“Blowback” or “payback”? Say this for the guy: He doesn’t stray off-message just because people might be touchier than usual today at the idea that, while flying planes into skyscrapers is wrong, we sort of had it coming.

We’re supposed to believe that the perpetrators of 9/11 hated us for our freedom and goodness. In fact, that crime was blowback for decades of US intervention in the Middle East. And the last thing we needed was the government’s response: more wars, a stepped-up police and surveillance state, and drones.

Reaction to his post on Facebook is split between those who think the U.S. is indirectly to blame for 9/11 because it created Al Qaeda and people who think it’s directly to blame because 9/11 was an inside job. Some of the latter even seem annoyed at him for keeping up the pretense that it was an independent actor who knocked down the Towers, not an arm of the government. (Paul recently suggested that the Damascus gas attack was a “false flag” by the Syrian rebels, despite even outfits like Human Rights Watch saying otherwise. His fans will have to content themselves with that.) Makes me wonder how much support for the “blowback” explanation there is on either side of this debate. Hawks hate it because it seems to lend moral sanction to 9/11, and some Paulites hate it because it’s relatively weak tea among the range of possible ways that the feds can be blamed for the attack.

The irony of “blowback” is that it always comes packaged with mockery for simplistic “they hate us for our freedoms” explanations when it’s simplistic itself. Which stands to reason, because all of these magic-bullet theories are designed to serve foreign-policy agendas. If you’re a hardcore interventionist, believing that it’s all about freedom means you have a free hand abroad. Terrorists are plotting and there’s nothing you can do to satisfy them short of changing your way of life, so get them before they get you. If you’re a hardcore isolationist, believing that it’s all blowback means you can’t do anything abroad. Every move you make is apt to inspire an angry reaction; only by withdrawing completely and removing the impetus for terrorism will you be safe. Complex organisms like AQ don’t operate that simply. There’s a lot in the mix — anger at the U.S. for colluding with Arab leaders who lock up Islamists, yeah, but also Islamic fanaticism, irredentism, cultural stultification, poverty, etc. When Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather of jihadis, visited the U.S., he was mortified at the loose morals he saw at a church social. He was a fanatic, and he did in fact hate the U.S. in part for its freedoms. The weirdest part of “blowback” to me has always been the way, intentionally or not, it’s willing to crown an ideology like that as a legit populist expression of Arab grievance, especially at a moment when Egyptians are busy putting the boots to the Islamists in their own midst. Revenge for U.S. intervention may have been part of 9/11, but part of it was also striking a blow at the world’s hyperpower, which spreads its filthy church-social morals among the ummah, to show the locals that the mujahedeen were capable of great things. That’s in AQ’s mix too — winning over Muslims to the cause of reclaiming Islamic lands from the west and Arab secularists for a new caliphate. Under “blowback,” though, the magic bullet is U.S. interventionism.

As for his point that the aftermath of 9/11 brought us only “more wars,” well, that’s partly his fault: He voted for the AUMF against Al Qaeda shortly after 9/11. His son, in fact, cheered America’s use of “overwhelming force” against Al Qaeda in his rebuttal to Obama’s Syria speech last night. I tweeted out that point a few hours ago and got a bunch of replies saying, “So? Rand and Ron are different people.” I sure hope that’s true, but I do find it interesting that Rand’s counting on Ron’s base to be his own base in 2016. He’s working hard to build on it by reaching out to mainstream conservatives in various ways, but the key to winning Iowa, for instance, is to start with the 20 percent of Ron fans and expand from there. The more he dismisses “blowback,” the more he’ll jeopardize that. I’m eager to see how he negotiates it.

Speaking of commenters who can’t decide how much involvement the U.S. government had in 9/11, here’s Cornel West trying to figure things out in an interview with Capitol City Project. Exit question: If a new caliphate run by Salafist fanatics was in the offing, would the U.S. be justified in intervening to stop it? The answer is and always will be “no” for isolationists, but one of the core arguments against intervening in Syria is that knocking out Assad might clear the way for jihadis to take power and set up a de facto caliphate of their own there. Rand Paul himself has pointed out frequently that Christians are facing a dire threat if Sunni fundies take over. Is it in America’s interest to sit back and let it happen if the Sunni rebels somehow manage to make that happen with any western help?