Rand Paul: Let's smash ISIS

A few days old but more timely than ever.

Speaking to a ballroom later, some of the loudest applause for Paul came when he quipped: “If the president has no strategy, maybe it’s time for a new president.”

In an emailed comment, however, Paul elaborated by saying: “If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.”

John McCormack reminds us that Paul’s previous comment on ISIS was a lot more equivocal than that. (His op-ed last week on the folly of Obama’s interventionist ambitions in Syria offered no strategy on ISIS at all.) You can read the above as credulously or skeptically as you like. Maybe it’s proof that Rand really is more hawkish than his old man and that, after some initial ambivalence, he’s been convinced by the intelligence that crushing ISIS is the only way to defuse the threat. Or maybe he’s looked at the polls lately and noticed that the mainstream conservatives he’s hoping to woo in 2016 are swinging back towards interventionism. Maybe it’s a bit of both. There’s no reason to hold Rand to a different standard than his competitors. Show of hands: Who thinks Marco Rubio’s recent tough talk on comprehensive immigration reform is being driven purely by non-electoral considerations?

I’m curious about the libertarian reaction to all this, though. Because I’m lazy, I tend to assume their feelings about President Paul’s inchoate foreign policy are similar to liberals’ feelings about then-Senator Obama’s opposition to gay marriage. That’s unfair to Rand because it assumes that he’ll reverse himself on some of his current policy prescriptions if elected, a la O on SSM. It also assumes, again unfairly, that libertarians think he’s BSing them on foreign policy right now in the name of winning the presidency, a la progressives who supported Obama despite his gay-marriage position. Maybe there are lots of libertarians out there who share Paul’s belief that the time has come to bring down the hammer on ISIS; they’re not all as pacifistic as Ron Paul, after all. There are, I’m sure, others who disagree with Paul on intervening to stop ISIS but don’t consider his opinion disqualifying. All political movements learn to tolerate some heresy in their elected leaders. There’s no reason to think libertarians are different.

But as I say, I’m interested in feedback from our libertarian readers to get a better sense of how they’re feeling. Opinion on ISIS among the libertarian/paleocon pundits I read is mixed. James Antle seems skeptical of intervening now but allows that ISIS could become a graver threat worthy of action in the near future. Lucy Steigerwald takes the position that U.S. intervention in Iraq always, always, always makes things worse, therefore we should learn our lesson and stay out. Reason editor Nick Gillespie is harder to pin down so I’ll let him speak for himself:

Waking up would entail actually building an international coalition to deal with the situation in Iraq and Syria (the idea of the United States unilaterally going into Syria during its civil war would surely rank as one of our country’s great strategic blunders; it would either simply strenghten Assad’s regime, thus leading to expanded set of problems down the road, or create absolute chaos throughout the region, causing more problems immediately and in the future). And Obama also needs to lead on putting together a coherent, effective, and defensible policy for the war on terror—one that he can sell to Republicans, allies, and especially the American people who he has treated as an afterthought in all this. Despite the claims of hawks and ISIL itself, the terrorist group is hardly an existential threat to the West any more than al Qaeda was. It can and should be contained and squeezed down everywhere as much as possible (this is not something that mandates either an interventionist foreign policy or expansive security state at home).

An international coalition aimed at containing ISIS is okay, but the group isn’t such a threat to the U.S. that it requires destruction by American military action — or at least, that’s how I read that. And then, of course, there’s the most famous libertarian in America, to whom you can listen below. A taste:

A new US military incursion will not end ISIS; it will provide them with the recruiting tool they most crave, while draining the US treasury. Just what Osama bin Laden wanted!…

A lack of strategy is a glimmer of hope. Perhaps the president will finally stop listening to the neocons and interventionists whose recommendations have gotten us into this mess in the first place! Here’s a strategy: just come home.

There’s a slogan for Rand’s 2016 campaign: “Just what Osama Bin Laden wanted!”

Anyway, you tell me, libertarians: Is wanting to destroy ISIS militarily a firing offense by Rand? I’m guessing no, that it moves him a bit further from the “candidate I’m excited about” category to the “candidate I’ll reluctantly vote for because he’s better than all the alternatives” one. Paul can live with that, although it does leave him closer to the dreaded “candidate I can’t vote for in good conscience” category of which libertarians are so fond. What I’m asking is, how much space is left for Rand between categories two and three? Or am I mistaken, and there’s actually more support for intervening against ISIS among libertarians than I thought?

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