It doesn’t matter if Rand Paul is a squish on foreign policy

That goes for whether you’re a closet isolationist or a Toby Keith-listening Straussian. Here’s why.

Watch how Bill Kristol makes his argument here, first laying out that he believes the president has the authority to strike ISIS unilaterally, before suggesting, despite Rand Paul having said more than a week earlier that he would support legislation to “destroy ISIS militarily,” that Rand Paul would be a ‘no’ vote if Obama is taking it to Congress. He’s just blatantly misrepresenting Paul’s position. Make no mistake, that’s the message that the hawks want to send, to be for “leadership” or “peace through strength” means disregarding Congress’s prerogatives.

Last night featured a report by Tim Mak that both Paul and John McCain are asking the president to put it to a vote, though McCain claims the president doesn’t need to.

When Paul endorsed destroying ISIS, progressive writers reacted by calling him a flip-flopper, Republican hawks treated him like an errant schoolboy who’s finally coming around, Jennifer Rubin reacted by extruding another pile of snide bullshit, to all of which Paul responded in Time saying he’s not an isolationist.

However, he did have a piece in the Wall Street Journal on August 27 about how the U.S. abetted the rise of ISIS, which is one of those facts everybody knows is true but violates the America-never-does-anything-wrong ideologues’ catechism.

La Rubin, for example, calls this reasoning “perverse,” and quotes Elliott Abrams:

“In fact we’ve done in Syria exactly what Rand Paul always wants to do–nothing–and we see the result. It’s the steady growth of a murderous, barbarous terrorist group that now threatens even the homeland.”

Christian Whiton has been pushing this “next to nothing” in Syria line too. And Rick Moran suggests that Paul is reading too much Alex Jones. They’re all ignoring the facts or being intentionally misleading.

Wikileaks revealed that we’ve been funding the Syrian opposition since 2006, and Obama used a legal loophole to begin lethal aid in 2013. But it probably began before that. General William Boykin claims the Benghazi consulate was being used for an operation involving getting arms to Syria, the CIA denies it. Funding stepped up in 2012, right after an agreement that said, according to Seymour Hirsch, that’s what the CIA was supposed to do:

In January, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on the assault by a local militia in September 2012 on the American consulate and a nearby undercover CIA facility in Benghazi, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three others. The report’s criticism of the State Department for not providing adequate security at the consulate, and of the intelligence community for not alerting the US military to the presence of a CIA outpost in the area, received front-page coverage and revived animosities in Washington, with Republicans accusing Obama and Hillary Clinton of a cover-up. A highly classified annex to the report, not made public, described a secret agreement reached in early 2012 between the Obama and Erdoğan administrations. It pertained to the rat line. By the terms of the agreement, funding came from Turkey, as well as Saudi Arabia and Qatar; the CIA, with the support of MI6, was responsible for getting arms from Gaddafi’s arsenals into Syria. A number of front companies were set up in Libya, some under the cover of Australian entities. Retired American soldiers, who didn’t always know who was really employing them, were hired to manage procurement and shipping. The operation was run by David Petraeus, the CIA director who would soon resign when it became known he was having an affair with his biographer. (A spokesperson for Petraeus denied the operation ever took place.)

There was this Fox report about a ship docked in Turkey with missiles bound for Syria, just five days before the attack on the Benghazi facility, and this one from CNN about the CIA wanting to keep it very quiet that there were “dozens of people working for the CIA” on the ground that night.

Since it’s not always easy to distinguish between a moderate and non-moderate Syrian rebel, and there are fewer and fewer of the moderates every day, it is not unreasonable to assume many of these weapons are now in the hands of ISIS. Also, there’s this report by Erin Banco which claims James Foley was used as a bargaining chip by one of these so-called moderate groups.

Add to this the fact that ISIS was founded the same year we began funding the Syrian opposition, and perhaps Peter Weber could be a little more charitable about this “chain of causation,” or at least towards the many people in the Muslim world who seem to think it exists too.

Even John McCain tried to have it both ways by saying when the administration wanted to arm the FSA, they really wanted to “arm ISIS.”

So, just consider for a moment the unprecedented political backflips — Matt Welch calls it “strategic slipperiness” — Rand Paul is making just to be able to make a case against sending rocket launchers to the most murderous gang of savages on the planet.

This should all be completely obvious, but it’s inconvenient for both progressive and neocon columnists to acknowledge.

