Just as the last refuge of the poltroon is patriotism, the last refuge of the GOP poltroon is comparing oneself with Reagan. We’ve seen this play on in humiliating clarity over the past several days with the behavior of freshman senator and presidential hopeful Rand Paul concerning the Russian anschluss with Crimea.
In the Beginning He Was Pacifist
Back when the, we must note, popularly elected government of Ukraine president flamed out in a wave of popular protests, some Republicans, notably John McCain, said that Russian President Vladimir Putin should be warned not to take advantage of the situation. Rand Paul, never one to lose the opportunity to kowtow to the isolationist fringe and racist fringe elements that fueled his father’s presidential bids, scolded McCain (Rand Paul: GOP shouldn’t ‘tweak’ Russia over Ukraine).
"Some on our side are so stuck in the Cold War era that they want to tweak Russia all the time and I don't think that is a good idea," Paul said on Tuesday, in an interview with The Washington Post.
Paul, however, said those recommendations (by Senator McCain—ed note) are misguided, given the culture and history shared by Ukraine and Russia, and the damage such gestures could cause to U.S.-Russian relations.
"The Ukraine has a long history of either being part of the Soviet Union or within that sphere," he said. "I don't think it behooves us to tell the Ukraine what to do. I'm not excited about saying 'hey, let's put the Ukraine in NATO' to rub Russia's nose in it."
Republicans need to remember that Russia remains a geopolitical and military power, Paul added, and that hostile rhetoric has consequences.
Then He Tried To Sound Statesmanlike
On February 28, a mere three days after calling John McCain out for “tweaking” Russia, Rand Paul decided that his supine status wasn’t going over all that well with the non-Southern Avenger set and issued a statement (Sen. Paul’s Statement on Situation in Ukraine):
"We live in an interconnected world and the United States has a vital role in the stability of that world. The United States should make it abundantly clear to Russia that we expect them to honor the December 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which the U.S., Russia, and the United Kingdom reaffirmed their commitment 'to respect the independence and sovereignty and the existing borders of Ukraine.' Russia should also be reminded that stability and territorial integrity go hand in hand with prosperity. Economic incentives align against Russian military involvement in Ukraine. Russia, which has begun to experience the benefits of expanded trade with World Trade Organization accession, should think long and hard about honoring their treaty obligations and fostering the stability that creates prosperity for its citizens. Most importantly, Russian intervention in Ukraine would be dangerous for both nations, and for the rest of the world," Sen. Paul said.
And Then He Got Tough
Eight days after the Russians rolled into Crimea, Paul published an op-ed in TIME Magazine (Sen. Rand Paul: U.S. Must Take Strong Action Against Putin’s Aggression):
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a gross violation of that nation’s sovereignty and an affront to the international community. His continuing occupation of Ukraine is completely unacceptable, and Russia’s President should be isolated for his actions.
It is America’s duty to condemn these actions in no uncertain terms. It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia’s latest aggression.
Putin must be punished for violating the Budapest Memorandum, and Russia must learn that the U.S. will isolate it if it insists on acting like a rogue nation.
Even then he can’t resist a nod to the isolationists who hang on his every word:
I would reinstitute the missile-defense shields President Obama abandoned in 2009 in Poland and the Czech Republic, only this time, I would make sure the Europeans pay for it.
We’re not really sure how we build something other people may not want and make them to pay for it. It isn’t like missile defense is Obamacare. And predictably he goes on to compare himself to Reagan and offer a disingenuous defense of his attack on McCain:
Reagan’s policy of “peace through strength” requires strength of the sort President Obama now fails to project. But what some American leaders, including some in my own party, often forget is that lasting peace was always Reagan’s ultimate objective.
I have said, and some have taken exception, that too many U.S. leaders still think in Cold War terms and are quick to “tweak” the international community. This is true.
But mutual respect and practical diplomacy is a two-way street, where Russia or any other nation should not be tweaking us, or their neighbors, either.
But just in case you came in late of missed it, he' tough. Damned tough.
But let me be clear: If I were President, I wouldn’t let Vladimir Putin get away with it.
Tough. But in a minding our own business kind of way. Tough. And smart. Smart. And tough.
Then he became Reagan crossed with Eisenhower
Only two days after asserting that he would not let Putin get away with his Crimea smash-and-grab, Paul appeared at Britbart.com to favorably compare his positions with those of Reagan and Eisenhower which, anyone with access to Wikipedia would note, were presidents during a markedly different diplomatic environment (Exclusive--Rand Paul: Stop Warping Reagan's Foreign Policy):
I met Ronald Reagan as a teenager when my father was a Reagan delegate in 1976. I greatly admire Reagan’s projection of "Peace through Strength." I believe, as he did, that our National Defense should be second to none, that defense of the country is the primary Constitutional role of the Federal Government.
There is no greater priority for Congress than defense of the nation.
I also greatly admire that Reagan was not rash or reckless with regard to war. Reagan advised potential foreign adversaries not to mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve.
What America needs today is a Commander-in-Chief who will defend the country and project strength, but who is also not eager for war.
Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, for example, there is little difference among most Republicans on what to do. All of us believe we should stand up to Putin's aggression. Virtually no one believes we should intervene militarily.
