Texas Gov. Rick Perry made the most of his renewed position in the national spotlight last week when he penned an op-ed in which he displayed his foreign policy chops. Perry showed that he favors a more robust American approach to foreign affairs and singled out Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), another likely 2016 presidential candidate, for criticism.
“Many people are tired of war, and the urge to pull back is a natural, human reaction,” Perry wrote. “Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further.”
That’s why it’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq. The main problem with this argument is that it means ignoring the profound threat that the group now calling itself the Islamic State poses to the United States and the world.
On Monday, in a piece published in Politico Magazine, Paul shot back at Perry. At some points, Paul contended that his policy prescriptions for conflicts like the renewed fighting in Iraq are not that distinct from those Perry recommends. At others, Paul insisted that his approach to foreign affairs is radically different from his past Republican foreign policy doctrines.
“Governor Perry writes a fictionalized account of my foreign policy so mischaracterizing my views that I wonder if he’s even really read any of my policy papers,” Paul began. “In fact, some of Perry’s solutions for the current chaos in Iraq aren’t much different from what I’ve proposed, something he fails to mention. His solutions also aren’t much different from President Barack Obama’s, something he also fails to mention. Because interestingly enough, there aren’t that many good choices right now in dealing with this situation in Iraq.”
Paul wrote that everyone from himself, to Perry, to the president has said that they are willing to renew airstrikes in Iraq if that course makes sense. Paul noted that Perry has advocated sending American troops back to Iraq long before the rise of ISIS, perhaps as a means of preventing its ascension. On this point, Paul goes for the jugular.
Does Perry now believe that we should send U.S. troops back into Iraq to fight the Iranians—or to help Iran fight ISIS? As everyone agrees, governor, there are no easy options.
Unlike Perry, I oppose sending American troops back into Iraq. After a decade of the United States training the Iraq’s military, when confronted by the enemy, the Iraqis dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and hid. Our soldiers’ hard work and sacrifice should be worth more than that. Our military is too good for that.
I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country — a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Governor Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq?
Paul closes by casting himself in the mold of Ronald Regan, noting that America’s 40th president “hated war” and was no hawk. “Perry couldn’t be more stuck in the past,” Paul concluded, “doubling down on formulas that haven’t worked, parroting rhetoric that doesn’t make sense and reinforcing petulant attitudes that have cost our nation a great deal.”
It is interesting that, though this piece is a true shot across the bow of Perry and the Republican foreign policy establishment, it opens relatively apologetically. Even stranger when one considers that Paul’s disengaged approach to dealing with foreign conflicts is particularly appealing to the Republican electorate.
In the last Wall Street Journal poll of Republicans, a new high of 58 percent said that the war in Afghanistan was not worth it. An Annenberg Survey in June revealed that 46 percent of Republicans agreed that the war in Iraq was also not worth the sacrifice. A plurality of Republicans – 45 to 29 percent – told WSJ pollsters in April that the U.S. should be less active in global affairs.
With Republican voters seemingly open to Paul’s brand of foreign policy, you would expect more Republican candidates to be moving in that direction; or, at least, not being openly hostile to Paul’s approach to foreign affairs. Instead, it is the junior senator from Kentucky who is treading lightly while attempting to move the GOP in his direction on foreign affairs.