*****

Unfortunately, arming questionable parties is one of the things America is good at; we’ve been at it for a long time, and usually under the guise of democracy promotion. In fact, this is one of the more interesting details of Obama’s biography; if he’s a red diaper baby, why would his mom move back to Indonesia after Suharto came to power? No, no, look how the Washington Post describes his stepfather’s return:

He had been summoned back to his country from Hawaii in 1966 and sent to work in New Guinea for a year because the ruling regime, after a widespread, bloody purge of communists and leftists, was leery of students who had gone abroad and wanted them back and under control. To his mother, power was ugly, Obama determined: “It fixed in her mind like a curse.” But to his stepfather, power was reality — and he “made his peace” with it.

That is some very strange and evasive phrasing, even for a newspaper. Dreams from My Father even mentions Lolo being involved in “unspeakable things” in the jungles of New Guinea.

Obama’s mother also worked for USAID during her time in Jakarta, which is one of those instruments of soft imperialism that anti-Western governments almost always try to throw out.

In the president’s family in Indonesia, you had under one roof the vanguard of American — not Kenyan communist — power, the democracy-promoter, and the third world militant. If you squint hard enough our policy towards Ukraine and Syria almost starts to make sense.

*****

So, let’s leave out for a minute the theory that Paul ought to stay in the Senate and bide his time rather than running in 2016, taking for granted that the overriding priority is to put a brake on the sovereign civil service and international relations establishment — as covered yesterday — that leads us to do these crazy things.

They are all parts of what Moldbug characterized as a gorilla on acid:

The state is (or at least may be) strong. But it is also mad. Thus, sometimes, often or always, its strength is wielded in the service of Chaos and not Cosmos. In short, the 800-pound gorilla is on acid. …

We see an 800-pound gorilla on acid, whooping it up at the wheel of a running bulldozer. Your libertarian says: stop that bulldozer! Your Carlylean says: stop that gorilla!

A bulldozer, well-made, well-maintained and well-operated, is a positive force in the world. But only if it is controlled by a man and not a gorilla. If you saw a bulldozer driven by a qualified bulldozer operator, dear libertarian, would you cry: stop that bulldozer! I think not. You might be amazed at all the good works a qualified bulldozer operator can work with a bulldozer.

Of course, the world at present contains no such thing as a qualified bulldozer operator.

Tawdry as one may find it, as far as I’m concerned a reasonable goal for 2016 would be to have the reins of the Pentagon and State Department in the hands of an administration that wouldn’t do a thing like planning to invade Iraq three months after 9/11, or arming ISIS. Perhaps that is an unattainable goal. But I don’t think anyone believes Hillary would give us steadier hands.

At present, Rand Paul is not credible on foreign policy, and does not have the sort of deep experiential knowledge of American folly that his father gained from his years in Congress. There is simply no policy cadre or operative intellectual framework by which he could articulate a raise-the-drawbridge sort of worldview, if that were even Paul’s intention (again, I don’t think it matters). There is no isolationist Brookings, because foreign governments wouldn’t give money to Brookings if they didn’t think they could get something out of it. There is no isolationist foreign policy establishment, and the overwhelming majority of those who take jobs at the State Department and the like have been educated based on assumptions about hegemonic American power. To a large extent this infrastructure will have to be built if it is to exist at all.

This is really my central point: Even if you believe there’s a duty somewhere in the Constitution to police the world or “end terrorism” or stop genocide in some godforsaken sandpit, you should really be skeptical that so many of the minds that shape foreign policy are either extreme ideologues or paid by foreign governments. Often both.

What we could reasonably hope for is for a president to have competent foreign policy advisors. Remember, even George W. Bush promised us a “humble” foreign policy. It’s perhaps overly charitable to say that he was led astray by his advisors, but there’s a high degree of that that goes on. I can’t imagine the hell we would have unleashed if Danielle Pletka, John Bolton, Jamie Fly, and assorted other extremists had a hotline to a Romney administration.

There are, thank god, moderate people left; largely realists who haven’t followed Bolton down the primrose path to a Fox News residency in threat exaggeration. The Free Beacon is very nervous about Rand Paul making common cause with elements of the realist camp, as you can see from this story by Alana Goodman. That’s a good sign.

With no grand strategy and an international relations establishment funded by foreign governments and operating on assumptions that are anathema to American liberty and global stability, we should be prepared to give Rand Paul wide latitude  as he tries to pull the country away from a framework of perpetual war. That means not expecting him to adhere to libertarian dogma all, or even most, of the time. He has already demonstrated a willingness to push back against these people. His stated positions completely aside, that they hate him and see him as a threat means he more than deserves our support. And the benefit of the doubt.

(Photo credit: American hero Gage Skidmore)

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