Rand Paul: GOP Hawks are Obama’s “Lapdogs;” McCain: Paul ‘Worst Candidate’

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The philosophical difference between the Libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and the GOP hawks has burst into open name-calling. First, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that Paul had been more wrong than right, and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) jumped in, calling him “naive.”

On Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday, Paul hit back, calling Graham and McCain “Obama’s lapdogs,” who wanted to follow his policies abroad but intensify them:

Sen. Rand Paul Appears on America’s Newsroom on Fox News – April 21, 2015

Paul connected Graham and McCain to the Libya intervention backed by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which he called a mistake, and said it had led to the rise of Muslim radicalism in that country. He admitted that he thinks the US needs to intervene against ISIL in Iraq, but said he regretted that ISIL had so many American weapons, which fell into their hands after Graham and McCain voted to invade Iraq, create a new army, and arm it with American weapons.

Paul said he was against bombing the facilities in Syria of President Bashar al-Assad, because that would make ISIL stronger. He also opposes arming Syrian rebels because, apparently, he does not trust them to remain American allies; they could defect to al-Qaeda or Daesh (ISIL or ISIS). (It is true that many former moderate Free Syria Army forces have now joined one or the other extremist group).

It has come out that Hillary Clinton was in favor of arming the Syrian rebels early in the Syrian turmoil, but was blocked by President Obama. McCain supported the same policy, though urged it be even more muscular, and wants a full-blown US intervention in Syria to overthrow the al-Assad regime.

McCain and Graham fired back on Wednesday. McCain called Paul “the worst possible candidate” on foreign policy. Graham said Paul’s approach was “one step behind leading from behind.”

What are the rights and wrongs here?

It is true that McCain and Graham haven’t seen a war they wanted to stay out of. They watered at the mouth at the prospect of invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and only regret we couldn’t just permanently colonize them. They supported the Libya intervention but wanted Obama to do more than provide a no-fly zone, going all the way to directly overthrowing dictator Muammar Qaddafi.

In contrast, Obama opposed the Iraq War and was unenthusiastic about the Libya intervention (one leak said he called it a “turd sandwich.”). He basically gave in to Samantha Powers, Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton because the National Security Council predicted tens of thousands dead in Benghazi if Gaddafi’s murderous sons were allowed to crush it with their tanks.

So Paul’s characterization of McCain and Graham as “Obama’s lapdogs” is inaccurate. It is true that where Obama has intervened, as with bombing raids on ISIL, those two senators approved and wanted him to do more. But they supported many wars and interventions that Obama opposed or felt lukewarm about.

Paul is also being a little disingenuous, insofar as he approves of the bombing of Daesh in Iraq and Syria, so he is not a consistent anti-interventionist. It is a little difficult to see the difference between bombing Iraq to stop Daesh from taking it over and bombing Libya to stop Gaddafi from winning out.

The really big difference to which he points is that he wants to stay out of Syria even more fervently than Obama does. Whatever Obama says, he hasn’t actually created a credible pro-Western rebel force that could take on the Baath regime in Damascus. He has avoided bombing Baath facilities. His main targets have been Daesh and al-Qaeda. So Paul’s proposed Syria policy looks a lot like Obama’s actual Syria policy. It is true that it is non-interventionist and contrasts with the interventionism of H. Clinton and John McCain.

One take-away is that Rand Paul seems a little bit of a defensive realist insofar as he can live with an al-Assad-ruled Syria, even though al-Assad is by now a war criminal.

Here is a transcript from the appearance at Fox News’ America’s Newsroom :

“HEMMER:… Let’s talk about your campaign because people want to know if you get the nomination how you would govern. Lindsey Graham said this about your world view, “Generally speaking, you have done more wrong than right.” John McCain says, “You don’t understand. You displayed this kind of naivete since you came to the Senate.”

What’s going on there?

PAUL: This comes from a group of people who’ve been wrong about every foreign policy issue over the last two decades. I’ll give you a couple of examples, where they support the President’s foreign policy and I don’t. They supported Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya. They supported President Obama’s bombing of Assad. They also support President Obama’s foreign aid to countries that hate us.

