On Wednesday, Sen. Rand Paul — the leading libertarian Republican — laid out his vision of a conservative foreign policy. Love him or hate him, Mr. Paul is going to be a major voice in the GOP for at least the next four years. And if this speech is any indication, we’ll get it all: The good, the bad, and the ugly.
The Paul name was a great boost to Rand Paul in the 2010 election, and likely will be in the future. But it isn’t all money bombs and young activists — the movement Rand Paul may inherit from his father, Rep. Ron Paul, comes with its share of demons. And the most important thing Paul-the-Younger did in his 30-minute speech was clean his house.
“McCain’s call for a hundred year occupation does capture some truth: that the West is in for a long, irregular confrontation not with terrorism, which is simply a tactic, but with radical Islam,” Rand said.
“The problem,” he added moments later, “is that [radical Islam] is no small minority, but a vibrant, often mainstream, vocal and numerous minority.”
With these lines, Mr. Paul put important distance between himself and some of the radicals (formerly?) in his support base — folks who do not think that radical Islam is an existential, religious, and deadly force; folks who think that suicide bombing is a symptom of poverty and repression, and not the ultimate expression of a determined ideology. He also assured some doubters that he realizes that this is no quick fight — we’re in it for the long haul, in one way or another.
And shortly after exercising those ghouls, Mr. Paul went straight for the heart of another set of cretins.
“Some libertarians argue that western occupation fans the flames of radical Islam – I agree,” he said, conceding the obvious. “But I don’t agree that absent western occupation that radical Islam ‘goes quietly into that good night. I don’t agree with FDR’s VP, Henry Wallace, that the Soviets — or radical Islam, in today’s case — can be discouraged by ‘the glad hand and the winning smile.'”
No matter how shrill their protests, there is no denying that the fringes of the libertarian left and paleo right that may support Mr. Paul harbor a toxic level of thinkers who would — and do — blame the United States for the woes of the world. If he is able to exorcise those demons, we can be sure he will be taken a lot more seriously than his father was when he took to the stage to challenge the foreign policy that has dominated the GOP since Sept. 11, 2001.
And that’s a good thing, because the GOP has a foreign policy problem: “Foreign policy,” Mr. Paul said, “has become so monolithic, so lacking in debate, that Republicans and Democrats routinely pass foreign policy statements without debate and without votes.”
“Where are the calls,” he continued, “for moderation, the calls for restraint? Anyone who questions the bipartisan consensus is immediately castigated, rebuked and their patriotism challenged. The most pressing question of the day, Iran developing nuclear weapons is allowed to have less debate in this country than it receives in Israel.”
And this is a real issue. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy is, to the casual observer, indistinguishable from the predecessor he criticized so harshly. And do the Republicans of the future have an answer? Sen. John “Hundred Years” McCain didn’t seem to.
And unless Americans think that we’re on a winning and sustainable path against Radical Islam — and we don’t — there needs to be some soul-searching. If Mr. Paul frees himself from the lunatics, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists, and blame-America-firsters who populate the fringes of his father’s supporters, he could free himself to be that voice for “moderation,” for “restraint.” And Republicans might actually listen.
That’s a lot of good. But unfortunately, that was as far as the good went on Wednesday, because the rest was, well, bad. And ugly.