With President Obama floundering on foreign policy and economic issues, and the world seeming to spin out of control amidst the vacuum created by America’s retreat from the world, it is important to understand the leading contenders to replace him in 2016.
One is Sen. Rand Paul, who is widely described as the “frontrunner” for the GOP nomination (see here, here and here) and is doing well in numerous national polls. As reluctant as I am to comment on American partisan politics, I do feel compelled to say that Sen. Paul would be a disastrous choice for President. He is wrong on many vital issues, including being hostile to Israel and clueless on the threat of Radical Islam. But he is also increasingly demonstrating that he is fundamentally dishonest, willing to say just about anything to advance politically.
On August 6th, I wrote a column titled, “Rand Paul has repeatedly called for ending US military aid to Israel. Now he’s denying it. Why?”
Now Sen. Paul is trying to deny that he is an “isolationist,” even though that is exactly what he is and what themes and principles he has proudly (and loudly) proclaimed for years. Indeed, after repeatedly urging the US to retreat from the Middle East, and repeatedly urging the US not to take decisive action against ISIS, Sen. Paul has now done what one critical has called an “epic flip flop,” arguing that if he were President he would have been much tougher on ISIS than President Obama.
And it’s not just Israel and ISIS where Paul is flip-flopping — it’s on one issue after another.
Would this matter if he were just another face in the crowd? Maybe not. But he is the GOP “frontrunner” for the 2016 presidential nomination so it is important people know who he is and what he believes. Or at least his changing stories.
Here are several useful interviews, opeds, and analyses, some by the Senator, and some about him, describing his changing views and his troubling flip-flops on various issues, including foreign policy and national security. I commend them to your attention. Please also share and discuss them with others.
- Sen. Paul op-ed: “America Shouldn’t Choose Sides in Iraq’s Civil War — Obama has made mistakes but so did Bush by invading. There’s no good case for U.S. military intervention now” (WSJ, June 19, 2014)
- Rand Paul Doesn’t Blame Obama for Iraq Turmoil [he blames the GOP] (WSJ, June 20, 2014)
- Sen. Paul op-ed: How U.S. Interventionists Abetted the Rise of ISIS — Our Middle Eastern policy is unhinged, flailing about to see who to act against next, with little regard to consequences (WSJ, August 27, 2014)
- Rand Paul Sees No Threat From Terrorist Safe Havens In Iraq (Forbes magazine)
- Rand Paul: ‘I Am Not an Isolationist’ — If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS (Time magazine, September 4, 2014)
- Rand Paul’s hawkish stance on Islamic State has some libertarians crying flip-flop (Los Angeles Times, Sept. 6, 2014)
- Rand Paul’s epic ISIS flip-flop (MSNBC, September 4, 2014)
- Rand Paul: The flip-flop king (CNN, August 12, 2014)
Here’s another, written by former Sen. Rick Santorum and published by Politico on September 5th. It captures the heart of the trouble quite succinctly.
The Kentucky senator is trying to tell us he’s not an isolationist. That dog won’t hunt.
By Rick Santorum
But in reality, the Kentucky senator has advanced a brand of neo-isolationism and appeasement that is as short-sighted as it mistaken. Despite his recent, and frantic efforts to recast himself as not completely ridiculous on national security issues, the truth is his record often puts him in league with Barack Obama—or even to the president’s left. Anyone who truly cares about American liberty at home must not ignore real enemies and rising threats abroad. Rather, we must confront such challenges wisely and decisively to protect American lives, our economy and our allies.
He may be changing his tune now, but he can’t hide from his record. Senator Paul has long been wrong and far out of the mainstream on three key matters – Iran, the Islamic State and Israel. Let’s look at each in turn.
Iran: Senator Paul now says “all options are on the table” when it comes to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But few believe he is serious.
In a radio interview in 2007, while helping his father, isolationist Rep. Ron Paul, run for president, Rand actually denied that Iran is a threat to the United States or Israel. He did so despite the fact that the U.S. government designated Iran a “state sponsor of terrorism” as far back as 1984. “Even our own intelligence community consensus opinion now is that they [Iran] are not a threat,” Rand said. “Like my dad says, [the Iranians] don’t have an Air Force, they don’t have a Navy. You know, it’s ridiculous to think they’re a threat to our national security…. It’s not even that viable to say they’re a national threat to Israel.”
