Why Rand Paul benefits from a vote on Syria

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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As a result of President Obama’s capricious behavior (deciding on Congressional approval at the 11th hour), Members of Congress will now have to go on the record regarding Syria. This puts Republicans and Democrats on the spot, but it’s easy to see why the most immediate impact will be on the Republican side, where Republicans vying for a chance to succeed President Obama must now weigh in.

The choice is easy for Sen. Rand Paul. His presidential ambitions have always been premised on a bet that America’s public sentiment has changed, post Bush. Running as an anti-interventionist (or, at least, someone skeptical of adventurism) isn’t risky for Paul. It’s his only move. There’s no convincing his political adversaries he’s a foreign policy hawk — or even a mainstream Republican, for that matter. He has staked out this territory, so he might as well double down and own this brand.

For Paul’s Republican opponents, however, this is much more risky. Sensing the libertarian zeitgeist, ambitious Republicans have been dipping their toes in isolationist waters. Until now, they have been able to have it both ways. That seems to be coming to an end. They will be forced to take a stance, which can only be good for Paul.

As the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin notes:

“White House hopefuls in Congress will be forced to choose between the wishes of Tea Party activists opposed to a strike and the wishes of more traditional Republicans, whose ranks include some major donors and Israel supporters with whom presidential candidates typically align themselves.”

This is a tough choice because, as Martin notes, on one hand “[A] ‘yea’ vote on taking action in Syria would put potential opponents of Mr. Paul, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Mr. Cruz, on the same side as Mr. Obama.” On the other hand, as neoconservative Michael Goldfarb tells Martin, “Ten days from now, a vote against Obama could look like a vote for Assad, especially if Republicans succeed in blocking U.S. action, and Assad goes on to prevail, having used chemical weapons, with Iran at his side.”

So, depending on how this is framed, Republicans can either vote with Obama — or with Assad? (Talk about having no good options.)

This, of course, assumes the resolution in Syria will go down in history as a defining vote — that it will be analogous to the resolution authorizing force in Iraq. It’s not clear that will be the case.

Nevertheless, wavering politicians must feel like they can no longer dip their toes in the water. Instead, they are now being forced to cross the Rubicon. For Rand Paul, it’s a trip he took a long time ago.

Matt K. Lewis