Opinion

Pentagon Official: Why Rand Paul’s Ideas Scare Me — And Why They Should Scare You

Joseph Miller Contributor

Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.

Sen. Rand Paul’s first real-time entrance into wartime decision-making in Iraq may have echoed the isolationist positions of his libertarian supporters — and the war-weary sentiment of much of America — but it also highlights a devotion to ideology over reality; politics over national interest. And more importantly, it makes clear that he should not be considered a serious candidate to lead this country.

Paul’s foreign policy views are at best foolish and naïve, and at worst politicized and dangerous.

On Iraq, Paul went on record to say that he is opposed to sending ground troops back into Iraq, despite the obvious signs that the situation — and the threat it poses to the United States — is quickly spiraling out of control. The problem is not the sentiment, which is shared by a large number of Americans: The problem is that any decision on what military resources the United States is willing to bring to bear on its sworn enemies must not come based on some campaign commitment, but based on what the U.S., dealing with real-time facts, has decided its mission is; and what tools U.S. leadership has decided are required to achieve them.

Both Paul and President Barack Obama share in this blatant error — they have both been wrong to take essential options off the table so early in crises.

When Obama gave the commencement address at West Point this year, he said, “U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.”

Yes. And the opposite is also true, though neither the president nor senator from Kentucky seem to think so. By taking ground troops off of the table so early, both Obama and Paul have decided that the problem must be a screw, and a hammer is not the appropriate tool — all before they know what they’re even dealing with.

Simply said, you never want to tell the enemy what actions you may or may not plan to take in response to a situation. Instead, you set a policy in place and then enforce when necessary. That is how deterrence works. Neither Obama nor Paul seem to understand that, much to the detriment of U.S. national security.

In the case of Iraq, both Paul and Obama told al-Qaida affiliated militants in Iraq and Syria that they would not have to face U.S. ground forces — just the crumbling Iraqi army. The militants must be very excited that both the top Democrat and a Republican presidential contender share a position on their issue, given that the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff both testified before Congress that they cannot imagine a situation where Iraq is able to defeat the militants without U.S. military involvement. This is how you embolden an enemy, not defeat it. (MILLER: Obama’s Afghanistan Fantasy Today Is America’s Nightmare Tomorrow)

What Paul and Obama consistently get wrong is that if the threat posed to the United States is dire enough to warrant the use of military force, then the commander in chief should not tie the hand of the U.S. military before the Pentagon has a chance to make its recommendations. It may well be that ground troops will not be required to achieve U.S. objectives, but if they are, then what?  Our government ends up flip-flopping, as the president has done on numerous occasions, causing both he and our nation to lose credibility with our foes as well as our allies.

Like Obama, Paul’s argument for not using ground troops in Iraq is that it isn’t America’s fight anymore, and that the Iraqis should solve it themselves — a sentiment that is echoed by many weary Americans after a decade of U.S. military engagement abroad. But al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists belonging to a group known as the Islamic State now control a significant swath of territory in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, all but erasing the international border and that of the conflict, and the Pentagon does not see a path to victory that is not paved by U.S. military involvement. (MILLER: Iraq A Symptom Of Larger Obama Failure — Syria)

These terrorists have threatened to attack the United States and seek to overthrow the governments in Baghdad and Damascus before moving on to other U.S. allies in the region, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The long-term threat is a direct attack against the homeland, and the short-term threat is a full-scale regional conflict spread by the collapse of U.S. allies in the region. The crisis also has the potential to seriously damage the U.S. economy, as it could result in a significant spike in oil prices — something the United States cannot afford after the grueling years of economic stagnation. (MILLER: Al-Qaida Establishes Islamic Caliphate Across Syria, Northern Iraq)

Paul is largely opposed to military intervention abroad, yes; and yet he is also opposed to providing foreign military assistance and aid to countries that currently battle America’s enemies. This means he won’t fight our enemies, nor will he support those who do. Who, then, is left to fight our enemies at all? If we were to follow Paul’s foreign policy prescriptions, the short answer would be no one.

Paul’s narrow interpretation of a libertarian foreign policy theory cannot craft American foreign policy. The interconnectedness of the global economy, and the ability for America’s enemies to attack the country from great distances, render Paul’s policy positions little more than a philosophical fancy that may fly at college libertarian conferences, but are scary to those of us who actually do this for a living.

There is much to be said for limiting military intervention abroad, but the decision should not be determined by Paul’s dogma. The decision to undertake military action must be made after determining 1) If it’s Necessary, given other potential solution; and 2) If it serves the just interests of the United States.

The problem is that Paul cannot seem to differentiate what U.S. national security interests are any more so than Obama can, though Paul does so in the name of a noninterventionist dogma, while the Obama administration simply lacks a viable and coherent foreign policy. Amid a crowded GOP field, Rand Paul stands alone in a plain of absurdity, looking over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans he somehow believes will keep our homeland safe. (MILLER: Obama Conducting Foreign Policy Based On Polling — Not US Safety)

The voices of Paul and his allies are actually needed in the U.S. Senate to question the legitimacy of military action, and to keep those who too-quickly seek to use military force from doing so — but that is where it should end. (MILLER: The Obama Drone Kill Memo Is Out And Libertarians Were Right — It’s Murder)

The senator is best suited to argue his policy in the upper chamber, not from the Rose Garden or the Situation Room. Because given his record, if Paul does find himself calling the world shots from the executive, it will be in world unsafe to live in.

Joseph Miller is the pen name for a ranking Department of Defense official with a background in U.S. special operations and combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has worked in strategic planning.