Rand Paul's scattershot foreign policy is starting to make sense

But he’s spent much of the past four years putting distance between himself and his father on foreign policy. Even during his Senate campaign, Paul privately solicited advice from a few of his father’s biggest foreign policy critics, including Bill Kristol and Dan Senor. Since getting to Washington, he’s angered some of his father’s most fervent supporters by voting for sanctions against Iran; seemingly siding with Benjamin Netanyahu over Barack Obama on Israel’s settlement policies; and joining Republican hawks in filibustering Chuck Hagel’s nomination as secretary of defense.

This hasn’t been an easy transition for Paul. Not only has he left himself open on the aforementioned flip-flopping charges, he’s also, on occasion, appeared almost too eager to appease some of his father’s critics—such as when he proposed halting aid to the Palestinian government unless it recognized Israel’s right to exist. As Jonathan Chait noted at the time, most American pro-Israel groups, like AIPAC, support U.S. aid to the Palestinian government. His recent support for airstrikes against ISIS, meanwhile, was greeted by John McCain with a mocking, “Way to go, Rand, way to go! … He’s saying this because he’s running for president. That’s why he’s saying it.” And it’s true that Paul’s aversion to military interventions has opened him up to attacks not only from potential Republican presidential rivals, like Rick Perry, but from Democrats, too.

Still, whatever his motivations, Paul, through it all, has arrived at something of a coherent foreign policy philosophy. As he explained it in his biggest foreign policy speech to date, at the Heritage Foundation last year, “I am a realist, not a neoconservative nor an isolationist.” If that sounded Obama-esque in its attempt to find a middle way between competing straw men, the fact is that, in GOP foreign policy debates, those straw men are real people like John McCain and Ron Paul.