The Paul We’ve Been Waiting For

In a WSJ op-ed late last week, Rand Paul finally showed his cards on Iraq, taking the neocons to task and invoking Reagan to make a case for not taking sides in the Iraq conflict. On Meet The Press yesterday, he defended his position, turning Cheney’s unhinged criticism of Obama back on the former vice president himself:

Money quote:

“I think the same questions could be asked of those who supported the Iraq War,” Paul said. “You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That’s what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable? Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out.”

Matt Welch compares Paul’s positions to those of the Cheneys:

The contrast is striking here not just in policy content but in tone. The Cheneys snarl about “appeasing our enemies,” “abandoning our allies,” and “apologizing for our great nation,” as if it was the 2004 Republican National Convention all over again. Paul, with the exception of one somewhat intemperate paragraph asking “Why should we listen to them again?”, approaches the question with an assumption of personal and national humility, a sense that American knowledge of (and power to shape) fluid events in the Middle East has limitations, as does American appetite for making the kind of commitments that the Cheneys of the world constantly seek … This is a pretty clearly defined fork in the road for GOP foreign policy.

Cheney’s thin retort says a lot in its omissions:

When asked about Paul’s comments, Cheney said his position hasn’t changed: “I was a strong supporter then of going into Iraq, I’m a strong supporter now.” (He was more vague about what exactly the U.S. should be doing in Iraq now, aside from it being the opposite of whatever President Obama is doing.) “If we spend our time debating what happened 11 or 12 years ago, we’re going to miss the threat that is growing and that we do face,” Cheney continued. “Rand Paul, with all due respect, is basically an isolationist. He doesn’t believe we ought to be involved in that part of the world. I think it’s absolutely essential.”

Later, Cheney said he hasn’t decided who he’ll support in 2016, but suggested it won’t be Paul. “Now, Rand Paul and — by my standards, as I look at his — his philosophy, is basically an isolationist,” he said. “That didn’t work in the 1930s, it sure as heck won’t work in the aftermath of 9/11, when 19 guys armed with airline tickets and box cutters came all the way from Afghanistan and killed 3,000 of our citizens.”

Look at the formulae that Cheney recites. He can’t actually address the debate over the Iraq war; he just reiterates his own position then and now. You get the impression he hasn’t actually had a single conversation in person challenging his rigid mindset since the war began. And once again, it’s the One Percent solution. When you posit a threat of apocalyptic devastation far beyond even the horror of 9/11, the cost-benefit analysis will always come down to maximal action everywhere and anywhere. But he hasn’t for a second absorbed that this apocalyptic vision was precisely what was debunked by the Iraq War.

There were no nukes or chemical weapons coming for us. They existed solely in Dick Cheney’s imagination. Thanks to Obama’s deal with Putin, there are also no WMDs left lying around the battlefield for ISIS to pick up and use. The alternative to getting the hell out of a region where we have only sowed chaos and sectarian warfare to no measurable gain is the boogey-man of “isolationism.” You have to conclude that Cheney is intellectually dead. Nothing that happened in the last fourteen years has made even the slightest dent in his terrorized worldview. Sometimes I wonder if Cheney was seriously traumatized by 9/11 in ways even more profound than the rest of us – it occurred on his watch, after all, and he was the recipient of all sorts of terrifying intelligence in the months that followed. But to have reacted by never moving on from his own terror on 9/12 is not a position. It’s a condition.

Meanwhile, Kilgore finds it odd that Paul references Reagan’s defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger:

Cap was less famous for his “doctrine” than for his persistence in securing the highest level of defense spending imaginable. In his endlessly fascinating account of the budget wars of Reagan’s first term, The Triumph of Politics, David Stockman all but calls Weinberger a traitor for his mendacious and successful efforts to trick Ronald Reagan into double-loading defense increases into his seminal 1981 budget proposal. This is one part of the Reagan-Weinberger legacy Paul will probably not want to emulate. And it matters: the most obvious way to convince reflexively belligerent Republicans that he’s kosher despite opposing various past, present and future military engagements would be to insist on arming America to the teeth. But Paul’s government-shrinking visions would make that sort of gambit very difficult. And try as he might, it will be very difficult for Paul to make a credible claim Ronald Reagan stood tall for taming the Pentagon.

The hawks are having a field day, of course. Here’s Rubin:

Understand that he doesn’t merely say we shouldn’t put boots on the ground; he argues that we don’t have an interest in the outcome. He manages to get through an entire op-ed without recognizing that a state dominated by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would represent a bigger threat to the United States than Afghanistan did pre-9/11. Paul observes that the Iraq war was harder than anticipated but ignores the success of the surge and the peaceful, stable state in which the George W. Bush administration left Iraq. He also borrows President Obama’s false talking point that we couldn’t leave forces there. (Paul incidentally doesn’t understand or is deliberately misleading readers when he says our actions in Syria contribute to the rise of ISIS there; in fact, had we swiftly pushed out Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, there would have been no – zero – ISIS fighters there.)