So if there’s anyone who is the most opposed to President Obama’s foreign policy, it’s me. And these people who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama’s foreign policy. They just want to do it 10 times over. But I’m the only one actually standing up and saying: the war in Libya was a mistake; the bombing of Assad would make ISIS stronger; the arms to the Islamic rebels would make ISIS stronger.

So I’m really the one standing up to President Obama. And these people are essentially the lap dogs for President Obama and I think they’re sensitive about that.

HEMMER: Well, how would you define yourself? I mean, you’re an inventionist or an isolationist? You will be asked that question repeatedly. And you will say what?

PAUL: Yeah, I’m a Reagan Republican. I believe in a strong national defense. I believe in peace through strength. I think that intervention is not always the answer and that some interventions lead to unintended consequences.

So for example, Hillary’s war in Libya has made Libya less table, more chaotic and has allowed the rise of radical Islam. So we are more at risk after that war. It was a mistake for that war to occur and for the U.S. to be involved with toppling Gadhafi.

Realize that these people who criticize me were for giving arms to Gadhafi last year or the year before, they were for toppling Gadhafi. So they’re on both sides of so many wars. Some of these critics are for bombing both sides of the Syrian war. Their foreign policy is so disjointed, confusing and chaotic that really people need to re-examine those who want to be involved in every war. I say we get involved when there’s American interest. I think we do have to militarily stop ISIS. But I am sad that ISIS got a lot of the weapons from interventionists in my party and the President who gave them the weapons indirectly.

HEMMER: The word I got from New Hampshire over the weekend is that you guys are playing nice. Perhaps not?

PAUL: I’ll play nice, if they’ll place nice. But if they’re going to trot around the country, criticizing me, I’m going to make sure that the American public knows that these are precisely the people that support President Obama’s foreign aid, Libyan war and the Syrian war. And they need to explain themselves.

HEMMER: I know you had a big weekend in New Hampshire and you’re back in Iowa later this week. Senator, we will speak again. Thank you for your time today.

PAUL: Thank you.

HEMMER: You bet. Rand Paul, the Republican from Kentucky.”

16 Responses

  1. “it is a little difficult to see the difference between bombing Iraq to stop Daesh from taking it over and bombing Libya to stop Gaddafi from winning out”
    Gaddafi = Daesh? Gaddafi at one time advocated a form of pan-Arab unity, but that project was never so centralist or murderous. Daesh’s ambition appears to be hegemonic. Please explain.

      • Gaddafi and Hussien were both despots – but so are most of the the rulers in their region.
        Libya and Iraq were semi-socialist and the most advanced Arab countries in terms of education, women’s rights and in-equality, hence their position at the top of the list for regime change.

  2. McCain is wrong: Rand Paul just might be the best, not the worst, candidate. Of the Republicans, that is.

  3. Rand Paul has his defects, but he appears to come off as the least evil of the bunch mentioned in this article. Come November 2016 voters who choose the lesser evil policy are going to have a tough time picking that one.

  4. The U.S. has made a mistake in following an impulse to topple a dictator without thinking through the various possible results. Gadhafi is ended, but it is an enormous error for all who have participated that they did not plan for the future, i.e., where their support might bear fruit. As a result, Libya is a violent and chaotic human miasma. In the case of Syria, the U.S. has no business entering the scene and attempting to topple one more of the world’s dictators. Why? What is the endgame? Ask the State Department! The kind and gentle Syrians are not the major factors in that miasma. It is the irregular movements of “militants,” and it appears the most potent among them are IS and al-Nusra. The U.S. has given military support to the Free Syrian Army, but even that is a sort of risk. What of Assad’s friendly neighbors? These include Hezbollah, Iraq and Iran. The two countries are potent supporters of Assad, as is Hezbollah. Let them hammer out an agreement to see where the final peaceful resolution might lie. They know better than U.S. and other outsiders the best course of action.

    The U.S. should take one line of action, viz., send food and medical aid to the three million displaced Syrians. When the dust of war has settled, they, at least, will be grateful to our country for helping them in their desperation.

  5. Hillary is in Republican crosshairs but so is Rand Paul. I’ve seen a commercial claiming Paul supports Obama’s plan to let Iran build nuclear bombs.The commercial ends with a nuclear explosion. Daisy II with a Republican twist. Rand Paul doesn’t have a chance of winning the Republican nomination. A real Republican wants to start as many wars as possible on day 1. That’s what they do.

