President Rand Paul’s Middle East Policy

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) declared his candidacy today to be the Republican standard bearer in the 2016 election.

So what would a Rand Paul presidency look like with regard to Middle East policy? Although Paul has a reputation as a Libertarian non-interventionist, he isn’t actually either one. As he has admitted, he supported the Afghanistan War in 2001.

Let’s take Syria. Sen. Paul was opposed to the planned Obama administration intervention in Syria in fall, 2013 after a unit of the Baath regime was alleged to have deployed chemical weaponry against rebels in Ghouta near Damascus, killing some 1100 people. Paul said that an American intervention would create a “jihadist wonderland.” In part, his opposition had been rooted in a demand that Obama get congressional approval before going in. But even when Obama looked as though he would ask for a congressional vote, Paul remained opposed, unsure that the rebels in Syria, many of them become extremist radicals, would be better for US interests than the government of Bashar al-Assad.

But then a year later when Obama decided to bomb Daesh (ISIS or ISIL) positions at Raqqa in Syria, Rand Paul supported the move. However, he did not approve of the second part of Obama’s strategy, of training pro-Western freedom fighters to take on both Daesh and the al-Assad regime.

At the same time, Rand Paul initially opposed an American reentry into Iraq in June of 2014 when Daesh took Mosul and Tikrit. Then he gradually came around to supporting an air campaign against them in Iraq.

Can we conclude anything from this apparent flip flop? It seems clear first of all that Rand Paul is not anti-war in principle. He supported the Afghanistan War and he supports the current allied bombing campaign against Daesh / ISIL. He appears not to see the Baath government of al-Assad in Syria as a threat to the US, and so opposes an intervention against it, which he thinks would anyway backfire in favor of Muslim extremists. On the other hand, he appears to see Daesh as a threat to the US, and so backed Obama’s bombing campaign against it in Syria. But he’s against supporting land forces there.

In some ways this set of stances resembles those of Obama himself. Rand Paul, like Obama, supports those wars he sees as key to US security, like Afghanistan, but not elective interventions not clearly defensive in character (Saddam’s Iraq). Like Obama, Paul appears to have a preference for air interventions over infantry ones. One big difference between the two men is that Rand Paul

Rand Paul also, however, has to be seen as inconsistent. He was against bombing Syria and Iraq before he was for it. His first instinct is to avoid involvement and to criticize those who want to intervene, but then over time he seems to get pulled in by the same logic that drove others to favor action.

I think that is a problem– as a senator you might have the luxury of changing your mind. But openly flip-flopping on important issues as president would confuse allies and embolden enemies.

Rand Paul wanted to cut off aid to Egypt over its 2013 military coup. This position has the advantage of being in accordance with US law and being principled. It has the disadvantage that it disregards the ways in which the US needs Egypt as an ally in the Middle East.

On Israel’s attack on Gaza, Rand Paul’s head was so far up Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s ass that he knew which kind of hummus the PM had for lunch. He actually said he would support whatever the Israeli government wanted to do to the people in Gaza.

On Iran, I wrote of Paul on Monday:

[L]ast January at a Presidential forum he openly let the warmongers among his rivals have it with both barrels. Carol Giacomo wrote in the NYT that Rand asked chickenhawks Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz,

“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 to exert and 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.”

In other words, Paul largely agrees with Obama’s diplomatic approach to Iran, though no doubt he will find minor ways of distancing himself from the president.

What, then, would the Middle East look like under a Rand Paul presidency? I can’t see that it would be much different. Paul has already announced that he wouldn’t stand up to the far right wing Likud Party over its treatment of the Palestinians. He basically has Obama’s policy in Iraq and Syria, though he wouldn’t go so far as to try to train rebels against al-Assad. He has Obama’s policy on Iran. The only departures are that he is less forgiving of Egypt’s military coup than is the Obama administration (which also cut of funding for a while) and that he has been a critic of Obama’s extensive use of drones for counter-terrorism.

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Senator Rand Paul Presidential Announcement Full Speech (C-SPAN)

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19 Responses

  1. Without any doubt, Rand Paul has a number of flaws, including his inconsistency and his stance on Gaza (wished he had listened to his dad). Even with his faults, he would be much more palatable than any of the other republican candidates. I might want to mention that he is somewhat less hawkish and more peaceful than Hillary Clinton.
    Domestic wise, Id think he might be better in that he has shown a willingness to combat mass surveillance, audit the fed and fix race problems. Though his healthcare policies are rather flawed.

    • His approach to fixing race problems is to pretend that “free enterprise” and “private property” had nothing to do with creating them; that infinite inequality is meritocracy and not a rigged game made tolerable for poorer white via 350 years of racial privilege. Corporations brought slavery to America because it was the cheapest way to obtain maximum exploitation of both whites and blacks. If he won’t address any of America’s true history, he’s just running the usual scam while winking at the rednecks.

  2. He’s also against gay marriage and abortion. One wonders whether his flip-flops on war come after checking on the latest poll numbers from his constituents in Kentucky, whose definition of evil big government has never seemed to include the war machine, intervening in the bedroom, or intervening in women’s wombs.

    But then, patriarchal, oligarchic cultural tyranny is what has always filled the power vacuum when private-property societies keep their governments weak. The ordinary Kentuckian can’t be bothered with the libertarian subtlety of a government that looks the other way instead of leading the lynch mob itself.

