Putin, the Pauls, and the Direction of the GOP’s Foreign Policy — Troy Senik

 

Over the weekend, Politico ran a feature penned by Elizabeth Wahl, the American journalist whose Crimea-inspired on-air resignation from RT (the Russian television network dedicated to bringing Moscow-approved propaganda to the West) went viral —and, a cynic might note, earned her a measure of notoriety she had previously lacked.

The piece doesn’t leave Wahl in the best light — which is probably a sign that she deserves praise for her candor. What emerges is a picture of a somewhat naive young woman who was slow to wrap her head around the fact that RT functions primarily as an annex of the Kremlin, and slower yet to conclude that any such institution is inherently anathema to the practice of anything like real journalism. Still, if ever the phrase “better late than never” applies, it’s probably here.

One of the more compelling sections of the story is Wahl’s description of RT’s editorial priorities, which were invariably skewed towards whatever narratives cast America in a negative light. She notes, for instance, that RT became obsessed with the Occupy movement, hoping, apparently, that the French Revolution was coming to Zuccotti Park. 

And then there’s this, about the 2012 presidential election:

In RT’s eyes, only one candidate mattered: Ron Paul. I don’t remember Paul ever speaking to RT during campaign season, but that didn’t stop our obsessive coverage of the “rock star” candidate. After a while the bosses’ fixation with him seemed bizarre. Why were they pushing non-stop coverage of this long shot? Something tells me it wasn’t his message of freedom and liberty but his non-interventionist stance and consistent criticism of U.S. foreign policy. His message fit RT’s narrative—that the United States is a huge bully.

Now, let’s stipulate that there are limitations to judging a foreign policy just by who cottons to it. One could argue, for instance, that Iran stood to benefit from the war in Iraq by having the regime that functioned as its regional counterbalance defanged (that’s eliding, of course, the fear that something similar could happen in Tehran). That doesn’t mean that George W. Bush was the ayatollah’s man in Washington.

There’s a distinction, however, between a foreign policy that occasionally generates second-order effects propitious to regimes we don’t much care for (an inherent liability of the trade) and one that grafts so cleanly onto our adversaries’ worldview that they’re happy to repackage it for their own purposes. If you’re in the halls of power in Tehran, Moscow, Damascus, Beijing, or Caracas — or for that matter, holed up in a cave somewhere with a bad attitude and a C-4 surplus — you want America looking at the world through Ron Paul’s eyes.

I don’t write any of this to demonize Congressman Paul, who is, in any event, more or less off the public stage at this point. Indeed, I think the gravitational pull his presidential campaigns exerted on the Republican Party on the domestic front — moving us towards a more libertarian sensibility — was a net positive, even if he consistently lacked any prudential sense of a limiting principle.

The reason this matters is because of his son. Many GOP foreign policy hawks have gone out of their way to tar Rand Paul early and often with his father’s ideology. In one sense, this is unfair — Paul fils has never dangled out on the same kind of rhetorical limbs as Paul pere (who, recall, went so far as to second guess the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden).

In another sense, however, it’s understandable — if not necessarily justifiable. We know that Rand Paul has a more restrictive view of the use of American power than your average Republican officeholder. But we don’t know exactly what that means.

Paul’s foreign policy pronouncements have been consistently opaque. Read his major foreign policy address to the Heritage Foundation last year. It’s somewhat reminiscent of a 2008 Barack Obama speech — it feels as if it’s covering a lot of terrain as you read it, but you’d be hard pressed to give someone a paragraph’s worth of takeaway items. (To be fair, Marco Rubio’s big foreign policy address at the American Enterprise Institute last fall was even thinner on substance). 

That leads to one of two conclusions: (1) That Senator Paul hasn’t quite worked all of this out yet or (2) that he’s intentionally playing possum to conceal the similarities between his views and his father’s. Best I can tell, that’s six-to-five and pick ’em, but the critics automatically assume the latter. I see no evidence to suggest that’s true — but I also don’t see any to disprove it.

