By Steve Deace – BarbWire guest contributor
With 2016 just around the corner, Rand Paul is starting to take some heat for his foreign policy views. His response to these criticisms, better yet his responses, is causing more confusion that clarity.
In his defense, Rand Paul probably has the toughest case to make in the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. That’s because he’s the only candidate running that is attempting to introduce an entirely new paradigm into the process. Everyone else either wants to keep doing what has lost the last two elections (the establishment), or return to what has proven to work (the Reagan playbook).
On the other hand, Rand is attempting to combine his father and Barry Goldwater’s legacies into a cohesive message. While both men rightfully have their admirers, it should also be noted the American people nationally rejected both men’s messages in the past when given the chance. Rand wants to combine Goldwater’s fiery domestic anti-big government rhetoric with his father’s non-interventionist foreign policy. That’s a tough sell for some people, because they think you’re being harder on the home team than you are Iran.
Still, Rand does have one major advantage over his father. The knock on Rand’s father wasn’t just ideological. Many of Ron Paul’s intra-party critics also thought he was a bit crazy. In that respect Rand is nothing like his dad. He’s always lucid and rarely gets rattled. As a result, more people are going to take Rand’s statements and beliefs more seriously than they ever took his father’s, whom they might have just immediately dismissed given his quirkiness. So for Rand his claim on the nomination will rise and fall solely on the strength of his worldview, and his ability to articulate it.
And right now Rand’s worldview is being tested on foreign policy, perhaps the first and most pressing issue a president must deal with on a daily basis.
After being a much-needed voice of moral clarity last fall in rightfully helping to steer the country away from another Middle East mistake in Syria, Russia’s incursion into Ukraine the past couple of weeks is straining the limits of Rand’s non-interventionism. Look no further than Rand’s conflicted messaging on the issue for evidence.
On February 25th, National Review’s Robert Costa wrote an article for The Washington Post titled “Rand Paul: GOP shouldn’t ‘tweak’ Russia over Ukraine.” The article quotes Rand as saying, “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.”
But then in an op-ed for Time on March 9th, Rand said he would take a much tougher stance against Putin than what the president has taken. Rand calls Russia’s movement into Crimea “an invasion of Ukraine” and “an affront to the International Community.” I can’t recall a single time Ron Paul ever cared about “an affront to the International Community.” That is the language of the neo-cons the Paul movement spitefully parodies every time they get the chance.
Finally, in an op-ed for Breitbart on Monday, Rand says if he were president “I wouldn’t let Vladimir Putin get away with” violating Ukraine’s national sovereignty. While he says he opposes military intervention in Ukraine, Rand said the U.S. has other options to pressure Putin. Like “forcing Russia out of the G-8 (Russia is set to hold a G-8 summit in June), reinstating missile defense shields in Poland and the Czech Republic, and suspending loans and aid to Ukraine — money Paul says could find its way into Russia’s pockets because of the debt Ukraine owes its larger neighbor.”
But what happens if Russia responds in kind to these sorts of actions? What is the next step? I agree it’s a false choice between being a pushover (Obama) or being the world’s mall cop (McCain). On the other hand, while Rand is correct that Reagan defeated the Soviet Union without invading it, Reagan’s non-military methods of isolating the Soviet Union wouldn’t have worked without the threat of the arms race. If the Soviets really didn’t believe Reagan was willing to wipe them off the map, they would’ve never spent themselves into oblivion trying to keep up.
Plus, Reagan did intervene on behalf of the Soviet Union’s enemies numerous times, like in Libya and Central America for example. In fact, Rand’s father was a frequent critic of Reagan’s foreign policy exploits at the time. Ron Paul criticized Reagan for doing exactly what Rand claims in his Breitbart piece Reagan didn’t do.
Ron Paul on Reagan and Libya: “The U.S. policy toward Libya further confirms our irrational foreign policy. Under Reagan we have been determined to pick a fight with Khadafi, defying him with naval and air maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra. As we try to emphasize our right to navigate in international waters near Libya, we totally reject the territorial waters of Nicaragua by mining their harbors. The World Court rulings against the U.S. were ignored by the Reagan Administration…”
Ron Paul on Reagan and Grenada: “The invasion of Grenada is hardly the victory the American people were led to believe.”
Ron Paul on Reagan continuing the Cuban embargo: “Actually, I believe we’re at a time where we even ought to talk to Cuba and trade and travel to Cuba.”
Translation: if Rand Paul is claiming his foreign policy views are the rightful heir to the Reagan legacy, he’ll have to convince his own father as well as the Republican primary voters of that in 2016.
It appears Team Rand wants to show the American people non-interventionism doesn’t have to equal appeasement. I welcome that debate. Like most Americans, I’m beyond weary of endless nation-building for cultures that hate us while our nation and culture is falling apart. Just once, I’d like to see John McCain fight as hard for my liberty in the U.S. Senate as he fights for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
However, the world isn’t a simple place, and sometimes evil men have evil plans and the means by which to carry them out. Non-interventionism sounds great until you run into someone like Vladimir Putin, and now even Team Rand is forced to alter its message because of his actions. Putin is not the passive-aggressive president we have in the White House. He’s a stone-cold killer, and the world’s foremost gangster. Don’t pick a fight with someone like that unless you’re willing to see it all the way through.
And I can’t think of a single dictator or tyrant that was ever toppled by non-interventionism.
Steve Deace is a nationally-syndicated radio host and the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.