Perry: Rand Paul's position on Iraq is "disheartening ... curiously blind"

Rick Perry has had quite the renaissance this summer. The Texas governor lowered his profile after his unsuccessful 2012 run for the Republican presidential nomination, focusing instead on finishing his last term in Texas before deciding on his future. After the border crisis erupted, though, Perry has emerged again as a national leader in the GOP. That has buzz going about a potential second presidential run, and the Christian Science Monitor concluded that Perry won the week against Barack Obama in their border show-down in the context of 2016:

By “win,” we mean it might boost Perry’s stature within his own party. He has forced Obama to change his plans (somewhat) and will get to put himself on the US chief executive’s level with an exchange of ideas. That’s a big step up for a possible 2016 presidential candidate whose 2012 campaign ended in a pile of “oops” during a nationally televised debate. It might help Perry appear more presidential to GOP primary voters. It will certainly help him with the conservative core, many of whom want their party to stand up to Obama, particularly on the immigration issue.

“Rick Perry two-stepped his way back into the national spotlight this week, using the crisis at the border to skewer President Barack Obama while pumping up his own conservative bona fides,” reads the top of a piece by Politico’s Katie Glueck on Wednesday. 

If anyone thought that Perry’s emergence was just accidental or momentary, think again. Perry took time out from his efforts to press for better border security to address a completely different national security issue, the emergence of ISIS in Iraq, in today’s Washington Post. And Perry not only takes on the Obama administration in this broadside, but also a potential 2016 GOP rival, Senator Rand Paul. Perry calls Paul “curiously blind” to the threat of ISIS in a clear effort to align himself against the non-interventionist wing of the Republican Party:

As a veteran, and as a governor who has supported Texas National Guard deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, I can understand the emotions behind isolationism. Many people are tired of war, and the urge to pull back is a natural, human reaction. Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further.

That’s why it’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq. The main problem with this argument is that it means ignoring the profound threat that the group now calling itself the Islamic State poses to the United States and the world.

In the Islamic State, which came to prominence in Syria and now controls ample territory, weapons and cash in both that country and Iraq, the world is confronting an even more radicalized version of Islamic extremism than al-Qaeda. This group is well-trained, technologically sophisticated and adept at recruitment, with thousands of people with European passports fighting on its side, as well as some Americans.

This represents a real threat to our national security — to which Paul seems curiously blind — because any of these passport carriers can simply buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa. It’s particularly chilling when you consider that one American has alreadycarried out a suicide bombing and a terrorist-trained European allegedlykilled four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.

The essay rebuts a column from Paul last month, in which Paul claimed that Ronald Reagan would have never gotten entangled in Iraq in the first place:

Though many claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan on foreign policy, too few look at how he really conducted it. The Iraq war is one of the best examples of where we went wrong because we ignored that.

In 1984, Reagan’s Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger developed the following criteria for war, primarily to avoid another Vietnam. His speech, “The Uses of Military Power,” boils down to this: The United States should not commit forces to combat unless the vital national interests of the U.S. or its allies are involved and only “with the clear intention of winning.” U.S. combat troops should be committed only with “clearly defined political and military objectives” and with the capacity to accomplish those objectives and with a “reasonable assurance” of the support of U.S. public opinion and Congress and only “as a last resort.”

Much of the rationale for going to war in 2003 did not measure up to the Weinberger Doctrine, and I opposed the Iraq war. I thought we needed to be more prudent about the weightiest decision a country can make. Like Reagan, I thought we should never be eager to go to war. And now, 11 years later, we are still dealing with the consequences.

Actually, the issue of Iraq doesn’t go back 11 years, but almost 24 years, and not to George W. Bush but to George H. W. Bush, Reagan’s successor. We have been caught up in the affairs of Iraq ever since that point, for better or worse. While Paul perhaps makes a good case for non-involvement in late 1990 — a signal sent by the Bush 41 administration at the time, which allowed Saddam Hussein to conclude that the US would not react to a forcible annexation of Kuwait — it’s a moot argument now. We are engaged in Iraq even without troops on the ground, and a full retreat from the region will not be a passive act.  It will leave a vacuum which will be filled by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and al-Qaeda and ISIS. A shrug has its consequences too, as we learned in late 1990. Absent that shrug, for which Paul argues now, we may not have spent the last 24 years in Iraq at all.

That doesn’t mean that Paul’s entirely wrong, or that Perry’s entirely right. The problem in the US isn’t that we don’t have the ability to make an impact — we clearly have that power in spades — but that we don’t have the political will to see these projects through to completion. And “completion,” in the context of the post-Versailles world, is at best a foggy concept anyway. That region isn’t Europe, after all, and even Europe didn’t fully settle its post-Versailles arrangement until after another World War, a Cold War, and the Balkans war — and may not yet be quite finished, either, especially in Kosovo. In the Middle East, it will probably take centuries to settle their post-Versailles tensions, whether or not the West remains actively engaged. If that’s depressing, welcome to the long expanse of history from the temporal vantage point.

We’re going to have this debate for a long, long time. The most interesting part of it for the moment is that Perry has decided to engage it in a public, national manner, and has deliberately taken on the Paulist wing of the GOP. That’s not the action of a man just looking to play out his string in Texas and head back to the ranch.