  6. “it is a little difficult to see the difference between bombing Iraq to stop Daesh from taking it over and bombing Libya to stop Gaddafi from winning out”

    Top Differences:
    (1) The UN security council has not endorsed a no fly zone over Syria, the way they endorsed a no-fly zone over Libya. Russia and China did voice strong criticism the way NATO used the UN security council resolution to bomb military targets in Libya. [They are unlikely to to support such action in Syria, considering the way things went in Libya and their own political considerations of the state of affairs in Syria currently.]

    (2) Daesh is a non-state/governmental entity (that commits terrorism). The Assad dictatorship is still the representing government in Syria. Yes, Assad’s government has committed war crimes, but Saudi Arabia has definitely committed war crimes in Yemen, and nobody in Washington is talking about regime change there.

    (3) Qaddafi probably had few/some supporters till the every end, but at he likely had comparably far less supporters (as a percentage of the national population) than the Assad government has currently. Is there a credible opposition movement in Syria that will not wreck havoc on the minority population (Druze, Alawite, Christian) in Syria? The Libyan opposition movement likely also committed human rights abuses against racial minorities in Libya, but the order of magnitude of human rights abuses is certainly different (comparing Daesh to the Libyan opposition movement).

    (4) Effect on neighbors: targeting Assad’s military apparatus would empower Daesh, not just in Syria, but also in Iraq and elsewhere. This would be destabilizing for the region. In comparison, the Libyan intervention did not live up the expectations set by commentators (for Libya internally), but the effect of the Libyan intervention on neighbors was nowhere near as horrible as a potential intervention in Syria.

    Has there been a single intervention in the middle east that has been in the interests of the United States or the population of countries where we have intervened?

    • Anon: You express the global inconsistencies very well, thanks. It is especially contrary to logic for the West to support the overthrow of Assad in Syria. Who will benefit? Mr. Chaos! Who will offer retribution to the millions of innocent Syrians caught in the crossfire of foreign irregulars? The entire miasma ought to enter “freeze frame” immediately, and everyone ought to join hands to reconstruct a destroyed country. Yeaa! And the angels ought to descend en masse and collect all weapons and intolerance, too. I believe the U.S. ought to seek a UN resolution calling for a total halt to the violence and for the rebuilding of the country. Perhaps the UN can even serve as the acting government. Wait! What would Mr. Assad say? do?

  7. They are competing for a position from which they will have to maintain the principles of US hegemony while keeping the natives as passive as necessary. It scarcely matters what their personal predilections may be since they will be obliged to respond to unanticipated events as they occur, and due to the extent and variety of the turf they will inherit they will forever be at the junction of a dizzy range of choices. They are not masters of their own fate, their success or failure results from the way they respond to outward events, and what the longer term consequences of their actions turn out to be. When they try to ‘do’ things they almost invariably go wrong. Overthrowing Gaddafi has resulted in total chaos in what was an ordered environment and contributed to the waves of refugees now drowning in the Mediterranean. A social worker I knew found an elderly man living on his own who had always retained every newspaper and journal to come his way and in consequence now lived in a five foot paper maze. Trevor, for that was the social worker’s name, organised a team of volunteers and spent a weekend clearing the man’s house. Visiting the house two days later to see how the man was getting on Trevor was shocked and breathless with astonishment to find him dead.

    • How was a nationwide armed rebellion against Gadafi an “ordered environment”? Oh, you mean the environment that would have been restored after Gadafi exterminated the rebels. Well, then have the decency to embrace extermination on the grounds that Arabs are too “backwards” to handle freedom.

  8. Does America really need to be involved in African and Asian power struggles?
    America should lend a meeting room and a table for all factions to sit down and talk it out. But the American method of offering arms, military advisers, strategic bombing, boots on the ground, and all out conquest—these interventions seldom if ever work. In the meantime, America wastes its treasure and blood, where it could be researching the causes of disease, natural disasters, and how to make the world a better place. Is bombing and conquest the best way to make friends and to be an influential example for the world?

    • Does America really need to be involved in African and Asian power struggles?

      America is involved in Africa and Asia because the corporations and other lobbies that own the government want the US government and its military, if necessary, to make those regions places where they can do business profitably. Only the geography has changed since Smedley Butler said “I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers.”

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