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Rand Paul’s Transparent Duplicity on Iraq

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Watching Rand Paul come to a decision on foreign policy can be a dizzying experience, even for seasoned watchers of the career of Mitt Romney. Two short months ago, as ISIS was already rampaging across the Iraqi countryside, Rand Paul went on MSNBC and declared that Obama was doing a fine job in Iraq and that any problems that occurred there were the fault of Bush and other Republicans.

Less than a full calendar week ago, Paul took to the Wall Street Journal with an op-ed that decried what he viewed as the tendency of Democrats (but especially other Republicans) to call for action without clearly defining what that action might be, claiming specifically that “interventionists” abetted the rise of ISIS:

Our Middle Eastern policy is unhinged, flailing about to see who to act against next, with little thought to the consequences. This is not a foreign policy.

* * *

A reasonable degree of foresight should be a prerequisite for holding high office. So should basic hindsight. This administration has neither.

But the same is true of hawkish members of my own party. Some said it would be “catastrophic” if we failed to strike Syria. What they were advocating for then—striking down Assad’s regime—would have made our current situation even worse, as it would have eliminated the only regional counterweight to the ISIS threat.

Our so-called foreign policy experts are failing us miserably. The Obama administration’s feckless veering is making it worse. It seems the only thing both sides of this flawed debate agree on is that “something” must be done. It is the only thing they ever agree on.

But the problem is, we did do something. We aided those who’ve contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. The CIA delivered arms and other equipment to Syrian rebels, strengthening the side of the ISIS jihadists. Some even traveled to Syria from America to give moral and material support to these rebels even though there had been multiple reports some were allied with al Qaeda.

And now by his own admission – he has become part of the “SOMETHING – ANYTHING – MUST BE DONE” crowd in Iraq:

Rand Paul is often labeled by his critics an isolationist, but the Republican senator from Kentucky is now calling on President Obama to outline plans to use the military to “destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress,” Paul told the Associated Press. “I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

Over the weekend, Paul, the AP reported, told a crowd of conservative activists in Texas at a summit organized by Americans for Prosperity that “if the president has no strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.”

A few things seem to be missing from this statement. The first is any suggestion of a strategy or a plan, or any suggestion of foresight about what the consequences of crushing ISIS militarily might be. You know, the exact same things he made fun of all other Republicans last week for not having. The second is any indication of what form this military crushing might take. Does he now actually support invading Iraq with boots on the ground again? If so, his supporters deserve to know that this is Rand Paul’s current stance (at least for the moment) on this issue. The third and most important is an explanation for how and why he has repudiated the one stance that he has actually kept consistently since he was elected and was spouting on television two months ago: that invading Iraq to destroy terrorists is what caused all this chaos in the Middle East in the first place. 

Frankly, I’ve always found this to be a dubious proposition with respect to Iraq but there is no doubt that Rand Paul has proclaimed it loudly from the rooftops for years. Why does he now feel that things would be different? What makes 2014 ISIS a qualitatively different threat in his mind from 2003 Al Qaeda? Why would removing them not lead to continued destabilization of the region, in his mind?

I am concerned that, at a critical juncture in the nation’s history, America may face a Presidential election choice between Hillary Clinton and Rand Paul, which may simply become the greatest triangulation-off in world history. The American people deserve at least one Presidential candidate who has the strength of his/her convictions, whatever they might be, and Rand Paul is not that candidate.

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