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 One of the reasons it’d be nice to see Senator Paul get more specific is that this is a debate the GOP desperately needs. There’s a lot of space on the Republican foreign policy spectrum between Ron Paul and honorary Spartan John McCain — and yet there’s no public official prominently articulating an alternative approach. That’s something that leaves a Jacksonian like yours truly out in the cold.

Perhaps Rand Paul can fill that void. Or perhaps he really is the pale pastel version of his father’s bold colors. We’ll never know until he tells us.

There are 158 comments.

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  1. user_309277 Member
    user_309277
    @AdamKoslin

    It could also be:

    (3)  He sees little benefit in outlining solid philosophical details now, when there’s still two years before the 2016 races.  Given that the electorate is unforgiving of “I was wrong then, but I’m right now!” arguments, it’s a much less risky play to simply avoid saying anything of substance until there’s actual electoral upside to doing so.

    • #1
  2. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    “She notes, for instance, that RT became obsessed with the Occupy movement, hoping, apparently, that the French Revolution was coming to Zuccotti Park.”

    Which just demonstrates how RT is completely different from the American main-stream media. LOL.

    • #2
  3. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Adam Koslin:

    It could also be:

    (3) He sees little benefit in outlining solid philosophical details now, when there’s still two years before the 2016 races. Given that the electorate is unforgiving of “I was wrong then, but I’m right now!” arguments, it’s a much less risky play to simply avoid saying anything of substance until there’s actual electoral upside to doing so.

     Could well be. And for most potential candidates that wouldn’t be a liability. Paul’s somewhat different, however, in that there’s a lingering suspicion about whether his true beliefs place him decidedly outside of the mainstream. In that case, being specific — more specific, anyway — early is the smarter tactical play.

    • #3
  4. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Should Jeb Bush discuss his Catholic conversion and his statements about how religious politicians need to be openly religious in their policies?

    Should Christie discuss his big government desires in extreme detail?

    Some  statements on foreign policy may appear great in hindsight(Palin/Ukraine Romney/Russia) but are vilified at the time.   Rand is smart to not let himself get pinned down.   Situations change and national sentiment does too.

    Right now, our nation is sick to the gills with war and all its immense cronyism.   We don’t want warmongers nor do we want wimps.  Rand Paul is neither.

    As the father of a child now enlisted in the Army, and who will be an officer in 2016, I would like to see a commander in chief  our soldiers can respect.   Prudence is something I can respect right now. 

    • #4
  5. user_653084 Inactive
    user_653084
    @SalvatorePadula

    The frequently-held assumption that Rand Paul’s views are necessarily the same as his father’s reminds me  of how when radical socialist MP Tony Benn’s son ran for a seat in the Commons as a New Labour Blairite he felt it necessary to declare, “I am a Benn, but not a Bennite.”

    • #5
  6. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    I’ve written about this indirectly in a post a while back which Ricochet 2.0 appears to have eaten.

    Even if Rand is the worst case scenario on foreign policy (his father), the growing opposition to intervention within the GOP is the logical consequence of  two failed national building efforts.   I’d summarize my thoughts this way.

    -The American people are war weary.

    -Fighting against their war weariness is akin to fighting against gravity.  You will only succeed with great effort, and only temporarily.

    -Stop trying to spend whatever is in the pro-interventionist accounts (I’m looking at you Bill Kristol), and save it for something serious, such as an almost nuclear Iran.

    Give the American people a few years off from serious military engagements, or you will find them completely uncooperative at a not so future date when you really need them to be behind a military action.

    • #6
  7. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Agree with every word, Frank, but this is especially salient:

    Frank Soto: -Stop trying to spend whatever is in the pro-interventionist accounts (I’m looking at you Bill Kristol), and save it for something serious, such as an almost nuclear Iran.

     The biggest danger of our (as you note, justifiable) fatigue with the wider world is the possibility that we’ll fail to make reasonable distinctions about what is or isn’t a matter of vital national interest. Given current public sentiment, that probably cuts in the direction of being too passive. What exacerbates that problem, however, is the fact that the more martial voices on our side seem equally incapable of such discrimination, only in the opposite direction.

