINE themselves, not DEFEND themselves. For example, isolationism. Nobody is more isolationist then neocoservatives of both parties. They are now fully defind by the world-over failed Trotskyism, not realizing that they have become dumb and dumber in the world that is changing. They are TRUE isoloationists, as they have firmly closed their ears, shut down their computers, lights out in their worlds. They have ISOLATED THEMSELVES from the entire world — and act on IDEOLOGY not REALITY. If Rand Paul is to have a chance he needs to notice an OBVIOUS thing — that all the fiery Republicans are noting more then Obama admirers, just hope he will do MORE and FASTER what he is already doing. All the Republicans that are screaming today against Obama, are really his most ardent admirers! It is so obvious that they have no problem with his foreign policy, just want more of it! And Obama's State Department that went rougue has already assured that he is well insulted from seeing, hearing, and talking to anyone in the world, unless he is lecturing them. I guess Ryans of this world will just insure that THERE IS NO TALKING TO ANYONE AT ALL. Now, that is isolationism — if I ever saw one!

    Rand Paul is making a mistake by not calling things as they are — calling the secret Obama admirers for ISOLATIONISM. He is AGAINST ISOLATIONISM, he is for FINDING OUT WHAT IS GOING ON in the world, as opposed to following an INSULAR IDEOLOGY that is now divorced from the world. He is not against use of force, but he is for reforming State Department, so that the US leaders actually KNOW what is going on, and not being fed in full ISOLATION whatever the aparatchiks serve them. He should ask for the reform of intelligence as well, so that we minimize reliance on self-serving private sector, and establish career professionals that are primarily loyal to the country they serve, and not private interest. That would be another way to get out of ISOLATIONISM that both parties have actually fallen into. The rest of the world has nobody to call — we are living in the world of our own, not Putin.

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