In September 2012, the U.S. Senate voted 90 to 1 in support of Joint Resolution 41 to advance a firm American policy “to prevent the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability,” a policy that “urges continued and increasing economic and diplomatic pressure on …I ran,” and one that “warns that time is limited to prevent … Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.” The authors specifically noted: “nothing in this resolution shall be construed as an authorization for the use of force or a declaration of war.” The focus was exclusively on urging the Obama administration to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran. The resolution was even non-binding.
Nevertheless, this was all too much for Senator Paul, who chose to be the only member of the U.S. Senate to vote against it.
In February 2013, Sen. Paul delivered a disturbing speech at the Heritage Foundation in which he urged leaders in Washington to seriously consider a policy of “containing” a nuclear-armed Iran, rather than focusing like a laser on preventing the Islamic Republic from building or acquiring nuclear warheads.
“Containment,” Paul said, “should be discussed as an option.” This, however, put him to the left of President Obama, who has said, “Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment. I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
In January 2014, Senator Paul sided with President Obama in opposing the passage of new economic sanctions on Iran, further evidence he would rather appease the mullahs in Tehran than ratchet up pressure on them to give up their illegal and dangerous nuclear program. “I think while they [the Iranians] are negotiating – and if we can see they’re negotiating in good faith – I don’t think it’s a good idea to pass sanctions,” Paul told CNN.
The Islamic State: Earlier this summer, Paul questioned in the Wall Street Journal whether there was any good reason for the U.S. military to stop or even slow down the Islamic State’s jihadist offensive in Iraq. He did so despite the fact that ISIL, as it is commonly known, has been slaughtering Muslims and Christians across the region. Yet he saw no serious threat to the American people from ISIL and could not bring himself to support the use of U.S. airpower to help our Arab and Kurdish allies defeat ISIL and prevent the establishment of a radical Islamic caliphate. What’s more, he continued to argue that it is in part the GOP’s fault that Iraq is fast becoming the epicenter of terrorism.
Yet now, with American journalists being beheaded and even President Obama taking reluctant half-measures to slow ISIL through air strikes, Senator Paul is suddenly changing his tune. “If I were president, I would call a joint session of Congress,” he now says. “I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek Congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.” (ISIS is another acronym used to refer to the Islamic State.)
Did Senator Paul just hire John Kerry’s speechwriter? Is he really trying to convince Americans that he was against U.S. intervention before he was for it?
It is President Obama’s reckless retreat from the Middle East – a retreat Senator Paul has wholeheartedly supported – that has created the vacuum into which the Islamic State is now surging.
America must change course. We must not allow the Islamic State or other radical Sunni groups to seize control of Iraq. Nor can we allow the radical Shia leaders of Iran to exploit the situation and gain effective control over Iraq. If America keeps retreating and surrendering in the Middle East, the terrorists will attack us here at home. I have offered several ideas to protect ourselves and do this right, but we must move decisively. Time is of the essence.
Israel: I recently returned from leading a solidarity delegation to Israel. This is a country that has been attacked by a radical Islamic terror group with more than 4,000 rockets and missiles. Now more than ever, America should stand solidly with Israel, our best friend and most faithful and trustworthy ally in the Middle East.
Yet if Senator Paul had his way, he would cut Israel loose. Though he recently tried to deny it, Paul for years has called for an end to all U.S. military aid to Israel, deriding the roughly $3 billion America invests in Israel’s military annually as “welfare.”
“All right, so just to be precise, [you want to] end all foreign aid including the foreign aid to Israel as well. Is that right?” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked during a January 2011 interview.
“Yes,” answered Paul.
On a trip to Israel in January 2013, Paul again repeated his call for ending all aid to Israel. The senator says he is not anti-Israel, but how is it pro-Israel—or pro-American—to cut off our military investment in a key ally facing existential threats?
Not only would this be a dangerous mistake, it once again puts Senator Paul to the left of even the Obama-Clinton-Kerry team who, for all their many mistakes, have never gone so far as to call for ending all aid to Israel. (For the record, Politifact gave Paul’s claim that he hadn’t “really proposed” cutting aid to Israel a “Pants on Fire” rating.)
Rand Paul is now scrambling to not sound completely out of touch on foreign policy and national security issues. But it’s hard to see how his new rhetoric is anything more than a veiled attempt to hide his record as he looks to 2016. His neo-isolationism should be rejected. It is bad for the Republican Party, and it is bad for America.
Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania from 1995-2007, is chairman of Patriot Voices and author of Blue Collar Conservatives.