    Listen to the John McCains of the world and you’d think, for example, that the situation in Syria poses just as much of a security concern to us as the one in Iran. That crowd doesn’t seem to understand that they’re getting themselves into boy who cried wolf territory.

    • #7
  8. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    We keep looking at Senators: Paul, Cruz, Lee etc. as possible candidates.  But Scott Walker is starting to ramp up his Foreign Policy creds.

    From a Washington Examiner interview:  “When Ronald Reagan took that action against the air traffic controllers, that in my mind was the beginning of the end of the Cold War,” he said. “And the reason was, from that point forward nobody doubted how serious Ronald Reagan would be as president. Our allies knew that they could trust him, that he was rock solid. Our adversaries knew not to mess with him. And even though he presided over an incredible buildup in our nation’s national defense, in our military, we had very few, very limited military engagements during his eight years as president.”
    But, he said, Obama has communicated the opposite message.

    I think Walker is the guy to watch.

    • #8
  9. Troy Senik, Ed. Contributor
    Troy Senik, Ed.
    @TroySenik

    Pilli: We keep looking at Senators: Paul, Cruz, Lee etc. as possible candidates.  But Scott Walker is starting to ramp up his Foreign Policy creds.

    If Walker staked out that Jacksonian territory — in addition to everything else he already brings to the table — I’d probably endorse him even if he chose not to run.

    • #9
  10. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    A Jacksonian, huh? I think I’m a Boltonist, and I’m not even sure what that means in regard to Ukraine. It’s just that I think Bolton is realistic about our enemies, and savvy about what leverage to apply and when. 

    I’m not trying to sidetrack the discussion, but why does anyone think Senator Paul would be better at governing than former Senator Barack Obama? It’s not just Paul’s foreign policy positions which concern me. It’s the unreality of the Senate, the disconnect from the people inherent there, and the unproven ability to administer the, admittedly, too far-reaching powers of the executive. 

    There’s a starry-eyed quality about these senators (yes, even including Cruz). As if they’re not going to need to tame Leviathan once they reach the Oval, because they’re going to hit it with their shrink-ray gun first!

    Really. For heaven’s sake can we run a governor?

    • #10
  11. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    I have two comments in no particular order:

    1. There’s a limit to what even the most radical president could do with regards to foreign policy.  Look at Barack Obama.  He was (utterly fraudulently) an anti-war candidate in 2008.  Prisoners are still in Gitmo, troops are still in Afghanistan.

    If Ron Paul had been elected president in 2012, there’s a limit to what he could have done.  There’d probably still be troops in Japan, for example.  Another is that a president can’t unilaterally pull out of NATO.  He doesn’t single handedly control the defense budget.  Etc., etc.  

    So some of the abject existential terror that people express (and I suspect we’ve only just seen the beginning of it) that some people have about the prospect of a Paul presidency is overwrought.

    • #11
  12. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    2. If Sen. Paul is being cagey about foreign policy, it shows him as a smart and prudent politician.  He’s learned to play things close to the vest, because if you’re honest its very easy to be demagogued by your opponents.  I think Rachael Maddow taught him a lot a few years ago.  Its far too easy for opponents (who are legion) of Paul to twist his words.  Hell, look at how one can’t even express skepticism about interventionism here on Ricochet without being (incorrectly) labelled (and slurred) as an “isolationist.”

    • #12
  13. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Pilli:
    We keep looking at Senators: Paul, Cruz, Lee etc. as possible candidates. But Scott Walker is starting to ramp up his Foreign Policy creds.
    From a Washington Examiner interview: “When Ronald Reagan took that action against the air traffic controllers, that in my mind was the beginning of the end of the Cold War,” he said. “And the reason was, from that point forward nobody doubted how serious Ronald Reagan would be as president. Our allies knew that they could trust him, that he was rock solid. Our adversaries knew not to mess with him. And even though he presided over an incredible buildup in our nation’s national defense, in our military, we had very few, very limited military engagements during his eight years as president.” But, he said, Obama has communicated the opposite message.
    I think Walker is the guy to watch.

