Good catch by the Weekly Standard, not because this matters to what O will do this year but because it matters, potentially a lot, to 2016. The singular foreign policy question for Republican voters 18 months from now is this: Are we a hawkish or dovish party? Look at the data and judge for yourself. Clearly GOPers are more dovish than they used to be.
But they’re also still more hawkish than you might expect.
Heavy Republican support for further intervention, weak support among Democrats and indies. You could, if you like, toss that result out on partisanship grounds: A la some Democrats with Bush, some Republicans think any move Obama makes abroad is bound to be wrong and moronic. He hasn’t done much (yet) in Iraq to head off ISIS, ergo it must be the case that he should be doing more. That’s the knee-jerk anti-O approach. Okay, but here’s another result. Can this also be dismissed on partisan grounds?
Maybe this is also being processed along partisan lines, with some righties treating it as an indictment of Obama’s passivity, but my hunch is that most people are reading it as a matter of national obligations to Iraq. Bush invaded and then spent five years trying to build a workable sectarian coalition there; Republicans stood with him and paid for it in 2006 and 2008. Having invested that much in Iraq’s success, it’s understandable that they’re less inclined to stand pat now while the country falls apart. The good news for doves is that that may mean Iraq is sui generis, with GOPers feeling a special moral duty to prevent mass bloodletting that they wouldn’t feel in other cases. The bad news for doves is that, despite those 2006 and 2008 results and notwithstanding a decade of hard lessons in Iraq and Afghanistan about nation-building, you’ve still got clear majorities of Republicans calling for more intervention in reply to both questions here. How does Rand Paul navigate that? Says Michael Goldfarb, the founder of the Free Beacon:
“Now the neocons are on the hawkish side and it’s the libertarians who are standing with Obama which makes them very vulnerable. They’re in a very tough spot right now because they want to shit all over Obama but they’re basically where Obama is on this.”
I thought Rand might keep inching towards the hawks’ camp after he did some saber-rattling towards Russia over Ukraine but he was in vintage Paul mode on “Meet the Press” yesterday, refusing to blame Obama for Iraq’s current military weakness and pointing the finger at GOP Iraq hawks like Dick Cheney instead. That’s a good general election message, not so good for a primary where voters want to hear omnibus repudiations of Hopenchange. (Just for instance, here’s an item that was popular among righties online just yesterday.) I’m glad he’s taking that line, though, not because I necessarily agree with it but because it’s setting up a true contrast in the primaries. It’d be beyond lame if Paul tried to reinvent himself as a stalwart hawk now; no one would believe it and it’d deny voters a true foreign-policy choice during the debates. Rand’s bet, I guess, is that there are now enough libertarians or libertarian sympathizers in the GOP base that he can survive a “don’t blame Obama” message even on a key issue in which 52 percent of his party thinks Obama’s not doing enough. Good for him for having the stones to make it — although it’s telling that none of his rivals for the nomination have moved very far towards the dovish camp to meet him. If there really were that many Republican doves in the electorate, you’d think there’d be more competition for their attention right now.
Here he is yesterday on “Meet the Press” talking Iraq. One bit that caught my attention was when he blamed ISIS’s rise in part on — ta da — the U.S., which has been sending mostly small arms (and maybe a few not so small?) to the Free Syrian Army. That reminds me of his dad. It’s not that he’s wrong about jihadis confiscating American weapons from the FSA; I thought arming the rebels was dumb for the same reason. But the noninterventionists have largely won the debate over Syria. Obama couldn’t get traction politically for bombing Assad last September, and the White House waited long enough to finally greenlight arms for “moderate” rebels that those “moderates” were largely an afterthought on the battlefield by the time it happened. The reason ISIS is steaming towards Baghdad isn’t because they’ve got American RPGs, it’s because they’re swimming in cash and weapons supplied by our Sunni “allies” (Paul does note that) and because the Iraqi army’s been disintegrating for three years. That’s the argument you should be making if you’re a noninterventionist — why on earth would we ever have thought we could build a stable Sunni/Shiite coalition? The fact that he’d steer this around to the U.S. even in a case of minor, almost token intervention feels like he’s trying to shoehorn facts that don’t really fit into an “intervention is always foolish because it produces blowback” argument. That sounds like Ron.
Exit question: How would the two parties cope with a Paul/Clinton election? The Democratic playbook calls for attacking the Republican as an “out of touch” plutocrat; the Republican playbook calls for attacking the Democrat as a foreign policy weakling who’d be sanguine about threats to America. Switch playbooks?