Rand Paul Rand-splains Cuba to Marco Rubio

Libertarian icon Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) embarrassed himself on Friday when he took to Twitter to respond to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) who recently insisted that the junior senator from Kentucky “has no idea what he’s talking about” with regards to his support for lifting restrictions on bilateral relations with the Cuban government. By attempting to defend himself, Paul ably proved the Florida senator correct.


Paul began…

And this one got the libertarian supporters cheering in the stands:

He continued:

And, finally, Paul closed:

Paul’s arguments above were summed in an op-ed released on Friday in Time Magazine.

Where to begin?

First, as The Federalist’s Sean Davis pointed out, the parallels between the extension of diplomatic relations to Cuba and similar overtures toward China and Vietnam are misguided. The American interest in “opening” China was primarily political; exacerbate Sino-Soviet tensions, bifurcate the communist world, and provide America with a freer hand to prosecute the Vietnam War.

China under Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping engaged in dramatic market-oriented economic reforms in the 1970s, and there was no “normalization” of relations between Beijing and Washington until 1979 – well after Kissinger and then Nixon had famously visited the reclusive communist giant in 1971 and 1972 respectively. Reforms first, normalization second.


Moreover, the suggestion that the opening of bilateral diplomatic ties and business relations between America and China helped to transform the People’s Republic into a human rights paragon overnight is complicated by the 1989 massacre of peaceful pro-Democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square. Even today, despite a booming and markedly capitalist economy, China remains one of the world’s leading human rights abusers.

Since bilateral trade relations alone cannot be counted on to spark internal democratic reforms, it must be – and traditionally has been — granted only as a reward for reforms undertaken preemptively.

As for Vietnam, a shift in policy in that country also preceded the normalization of relations with America. The most notable of these was Hanoi’s decision to withdraw its troops from Cambodia in 1989 following years of requests.

“Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia has been, along with the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, one of the major East-West issues,” The New York Times reported at the time. “China had vowed not to improve relations with Moscow until the Vietnamese left Cambodia. And Vietnam’s own efforts to obtain aid and recognition from the United States in the aftermath of the Vietnam war were frustrated by Washington’s insistence that Hanoi withdraw its troops from Cambodia first.”

Reforms first, normalization second.

Paul has admitted, perhaps unwittingly, that he does not regard internal reforms as a necessary precursor to the normalization of Washington’s relations with communist nations; a break from previous American foreign policy upheld by all American presidents with the exception of Barack Obama.


In fact, Paul mirrored tired Obama’s rhetorical tactics when he erected the straw man of “isolationism” – a false equivalency that irritates both the junior Kentucky senator and his libertarian backers mightily – in order to slay it. He might as well have said that he “rejects this false choice.”

As for Paul’s contention that the majority of Cuban-Americans (as well as the majority of all Americans) support the normalization of relations with Cuba, he’s not wrong. But America is not a democracy. We elect the representatives with expertise in the fields of governance and international relations which are most qualified to manage America’s complicated foreign affairs. Should the American Congress decide that it is in the best interests of the United States to open relations with Cuba, it will reflect the will of the people. As it is, the president has unilaterally made that determination himself; an act well within his authority, but one so autocratic that it is shocking a self-professed supporter of limited executive power would support it so fervently.

Paul represents a libertarian wing of the GOP which provides the party with a critical infusion of youth and vitality. On the domestic front, libertarian policy prescriptions are often inspired and would if adopted produce the long-sought conservative goal of reduced governmental interference into American lives. Paul’s approach to foreign policy matters are, however, not nearly as well-founded as are his domestic reforms.


If Paul’s intention in this burst of tweets was to both reveal his ignorance of the history of normalizing relationships with communist countries and to almost perfectly echo the most liberal president in modern American history, mission accomplished. His judgment has, however, been exposed by this episode as rather questionable.

An earlier version of this article failed to note the premiership of Zhou Enlai.

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