  3. Juan, there’s a gap in this article — between the two paragraphs:

    “In some ways this set of stances resembles those of Obama himself. Rand Paul, like Obama, supports those wars he sees as key to US security, like Afghanistan, but not elective interventions not clearly defensive in character (Saddam’s Iraq). Like Obama, Paul appears to have a preference for air interventions over infantry ones. One big difference between the two men is that Rand Paul [????]

    Rand Paul also, however, has to be seen as inconsistent. He was against bombing Syria and Iraq before he was for it. His first instinct is to avoid involvement and to criticize those who want to intervene, but then over time he seems to get pulled in by the same logic that drove others to favor action.”

  4. I don’t know about Rand, but back when Obama was first elected, I had the idealist thought that it would best for the nation if his father was given the both the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State portfolios. Seems like Rand has some of the old man’s genes, but not the backbone one.

  5. When Rand Paul signed Tom Cotton’s letter the antiwar crowd dumped him in a heartbeat. He went from a 5 percenter down to a 2. His high water mark has come and gone. Antiwar Republicans have about the same lifespan as a housefly.

    My access to this article was also blocked earlier.

    • How many GOP convention votes did the antiwar crowd ever get his father? 2%? The antiwar right-wing is a meme promoted to fool a few people into thinking the Right’s position against big government is consistent, instead of classist and racist. The truth has always been: return to a past not of less government, but of white government.

  6. Rand Paul never decides what his stated policy will be until he finds a policy statement that he wants to plagiarize. Then he’s an ambivalent bulldog.

  7. As well as all the negative aspects of his policy positions, Rand Paul must be one of the ugliest of the potential candidates.

  8. Well, at least Paul didn’t “shush” Savannah Guthrie when she zeroed in on his Iran flip-flop. “Testy” Rand is his new handle. Bibi has already given the word to Sheldon Adelson. No flip-flopping on Iran is allowed. Reporters will give “Testy” the Sparticus treatment, so all the other ‘lil Republicans will get the message.

  9. Yet again, Talk2Action to the rescue, with its archive of articles on Ron Paul’s ties to the theocratic Christian Right, the John Birch Society, and even uglier sorts:

    link to google.com

    • On Meet the Press, Ron Paul blamed Abraham Lincoln for the Civil War. Neoconfederates like Paul can’t help themselves. They always blame Lincoln. That’s also the reason Rand Paul said each individual state should have the authority to decide Civil Rights and not the federal government–Confederate States Rights.

      Ron Paul was 100% against the war in Iraq mainly because he didn’t want the federal government to expand its power which is exactly what happened. Just look at Edward Snowden and the NSA. Paul’s position also goes back to how he thinks about the Civil War and the expansion of federal power. “The Real Lincoln,” a book by Thomas DeLorenzo gives a window into their thinking. Ron Paul believes these wars, civil rights and race relations all relate to the Constitution and the power of the federal government vs. individual states. Rand is pretty much of a sell out, but Ron Paul believes Southern States had the right to secede and Lincoln was the one who acted illegally.

  10. There is no particular virtue in consistent consistency. US presidents need to be consistent only to the notion of keeping the US on top of the pile which is what empires have ever done. This requires dominating all others and is accomplished by military means, bribery, threats or tenuous alliances; the combinations vary but the mix remains directed to that top dog objective. This is true for all national leaders except most have to operate in the shadow of one above or at their shoulder. Before he died, I met Ben Gurion and he talked of his admiration for de Gaulle because he had always put the French first. in aetate veritas. Anyone expecting altruism should glance at the northern members of the Euro-zone salivating over the misfortunes of Greece.

  11. “Keeping the U.S. on top of the pile” using military means is how neoconfedrates like Ron Paul view the Civil War. To them, Lincolns aggression was the first step in what became the U.S. empire. That was followed by war against Native Americans, the Spanish-American war, WWI and WWII, Vietnam and finally, the war in Iraq. Dominating all others by military and economic means always aimed at growing the empire. A key to Ron Paul’s thinking happened during the presidential debates in 2008. Paul made a comment objecting to U.S. troops in Iraq and Rudy Gulliani immediately went after him. To Ron Paul, George Bush sending the U.S. army into Iraq was similar to Abraham Lincoln sending the U.S. army into the Confederate States of America. To him, secession was legal so Lincoln was sending the army into another country. A true neoconfederate like Ron Paul would have seen Tom Cotton’s letter as the next step in U.S. military aggression expanding the empire.

    Obviously, Ron Paul is wrong in much of his thinking, but he is also VERY consistent.

  12. p.s. Ron Paul also sees the Federal Reserve Bank as a large part of the federal government’s domestic and international power. His “End the Fed” campaign is really about limiting federal govt. power vs. those of the individual states. This also goes back to the Civil War and secession.

  13. Jack, You touch the fundamental division in our human species; the conflict between the independent individual and the pull of the collective; look after yourself and your own or share broader mutual responsibilities. The former can leave many dependent on charity while the latter too easily morphs into totalitarianism, take your pick.

    • Your comment about politicians keeping the United States “on top of the pile which is what empires have always done” made me think about Ron Paul’s various positions since we invaded Iraq in 2003. Intellectually, Rand Paul isn’t close to his father.

      150 years ago today, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant. If Rand Paul was a real Neo-confederate, he would have been wearing a grey armband during his speech on the USS Yorktown. If he had given that speech at Ft. Meade, daddy would have disowned him.

      Even 150 years later, Neo-confederates are still serious about the Civil War.

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