Rand Paul gives war a chance

© Mike Segar / Reuters
Olivia Nuzzi
Olivia Nuzzi

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Politics
08.18.14
Rand Paul Gives War a Chance
The libertarian senators is famously skeptical of foreign wars. So why are his advisers suddenly comparing him to the coldest of Cold Warriors?

When it comes to international affairs, Rand Paul is the new Ronald Reagan.

At least, that’s what the junior Kentucky Senator’s foreign policy advisers would have you believe.

Throughout Paul’s short political career, he has tried to position himself as someone less inclined to wage war or intervene in other countries than the Obama or Bush White Houses. He claimed the U.S. created a “jihadist wonderland” by over-involving itself in the affairs of the Middle East, and opposed the idea of toppling the dictators in Syria and Libya. In the days after Russia’s invasion of Crimea, Paul advised that America should resist those who want to “tweak Russia all the time.” And for the crisis in Iraq, he has blamed the Bush Administration – namely Dick Cheney, whose ties to Halliburton, Paul suggested in 2009, were driving U.S. foreign policy.

Those positions made it look, to many, like Paul’s worldview mirrored most closely that of his father, the famously doctrinaire libertarian Ron Paul. And maybe that was true, once upon a time. But these days, Paul is publicly entertaining the idea of bombing Iraq, while his advisers have touted him as the second coming of Cold Warriors like Dwight Eisenhower (who authorized coups in Guatemala and in Iran), George H.W. Bush (the Gulf War’s Commander-in-Chief), and Ronald Reagan (the President who presided over Iran-Contra, El Salvador, Lebanon, Grenada, and the Mujahideen insurgency in Afghanistan as part of his multi-pronged offensive against the Soviet “Evil Empire”).

If these don’t sound like the role models of an isolationist libertarian, you are paying attention. As the Republican primary begins to creep up, Paul is moving closer to a perceived conservative middle-ground on foreign policy. It is a recasting that is deeply at odds with how Paul is perceived by his enemies and by many of his supporters. But to hear his advisers tell it, he barely changed at all.

“To begin, I guess you could say what he’s not: he’s not a neoconservative, a unilateralist on the one hand; and he’s not what some people call a liberal interventionist on the other,” Richard Burt, a former Ambassador to Germany and State Department Adviser to Ronald Reagan, who acts as an unofficial foreign policy adviser to Paul, told me. “I would put him in the mold of a traditional, Republican internationalist – more along the lines of a kind of Dwight Eisenhower, to some extent, Ronald Reagan, and maybe George H.W. Bush, in the sense that he, I think, he certainly is not an isolationist.”