“Stand With Rand.” That’s Sen. Rand Paul’s main slogan as he launches his campaign for the White House. He’s holding a “Stand With Rand” rally in his home state of Kentucky on Tuesday and is holding another “Stand With Rand” rally in New Hampshire, the traditional first primary state, on Wednesday. It’s an unfortunate choice of words, because it underscores the chief problem with his candidacy. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what he really believes — where he really stands, especially when it comes to foreign policy.
At a January forum with fellow Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, Paul challenged his colleagues’ hawkish showboating on Iran: “Are you ready to send ground troops into Iran? Are you ready to bomb them? Are you ready to send in 100,000 troops? I’m a big fan of … trying the diplomatic option as long as we can. If it fails, I will vote to resume sanctions and I would vote to have new sanctions. But if you do it in the middle of negotiations, you’re ruining it.’”
Two months later, he was “ruining it” by putting his signature on an open letter to the Iranian leadership. Authored by arch-neoconservative Sen. Tom Cotton, the letter basically told Tehran that a Republican in the White House would nullify any deal negotiated by the Obama administration.
His explanation for this complete reversal was baffling. He told Glenn Beck that it is “kind of crazy” for anyone to question his decision to sign: “Do I have any regrets about informing another country of how our Constitution works?”
He told a different story at the SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas. Claiming to support the diplomatic talks, he said: “I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength, which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran, ‘I’ve got Congress to deal with.’”
How is it helpful to tell the Iranians that any agreement they sign may expire in two years? Cotton is nothing if not forthright: He has said he wants to “blow up” the negotiations, and certainly his letter aimed at doing just that. For Paul to join in this sabotage attempt was intellectually indefensible — and entirely in character.
As a U.S.-backed movement seized power in Kiev, Paul called for “respectful relations” with the Kremlin: “Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time, and I don’t think that is a good idea.”
A few months later he was demanding that President Vladimir Putin be “punished,” invoking “our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia’s latest aggression.” Putin, said Paul, was guilty of “violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.” Here’s the thing: The Budapest Memorandum was never ratified by Congress. It was signed by President Clinton, who didn’t bother to consult the Senate. It’s kind of crazy, as Paul would say, that it’s necessary to inform the senator how our Constitution works.
Paul’s record of contradictions is extensive. In 2011, freshly elected to the Senate, Paul proposed an alternative budget that zeroed out all foreign aid — including to Israel. The budget included a section explicitly eliminating aid to Israel on the grounds that it undermined “Israel’s ability to conduct foreign policy, regain economic dominance, and support itself without the heavy hand of U.S. interests and policies.”
After the neoconservative wing of his party lashed out at him for being “anti-Israel,” Paul started singing a different tune. His revised budget froze foreign aid at present levels. Yet even that modest attempt at fiscal discipline was thrown overboard when he voted to increase aid to Israel — and boasted about it in a statement issued by his office.
The most bizarre part of the story is that the senator’s office insists that Paul “has never proposed any legislation that targeted Israel’s aid.” It’s one thing to change one’s mind — it’s quite another to deny that any change has taken place.
Here’s one last example. In June, Paul wrote an op-ed piece on the Islamic State crisis for the Wall Street Journal, asking: “What would airstrikes accomplish? We know that Iran is aiding the Iraqi government against ISIS. Do we want to, in effect, become Iran’s air force? What’s in this for Iran? Why should we choose a side, and if we do, who are we really helping?”
Good questions, and yet it wasn’t long before the senator was advocating airstrikes and calling for a formal declaration of war against Islamic State.
I’m a libertarian and I was, as recently as a few months ago, enthusiastic about Paul.
He started out as “a different kind of Republican” — a characterization his campaign never tires of invoking. But Paul’s response to the barrage of attacks unleashed by GOP mandarins has been to deny this difference. This strategy threatens to nullify his attempt to broaden his appeal beyond conservative voters even as he alienates his libertarian base.
Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com and a longtime libertarian activist.