     Or, what Pilli said.

    • #13
  14. user_240173 Contributor
    user_240173
    @FrankSoto

    Fred Cole:
    2. If Sen. Paul is being cagey about foreign policy, it shows him as a smart and prudent politician. He’s learned to play things close to the vest, because if you’re honest its very easy to be demagogued by your opponents. I think Rachael Maddow taught him a lot a few years ago. Its far too easy for opponents (who are legion) of Paul to twist his words. Hell, look at how one can’t even express skepticism about interventionism here on Ricochet without being (incorrectly) labelled (and slurred) as an “isolationist.”

     We’re back to the slur line again?  Holding a very unpopular position and being called out on it is not a slur Fred.  Unpopular doesn’t mean wrong (Although I think isolationists are wrong), but it definitely does mean unpopular.

    • #14
  15. Scott Reusser Member
    Scott Reusser
    @ScottR

    Frank Soto:
    -Stop trying to spend whatever is in the pro-interventionist accounts (I’m looking at you Bill Kristol), and save it for something serious, such as an almost nuclear Iran.
     

     
    Agree, but Rand apparently doesn’t, since he regards “the Syrian chemical weapons solution” (his words) as model diplomacy and “exactly what we need to resolve the standoff in Iran”. A model is exactly what it turned out to be. 

    That’s the Rand Paul foreign policy right there.

    • #15
  16. prahe@hillsdale.edu Contributor
    prahe@hillsdale.edu
    @PaulARahe

    Here is something worth thinking about. Eighty-three Senators, including forty-one Democrats, have sent a letter to President Obama expressing skepticism about the negotiations with Iran. Rand Paul was not one of them.

    • #16
  17. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Here’s something to think about.  At least 83 senators are career criminals who ought to be tarred, feathered, and publicly guillotined.  Rand Paul is not one of them.

    • #17
  18. Palaeologus Inactive
    Palaeologus
    @Palaeologus

    Fred Cole:
    2. If Sen. Paul is being cagey about foreign policy, it shows him as a smart and prudent politician. He’s learned to play things close to the vest, because if you’re honest its very easy to be demagogued by your opponents. I think Rachael Maddow taught him a lot a few years ago. Its far too easy for opponents (who are legion) of Paul to twist his words. Hell, look at how one can’t even express skepticism about interventionism here on Ricochet without being (incorrectly) labelled (and slurred) as an “isolationist.”

     

    You had the start of a pretty good case, Fred. Unfortunately you threw it away with that last bit.

    It doesn’t matter -at all- whether isolationists are called “isolationists” or “non-interventionists” on Ricochet, any more than it matters if amnesty supporters are noted to favor “amnesty” or “comprehensive immigration reform.”

    We’re all big kids here. We are all capable of spotting cheap shots and are all aware of the misleading utility of euphemisms.

    It isn’t a slur. It is a not particularly charitable description… which could potentially hinder his national political appeal. There is a difference.

    At any rate, if Paul wants to skimp on the foreign policy substance then he could -at the least- send some signals about the types of hires he would make if he held the big job.

    It’s entirely reasonable to be skeptical of Rand. I daresay if it was any other GOP candidate you would heartily endorse a similar level of skepticism, Fred.

    • #18
  19. user_280840 Inactive
    user_280840
    @FredCole

    Palaeologus:
    It’s entirely reasonable to be skeptical of Rand. 

     Absolutely.  We should be skeptical of all politicians.  Even ones we like.  My point wasn’t that we shouldn’t be skeptical, it’s just that he’s showing shrewd political instincts.  And it, you know, 2014, so two years out from the next presidential election.  It’s entirely prudent of him to play it close to the vest at this point.

    And yeah, you’re probably right.  I go easier on Rand Paul than I probably should, but what can I say?  I like the guy.  He’s closer to my own views on most things than probably anybody in the Senate.  (Although he’s not nearly as libertarian as he gets credit/blame for, or nearly as libertarian as I’d like him to be.)

