Help me out here. On June 19th, he published an op-ed in the Journal recommending that we not take sides in Iraq’s civil war. Sample quote: “We know that Iran is aiding the Iraqi government against ISIS. Do we want to, in effect, become Iran’s air force?” He followed that a week ago with another Journal op-ed arguing that American interventionists empowered ISIS by arming Syria’s “moderate” rebels, whose weapons ended up in jihadi hands. That argument is … problematic, but fair enough. He wants us to stay out of the Iraq/Syria mess. Duly noted.
But then something changed. On August 29th, just two days after the second Journal op-ed, he e-mailed the AP to say that he would seek to destroy ISIS militarily as president (pending congressional authorization, of course). Yesterday he elaborated on that by explaining to Sean Hannity that while he thinks ground combat should be handled by regional forces, there’s potentially a supporting role for American air power to play — effectively the same position that Obama’s taken. Sample quote: “Right now, the two allies that have the same goal would be Iran and Syria, to wipe out ISIS.” This is the same guy who was warning the U.S. not to act as “Iran’s air force” 10 weeks ago. Eliana Johnson asked one of Paul’s foreign-policy advisors what changed in the interim. “I don’t think two months ago any of us really had a clear understanding of the momentum this group had,” he told her. Er, okay, but Paul’s first Journal op-ed was published nine days after ISIS had seized Mosul. If that didn’t qualify as momentum, what would have?
Today he has a new op-ed in Time:
America has an interest in protecting more than 5,000 personnel serving at the largest American embassy in the world in northern Iraq. I am also persuaded by the plight of massacred Christians and Muslim minorities…
The military means to achieve these goals include airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria. Such airstrikes are the best way to suppress ISIS’s operational strength and allow allies such as the Kurds to regain a military advantage.
We should arm and aid capable and allied Kurdish fighters whose territory includes areas now under siege by the ISIS.
Since Syrian jihadists are also a threat to Israel, we should help reinforce Israel’s Iron Dome protection against missiles.
That’s Obama’s (and Hillary’s) strategy, to the letter. I’m not surprised that Paul would include reinforcing Iron Dome as part of it either. Although he once called for ending all foreign aid, including aid to Israel, he recanted on that long ago once he realized how badly it would damage his 2016 prospects. What does surprise me is that boldface part, which implies that President Paul might order airstrikes on ISIS for purely humanitarian reasons, even if Americans at the embassy weren’t in the line of fire. That’ll play well with the evangelicals he’s hoping to woo in the GOP primaries but, unless my copy of Libertarianism 101 is out of date, it’s the opposite of what a “non-interventionist” foreign policy looks like. If you’re going to meddle in other countries’ affairs, a threat to Americans is an absolute prerequisite. No going abroad in search of monsters to destroy. Right?
My last post on Rand’s ISIS flip-flopping wondered what libertarians think of all this. Are they willing to look the other way on the theory that, dissatisfied though they may be, Paul’s the closest they’ll ever get to a true libertarian in the White House? Or are they approaching “I can’t vote for this sellout” territory? Reason has two takes on Rand and ISIS today that help answer that, one from Matt Welch and one from Jacob Sullum. Both are palpably irritated — Welch hits him for being “maddeningly slippery” on intervention questions and too prone to pandering to hawkish conservatives with “cheap populist rhetoric” — but Sullum is harsher. Quote:
Just a few hours later, Paul made his statement to the Associated Press, which in light of his comments on Hannity signaled his support for a war that aims to “destroy ISIS militarily.” At that point Paul, who earlier in the day presented himself as undecided on the question of whether ISIS poses a threat that justifies war, was firmly convinced that it does. The sudden evaporation of Paul’s doubts reeks of political desperation. As Hannity noted, Paul is eager to shed the “isolationist” label, and this is his opportunity.
To his credit, Paul insists that any military action against ISIS must be authorized by Congress, and he continues to highlight the unintended consequences of U.S. intervention in Libya and Syria (as he did on Hannity). Furthermore, his endorsement of war against ISIS may provoke an illuminating debate among libertarians and others who tend to be skeptical of foreign intervention about what counts as a threat to national security. But given his sudden conversion and the weakness of the reasons he has offered, it is hard to take Paul seriously on the subject.
He ends with an update scolding Paul for the same point I made above about humanitarian crises as a casus belli. Here’s my question for Rand-watchers: Is there any documentary evidence anywhere prior to Paul’s run for Senate in 2010 that proves he’s typically had more interventionist impulses than his dad? The big conservative worry about Rand is that he secretly agrees with Ron on foreign policy but, unlike Ron, is willing to pander his ass off to mainstream righties in hopes of winning the nomination. The easiest way to ease that fear would be to produce something — an interview, an op-ed, anything — from Rand’s earlier years showing that he had disagreements with Ron before it became politically expedient for him to do so. Is there any evidence?