So we are then faced with a finite menu of diplomatic measures to isolate Russia, on most of which we all agree, such as sanctions and increased economic pressure.
Yet, some politicians have used this time to beat their chest. What we don't need right now is politicians who have never seen war talking tough for the sake of their political careers.
I don't know which politician were beating their chest or advocating war, I didn't hear anyone make that case. I do wonder what vowing that Putin will not be allowed to get away with taking Crimea is if not chest thumping. What is most disgusting is a guy who is the true son of privilege accusing others of having "never seen war" when he, himself, has never been without shouting distance of a uniform.
More to the point, the way Paul characterizes American foreign policy under Reagan is nothing short of juvenile. We spent nearly two years in Lebanon before we were finally driven out by the truck bombing of the barracks holding the USMC 24th MAU. Had that not happened we could very well still be there. This was not a mission Reagan inherited but one he was a prime mover behind. Unlike Paul, I'm not an isolationist so this is not a criticism of Reagan.
Reagan, who had never been to war, invaded Grenada. We carried out significant proxy wars in Angola, Mozambique, Eritrea, Somalia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and ... Afghanistan. One of them, that in Nicaragua, seemed poised to bring down his Administration. Reagan not only "tweaked" the Soviets, he changed our policy from the George Keenan inspired "containment" to one of "roll back." Unlike any previous president, no country fell to communism under Reagan and the costs associated with them holding onto their empire increased exponentially. Reagan deployed Pershing missiles and Surface Launched Cruise Missiles (SLCM) to Europe. Ballistic Missile Defense began. The US Navy approached 600 ships. The Army had 18 divisions. These were all actions that raised the stakes of possible Soviet adventurism and the were accompanied by significant calculated risks on his part. Rand Paul, prior to this week, would have supported none of these actions.
And he attacks Ted Cruz, as any good McConnell toady would
When Ted Cruz appeared on ABC News on March 9 he made a reasonable and, I think, understated critique of Paul's athletic flipflopping on Russian aggression (Sen. Ted Cruz Breaks With Sen. Rand Paul On Foreign Policy):
“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don’t agree with him on foreign policy,” Cruz said. “I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”
Going back to the Breitbart.com, a petulant Paul responded (Rand on Cruz: I'm Not Real Excited About Him Mischaracterizing My Views):
“We always have been good friends. I'm not real excited about him mischaracterizing my views. I won't let that pass. I think that sometimes want to stand up and say hey, look at me, I'm the next Ronald Reagan. Well, almost all of us in the party are big fans of Ronald Reagan,” Paul said.
“I've always been a big fan of peace through strength. I think America should and has a responsibility around the world and really, virtually all of the opinions that have been coming from Republicans are somewhat the same on this – that Putin should be condemned, he should be isolated. I favor sanctions on Putin. So, for people to characterize that as somehow not being the Reagan position, I think they need to have a re-reading of Reagan, frankly,” Paul added.
Why is Rand Paul acting like a slobbering idiot?
Other than the obvious answer, I mean.
First, he's Ron Paul son and this particular nut didn't fall all that far from the Mother of Nut Trees. He was raised in an environment were isolationism and the rejection of American power were the norm. He is a throwback to the America Firsters who still blame FDR for getting rid of perfectly benign regimes in Germany and Japan. This is no exaggeration. His first response was to assure his base that America was the bad guy, that we were always sticking our nose in other people's business, and the Crimea was not our business. This is the real Rand Paul.
When this crabbed view of America's role in the world got attention he had to backtrack. Thus the official statement.
Then comes the blindingly incoherent Time op-ed. Here Paul is trying, with laughable results, to act as though he really cares about what Russia does knowing that few people who read Time are also familiar with his earlier statements. It is here the guy who is against "tweaking" the Russians vows he won't let Putin get away with it and he'll build missile defense on other people's soil with other people's dollars or bitcoins in a Paul administration.
From there he goes back to Breitbart to talk to his base and tell them that he's doing just what Reagan and Eisenhower would do. When Ted Cruz offers the mildest criticism, Rand Paul gets all panty-twisty and accuses him of mischaracterizing his views. Cruz really had the right to ask him to specify which view on which day he was referring to.
As Paul sets his sights on the presidency, he's been smacked rather hard by reality. The United States is a world power. And we aren't just any world power. We are the only power that possesses military, cultural, and financial power. Up until January 2009, we also had diplomatic power. Maybe someday we'll have that, too. When you are raising money from rubes it is easy to demand that we audit the fed and withdraw from the world. The real America simply doesn't have those options. To build credibility, Paul had to take stances that advocated the use of US power (and Paul, like his goofy dad, loves to set up a strawman where the only alternative to what they want is thermonuclear holocaust) but didn't make his base stop sending money. Hence we get the ugly self-comparison with Reagan and Eisenhower.
Rand Paul's knee-jerk contrarianism can have a useful role in the Senate. He's a valued ally of Mitch McConnell. But when reduced to its essence, Rand Paul is a huckster out of his depth. Like his father his main objective is to parlay his mailing list into an income stream. Unfortunately, the weakness of our political parties has actually made the man a credible candidate for the presidency. The man should not be near the Oval Office. We can't take him lightly because the one thing Barack Obama has proven is that sometimes the dog does catch the car and with predictable results.