    • #19
  20. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    Fred Cole:

     it’s just that he’s showing shrewd political instincts. And it, you know, 2014, so two years out from the next presidential election. It’s entirely prudent of him to play it close to the vest at this point.

    So much for courage of convictions and leadership.

    • #20
  21. AR Inactive
    AR
    @AR

    DocJay:
    Here’s something to think about. At least 83 senators are career criminals who ought to be tarred, feathered, and publicly guillotined. Rand Paul is not one of them.

     Where’s the double like button?

    • #21
  22. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    AR, I can’t like things even once.

    • #22
  23. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    Klaatu, Rand Paul has courage, convictions, and leadership.  You just don’t agree with him.

    • #23
  24. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    DocJay:
    Klaatu, Rand Paul has courage, convictions, and leadership. You just don’t agree with him.

     Then why is he being, in Fred’s words, politically savvy and keeping his foreign policy views close to the vest?

    • #24
  25. AR Inactive
    AR
    @AR

    Klaatu:

    DocJay: Klaatu, Rand Paul has courage, convictions, and leadership. You just don’t agree with him.

    Then why is he being, in Fred’s words, politically savvy and keeping his foreign policy views close to the vest?

     Because he’s willing to suffer the indignities that go along with being a politician–and potentially making a big difference–instead of playing it safe criticizing his representatives like many of us happily do from the sidelines (myself included).

    • #25
  26. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    AR:

    Klaatu:

    DocJay: Klaatu, Rand Paul has courage, convictions, and leadership. You just don’t agree with him.

    Then why is he being, in Fred’s words, politically savvy and keeping his foreign policy views close to the vest?

    Because he’s willing to suffer the indignities that go along with being a politician–and potentially making a big difference–instead of playing it safe criticizing his representatives like many of us happily do from the sidelines (myself included).

     Now I’m really confused.  How does hiding your views not qualify as playing it safe?

    He does not have to criticize anyone to express his own views

    • #26
  27. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    I’ll trust my own characterization of the man over whatever Fred has to say.    Right now there are numerous serious existential threats to our republic that Christie/Bush/McCain and even Walker ignore, yet Paul speaks out on.   I have faith that Rand would have handled our fiscal crisis infinitely better than Bush or Obama.  In fact, I suspect Paul would have handled the foreign policy fiascos of the last two decades better than Clinton/Bush/Obama.   

    Why? 

    I expect Paul would have a true understanding of the situation and have decent advisors around helping to guide him.    He is neither stupid nor an ideological idiot.  

    • #27
  28. Klaatu Inactive
    Klaatu
    @Klaatu

    DocJay:
    Right now there are numerous serious existential threats to our republic that Christie/Bush/McCain and even Walker ignore, yet Paul speaks out on.
     

    Such as?? (Are there existential threats that are not serious?)

    Also, who are these wise advisors you speak of?

    • #28
  29. AR Inactive
    AR
    @AR

    Klaatu:

    AR:

    Klaatu:

    DocJay: Klaatu, Rand Paul has courage, convictions, and leadership. You just don’t agree with him.

    Then why is he being, in Fred’s words, politically savvy and keeping his foreign policy views close to the vest?

    Because he’s willing to suffer the indignities that go along with being a politician–and potentially making a big difference–instead of playing it safe criticizing his representatives like many of us happily do from the sidelines (myself included).

    Now I’m really confused. How does hiding your views not qualify as playing it safe?
    He does not have to criticize anyone to express his own views

    In politics, selectively sharing one’s views isn’t playing it safe, it’s what one must do in order to get elected. Speaking the unvarnished truth is political suicide.

    • #29
  30. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    The answer to your first question should be obvious.   Do you seriously need for me to spell out our domestic demise?   The comment serious means we as a nation should be taking them seriously but we seriously do not. Listen to Sirius 125 for some ideas,  seriously.  I’m not answering your last question.   Criticize the man when he announces his candidacy and has nothing tangible for foreign policy.  For now, I consider Paul one of the few people who can right our sinking ship.

    • #30

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