It has been at least 20 years since Republicans have argued this angrily about foreign policy. Voters don’t much care about this debate, though, and probably won’t until events overseas turn more menacing. In the meantime, Republicans vying for the 2016 presidential nomination are pushing the party toward one of two extremes on the issue — neither of which will do the party or the country much good…

Paul portrays himself as a “realist” as well as a Reaganite: someone who asks hard questions before putting American credibility, money and troops on the line. It’s an attractive self-presentation, because policy makers should ask those questions: Are our interests at stake abroad? Is there any feasible way to promote them? Would the effort have an acceptable cost?

You can be skeptical about foreign interventions — from Iran to Syria to Ukraine — without having a conspiratorial mindset about them. Paul sometimes makes it a package deal, as in his repeated suggestions that former Vice President Dick Cheney pushed the Iraq war because of his ties to Halliburton Co. — a ridiculous charge that even Cheney’s bitter Democratic opponents have had too much sense to make.

And you can set a high bar for taking action against an aggressive and illiberal foreign regime without making excuses for it. Paul doesn’t always observe that distinction.

The knives are out for conservatives who dare question unlimited involvement in foreign wars.

Foreign policy, the interventionist critics claim, has no place for nuance or realism. You are either for us or against us. No middle ground is acceptable. The Wilsonian ideologues must have democracy worldwide now and damn all obstacles to that utopia. I say sharpen your knives, because the battle once begun will not end easily…

With regard to the Iraq War, [William F.] Buckley came to believe not only that it was a mistake but that it was not a “conservative” approach to foreign policy. In fact, in discussing foreign policy Buckley sounded quite the realist…

Reagan himself was sometimes castigated for not intervening around the world enough. According to Peter Beinart, Norman Podhoretz, one of the founding neoconservatives, wrote that “in the use of military power, Mr. Reagan was much more restrained” than his more hawkish fans had hoped.

So as today’s young aspiring Buckleyites sharpen their knives to carve up conservatives who propose a more realist and nuanced approach to foreign policy, they should realize they’re also pointing daggers at some of their own.

None of Paul’s critics at NRO have said anything like what Paul claims about nuance or realism, or called for unlimited involvement in foreign wars. And criticism of Paul — and his excuse-making for the Russian and Syrian regimes – does not amount to criticism of realism. Nor does William F. Buckley Jr.’s retrospective opposition to the Iraq war amount to Senator Paul’s view that Halliburton’s influence over Dick Cheney had something to do with its start.

I’m glad Senator Paul is there to push back against, for example, the ill-considered proposal to strike at Syria last year. But he’d be a more effective advocate for realism if he showed an ability to make obvious distinctions.

Again and again, he characterizes his opponents as flat-out warmongers, such as those “within the Christian community [who] are such great defenders of the promised land and the chosen people that they think war is always the answer, maybe even preemptive war.” Choices are always binary in his world — one must either follow his way of diplomacy or, as in his Heritage speech, take the position that “war is the only option.” In a recent speech at the Center for the National Interest, he built the same militaristic straw man. Those who favor bigger defense forces and more robust postures, he said, have the attitude that “diplomacy is distrusted and war is, if not the first choice, the preferred option.”

The worst warmongers in Paul World are always the nefarious “neocons,” sometimes directly associated with Israel, who are blamed for such a wide assortment of ills and bad motives that an uninformed listener might think they are more dangerous to world peace than the Soviets ever were.

How many times has Obama accused his critics of wanting to force “false choices” between two absurd, all-or-nothing extremes, when virtually nobody has seriously suggested that those are the only choices? This is exactly what Paul is doing. So when Rich Lowry asserts that “Paul’s belief that the Iraq War may have been about padding a corporate bottom line echoes charges of ‘war profiteering’ that have been a staple of the Left,” Paul rather nastily (and wrongly) writes that “today’s young aspiring Buckleyites sharpen their knives to carve up conservatives who propose a more realist and nuanced approach to foreign policy.” But is it more “nuanced” and “realist” to accuse Dick Cheney of choosing to send thousands to their deaths because of his search for lucre, or is it instead more realist to question such a vicious conspiracy theory?…

Rand Paul is more intelligent than this. He must know he is vastly misrepresenting his critics and vastly oversimplifying complex foreign-policy questions. If he continues to do so, his statements will no longer be able to be considered rhetorical sloppiness, but instead will justly be labeled demagoguery.

