Opinion

WEINSTEIN: Rand Paul’s liberal foreign policy deceptions

Jamie Weinstein Senior Writer

Former Pennsylvania senator and 2012 presidential contender Rick Santorum accused Rand Paul last month of having a foreign policy worldview similar to that of President Barack Obama.

“I see the Rand Paul wing of the Republican Party for what it is: allied with Barack Obama’s foreign policy,” he said.

Santorum has a point. Since entering the Senate in 2011, the Kentucky senator has often drawn from the leftwing foreign policy playbook in order to try to discredit the longstanding Republican foreign policy consensus in favor of his non-interventionist outlook. How so? Here are three examples:

1.)  “When candidate John McCain argued in 2007 that we should remain in Iraq for 100 years, I blanched and wondered what the unintended consequences of prolonged occupation would be.” – Rand Paul at the Heritage Foundation in 2013.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, many on the left, including Barack Obama, similarly mischaracterized John McCain’s words in order to paint him as an irresponsible warmongering imperialist. But what McCain actually said was that he wanted to keep an American military base in Iraq, just like American bases that exist all around the world, including in countries like South Korea and Germany.

“Maybe a hundred,” McCain quipped while campaigning in New Hampshire in 2008, when a questioner asked how long American might be in Iraq. “We’ve been in South Korea, we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so. That’d be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. Then it’s fine with me, I hope it would be fine with you if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where Al Qaida is training, recruiting, equipping and motivating people every single day.”

Now, I’m not a reflexive supporter of McCain’s foreign policy, but the Arizona senator clearly wasn’t talking about a 100-year violent military occupation, unless you think America is currently violently occupying Germany because it has major military installations there.

2.) “But this has been our problem with our foreign policy for decades, Republican and Democrat. We funded bin Laden. We funded the mujahideen. We were in favor of radical jihad because they were the enemy of our enemy.” – Rand Paul during John Kerry’s 2013 confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  

The U.S. funded Osama bin Laden? You hear this claim from conspiracists and some loony non-interventionists of the left and the right. But it’s just not true – at least no evidence has ever been produced to support it.

It is true that the U.S. funded the mujahideen in Afghanistan in order to push the Soviet Union out. But the “Afghan Arabs,” as bin Laden and his fellow travelers from the Arab world who went to Pakistan in the 1980s to support the Afghan jihad were called, received no funding from the United States. And why would the U.S. fund them? Their actual role in the fight was minor.

“The story about bin Laden and the CIA — that the CIA funded bin Laden or trained bin Laden — is simply a folk myth,” terrorism expert Peter Bergen said in a 2006 interview with CNN. “There’s no evidence of this. In fact, there are very few things that bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the U.S. government agree on. They all agree that they didn’t have a relationship in the 1980s. And they wouldn’t have needed to. Bin Laden had his own money, he was anti-American and he was operating secretly and independently.”

3.) “Adm. Michael Mullen stated earlier this year that the biggest threat to our national security is our debt. If debt is our gravest threat, adding to the debt by expanding military spending further threatens our national security.” – Rand Paul in a 2012 op-ed on CNN.com.

Am I reading the words of liberal former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank or Rand Paul? It’s hard to tell the difference. But Paul should know better. America does have a long-term debt problem, but military spending is hardly its prime source. Our problem stems primarily from the over $80 trillion in unfunded liabilities embedded in America’s entitlement programs, particularly Medicare. As a percentage of gross domestic product, defense spending in 2013 was at a near-post World War II low and it is on track to go even lower. Meanwhile, entitlement spending is slated to skyrocket. It is estimated that by 2030 that all federal tax revenues will go toward entitlement spending and interest on our debt alone. In other words, our debt problem is not a defense budget problem, but an entitlement reform and economic growth challenge.

The truth is that Paul, like many Democrats, wants to cut the defense budget in order to scale back America’s role in the world. That’s a fair debate to have. But it’s just not correct to pretend our defense budget is what’s bankrupting us as a nation.

As his father Ron Paul discovered during his two failed Republican presidential runs, non-interventionism is not popular with GOP voters. The younger Paul is rhetorically savvier than his old man and may even have an international policy that is somewhat more mainstream, but there is good reason to suspect that the essence of his foreign policy outlook isn’t remarkably different. If he enters the 2016 Republican presidential race, as it seems likely, he will certainly be forced to account for his foreign policy views – and his liberal foreign policy deceptions.

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