In August, I wrote a column raising concerns about Rand Paul–a self-styled, pro-markets, anti-intervention libertarian who for many conservatives represents the only hope for a departure from the neoconservative hijacking of his party.
My concern was that Paul appeared to be flirting with his party’s neoconservative side by flip flopping on Iran. He wrote me a letter that, contrary to past positions, seemed to indicate he supported sanctions and war threats.
I had an opportunity to raise these concerns with his office recently, and they reassured me that he is still anti-war, anti-sanctions, etc. But that very same day, Paul co-authored a piece in Foreign Policy that appears to be in direct contrast to the reassurances given to me by his office.
It came the same day as his colleague, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and likely co-challenger for the nomination, introduced his own Iran bill laying out Bush 2.0 positions on what we have to do on Iran.
Paul’s piece oscillates between tacit advocacy of power projection, imposing harsher sanctions on Iran, and utilizing diplomacy to further our foreign policy goals. If he’s trying to foster a new era of American diplomacy, he’s failed. Instead, he’s continued to sully his anti-intervention libertarian credentials while also muddying his own foreign policy.
He begins by saying that peace through strength—which is also the title of his op-ed–was the policy “that guided the United States to victory in Cold War”, but then a few paragraphs later he suggests we need new ideas for new problems.
“We need to evaluate each foreign policy situation on its own merits and be open to new ideas — new approaches to resolve old conflicts.”
If these positions seem quite contradictory, it’s because they are. It gets worse.
With regards to Syria, Dr. Paul continues the contradictions. First, he maintains that pundits are wrong to say that Obama weakened national security by not responding with force to Assad’s use of chemical weapons–clearly advocating for a) a diplomatic solution and b) not responding with force. Then a few lines later he suggests it was that threat of force that brought about a diplomatic solution:
“…we’ve also seen rapid diplomatic developments in the war in Syria that show the power of blending our military might with aggressive diplomacy.”
If he’s the anti-war, anti-intervention libertarian he says he is, what does he envision as American military might? But going further, it shows a total misreading of the whole exercise. We didn’t get anyone to the table until it became clear that military force would not be authorized.
Even more egregious, however, are his statements on Iran. In the meeting with Paul’s office discussed above, Paul’s Legislative Director for Foreign Policy told me that Senator Paul viewed increasing sanctions and threats of force as counterproductive to the current diplomatic efforts. Basically, they wanted to give Iran the chance to show it means business.
But this passage from his piece makes it seem as if there’s some disconnect between what he’s saying and what the Legislative Director told me (emphasis is mine):
“We should also maintain — and even strengthen — the sanctions that have helped to bring Iran back to the negotiation table. And yes, we should keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran is not just stalling for time, but truly being transparent about its technology and its intentions.”
That doesn’t really sound like a new approach. Rather, it sounds eerily familiar to George W. Bush.
Senator Paul’s position is that sanctions alone have brought Iran to the table. That’s simply not true. It’s also false to assume that sanctions will play a role in stopping Iran’s nuclear program—which one could extrapolate as another one of Paul’s misguided positions. On the contrary, since the harshest sanctions have been implemented in 2005—even after Iran had agreed to suspending enrichment–the number of centrifuges have increased from 1,800 to an estimated 18,000.
The old way of doing business—which Paul first embraces, then attempts to shed, then embrace again—won’t get us a solution. In fact, the exact opposite will happen. The diplomatic window, opened by the emergence of a pragmatic wing in Iranian politics, will be slammed shut.
The false foreign policy narrative that has proven to be the siren song of many ambitious politicians before him has seemed to captivate Senator Paul as well. Instead of being a breath of fresh air that he promised, Paul’s recycling all the old, misguided, and imprudent neo-conservative policies. He’s not as principled as we all hoped he’d be—and to be honest he never was.