The Tarrance Group recently conducted a survey on behalf of Concerned Veterans for America that was released on April 18. It just so happens that “nearly three-quarters of veterans and members of the military (73%) agree with former member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s statement that our nation’s debt is ‘the greatest threat to our National Security.’”

That is to say: Admiral Mike Mullen and 73 percent of veterans, Guard/Reserve, and active-duty military surveyed share Rand Paul’s “naïve and otherworldly” claim…

Judging by this survey, Rand Paul is simply echoing the concerns of a former Joint Chief, and the vast majority of military men and women surveyed by a noted veterans advocacy organization. That’s not bad company to keep.

The default position of the GOP is still toward strength, and the party will instinctively recoil from the distorted view of America implicit in some of Paul’s more impolitic statements.

If we launched the Iraq War for corporate profits, we have a poisonously corrupt government that is a threat to world peace. If we caused Japan to react angrily with ill-considered sanctions prior to Pearl Harbor, as Paul said in 2012, perhaps we were reaping what we sowed in what is usually regarded as one of the most notorious sneak attacks of all time. If we are guilty of tweaking Russia while it secures a traditional sphere of influence, as Paul said when the Crimea crisis first broke out, it’s no wonder that Vladimir Putin lashes out…

Paul likes to calls his foreign policy “realism,” but his record on Russia suggests the label is inapt. Last year, he thought what was wrong with President Barack Obama’s Syria policy was that we weren’t engaging the Russians enough. Earlier this year, he held out the Syria chemical-weapons deal — a humiliation for the United States that secured Bashar Assad in power — as a model for future diplomacy. He thought the Russians were a partner for peace, right on the cusp of their launching a war.

You don’t have to be a war profiteer to consider this dewy-eyed foolishness. Barack Obama’s can’t-we-all-get-along naiveté didn’t hurt him in his primary fight in 2008, but he was running in the other party. Rand Paul is running in a party that, while chastened on foreign policy, still has a hawkish reflex — and not because it is beholden to Halliburton.

Paul says he’s a “non-interventionist,” and by saying so tries to wrap himself in the image of Ronald Reagan. Let’s be clear: every conservative is a non-interventionist. But, like Ronald Reagan we believe that some acts of aggression are so severe they cannot be tolerated, and that some adversaries cannot be deterred, so they must be defeated at the time and place most advantageous to us…

Paul claims his policy is “nuanced,” and that such sophistication in strategy is what we have lacked before his deft-handed approach came along. But Paul is stumbling along a path we’ve trod before. He’s probably unaware of it, but the political world is round and when you go far enough to the right, you end up on the left. Rand Paul’s foreign policy would have the same effect as Obama’s because they are different only in names and labels.

Not even the Republicans are dumb enough to nominate Rand Paul, but a Paul candidacy — like the last one — will have only negative effects. The media will try to damage the whole field of candidates by associating them with Paul’s civil rights horrors. And Paul will serve as the media’s foil on foreign policy. Reagan mastered “strategic ambiguity” because he knew that it meant keeping the adversary off-balance. To Rand Paul, strategic ambiguity means confusing our allies and our military, keeping them off-balance while trying to understand when he means to be are serious and when he does not. He’s just a chip off the old blockhead.

Mr. Paul’s conclusion: “9/11 became an excuse for a war they already wanted in Iraq.”

Cui bono—to whose benefit? It’s the signature question of every conspiracy theorist with an unhinged mind. C heney. Halliburton. Big Oil. The military-industrial complex. Neocons. 9/11. Soldiers electrocuted in the shower. It all makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

If Mr. Paul wants to accuse the former vice president of engineering a war in Iraq so he could shovel some profits over to his past employer, he should come out and say so explicitly. Ideally at the next Heritage Action powwow. Let’s not mince words. This man wants to be the Republican nominee for president.

And so he should be. Because maybe what the GOP needs is another humbling landslide defeat. When moderation on a subject like immigration is ideologically disqualifying, but bark-at-the-moon lunacy about Halliburton is not, then the party has worse problems than merely its choice of nominee.