Via Andrew Stiles, one of the many fun things about a Clinton vs. Paul election in 2016 (it’d be ferociously nasty, for starters) is the bizarro-world feel that the campaign’s foreign policy debate will have. Benjy Sarlin says this new DNC statement slamming Paul’s op-ed on ISIS “could have been written word for word by the RNC about John Kerry in 2004.”
“It’s disappointing that Rand Paul, as a Senator and a potential presidential candidate, blames America for all the problems in the world, while offering reckless ideas that would only alienate us from the global community.
“Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Paul. Last week he criticized American policy to the president of another country on foreign soil. This week he’s blaming the Obama Administration for another nation’s civil war. That type of “blame America” rhetoric may win Paul accolades at a conference of isolationists but it does nothing to improve our standing in the world. In fact, Paul’s proposals would make America less safe and less secure.
“Simply put, if Rand Paul had a foreign policy slogan, it would be – The Rand Paul Doctrine: Blame America. Retreat from the World.”
That’s the sound of a party that’s starting bright and early on making sure the public knows its likely 2016 nominee is a hawk. It’s also a preview of Democratic messaging against Paul: The phrase “blame America” appears three times in three very short paragraphs, a cue to hawkish conservatives who are familiar with this term from yesterday’s battles that they might consider crossing the aisle if Paul wins the nomination.
Here’s a taste of Paul’s op-ed, which is behind a reg wall at the Journal. His main point is that America would have been to blame for ISIS’s takeover of Syria if we had ousted Assad as Obama wished, but yeah, there’s some blame for the White House for the situation as it sits too:
The administration’s goal has been to degrade Assad’s power, forcing him to negotiate with the rebels. But degrading Assad’s military capacity also degrades his ability to fend off the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Assad’s government recently bombed the self-proclaimed capital of ISIS in Raqqa, Syria…
This is not to say the U.S. should ally with Assad. But we should recognize how regime change in Syria could have helped and emboldened the Islamic State, and recognize that those now calling for war against ISIS are still calling for arms to factions allied with ISIS in the Syrian civil war. We should realize that the interventionists are calling for Islamic rebels to win in Syria and for the same Islamic rebels to lose in Iraq. While no one in the West supports Assad, replacing him with ISIS would be a disaster…
We aided those who’ve contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. The CIA delivered arms and other equipment to Syrian rebels, strengthening the side of the ISIS jihadists. Some even traveled to Syria from America to give moral and material support to these rebels even though there had been multiple reports some were allied with al Qaeda.
If Obama had gotten his wish for regime change in Syria, says Paul, the new regime would have ended up being ISIS. That’s his best point in an otherwise unpersuasive op-ed. For one thing, while O did call for Assad to go at one point, last year’s abortive bombing wasn’t a serious attempt to achieve that. The goal there was to bloody Assad’s nose for using WMD; had Obama not stupidly once said that chemical weapons were a “red line” and then felt obliged to enforce it, he likely never would have threatened to hit Assad in the first place. The proposed airstrikes weren’t designed to knock him out, just to teach him a lesson about gassing people. That’s the Obama way, as we’re seeing now vis-a-vis ISIS — hit your enemy hard enough to make a point but not hard enough to really hurt him.
Also, it’s not true that interventionists are calling for “the same Islamic rebels” to win in Syria and lose in Iraq, as if Obama and McCain wanted to arm ISIS. The whole point of the interventionists’ flirtation with the Free Syrian Army was to find a counterweight to ISIS among the Sunni opposition. That’s always seemed unlikely to me, but infeasibility doesn’t mean the underlying intention was malign. Phrasing it as Paul did feels like a cheap applause line aimed at fans of his dad’s who love finding moral equivalence between the White House and the worst jihadi degenerates. The fact is, despite Paul’s attempt here to portray Assad as a stalwart line of defense against ISIS, it was Assad himself who set ISIS on the path to supremacy in Sunni areas. He went easy on them at first knowing that they’d overrun the less fanatic Sunnis in the Syrian opposition and that, once they did, the west would have no choice but to side with him against them. There’d be no “moderate” Sunni partner left to work with. The interventionists wanted to avoid that outcome, however hamhanded their plans were for doing so.
In any event, notwithstanding some CIA efforts to prop up the “moderates” in Syria, it’s clearly the non-interventionist approach that’s prevailed there — in which case, what is Paul grumbling about? Also, Stiles notes that he can’t find anything in Paul’s op-ed proposing what we should do now to contain ISIS. I can’t either. What’s the plan? Let’s say we withdraw all U.S. air assets and cut off weapons supplies to Baghdad and Irbil. Yay, we’re out! What then? If ISIS overruns an undersupplied Kurdistan, do we hope that Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia will step in to push ISIS back? A massive regional war is one way to deal with this, I guess. What’s the plan in the meantime for averting the energy crisis here at home after ISIS seizes Kurdish oil fields? If even sending arms to allies is off the table for fear that they might fall into enemy hands, I’m not sure what levers we’re talking about. Good luck with sanctions.