Paul is, in essence, a non-interventionist who's been trying to rebrand himself as a realist to better influence a party that's been dominated by hawkish voices since the early 2000s. And his strategy, crucially, has been neither the "go along to get along" approach that McCarthy criticizes nor some kind of frontal, guns-blazing assault on the "Fox-fed" ideas of "Tea Party neocons." Instead, Paul has done what successful politicians tend to do: He's picked his battles, done outreach to his critics, and consistently framed his arguments in language that conservative voters and activists understand. This has enabled him to break with the party's hawkish tilt on a number of substantive questions, from the Libya and Syria debates to issues of executive power to the question of whether containment should be an option for dealing with Iran, without coming in for anything like the attacks that greeted Hagel's nomination. He's put his foot in his mouth here and there and taken fire from both his friends and foes along the way, and future world events (particularly events related to Iran) may upset his tightrope walk. But at the moment he seems like living, breathing proof that there's room for actual foreign policy debate within the Republican coalition, and that not every non-hawk need be dismissed as a RINO and read out of the party.
What Paul seems to understand is that the Republican base doesn't really have a detailed set of foreign policy positions: What it has, instead, is the cluster of sympathies and instincts (pro-Israel, pro-military, nationalist rather than globalist, fretful about radical Islam, skeptical of international institutions) that Walter Russell Mead has famously dubbed"Jacksonianism," which can incline G.O.P. voters for or against different policy choices depending on how those options are presented. So if you want to reach the base, and move the party, you need to speak the base's language and respect its basic outlook on the world — which is something that Paul has done much more successfully than many members of Washington-based realist community.
This means, for instance, talking about war powers rather than the U.N. when the White House is contemplating a war of choice. It means invoking the constitution rather than international law to critique Obama's drone campaign. It means invoking Israel's own internal debates, rather than just blasting AIPAC's influence in Washington, to make the case for caution vis-a-vis a military strike on Iran. And it means finding ways to be a party loyalist on some votes in order to gain maneuvering room on others — as Paul tried to do, admittedly somewhat clumsily, by voting against cloture for Hagel but then voting to approve nomination.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Rand Paul's Foreign Policy Tightrope
An interesting piece in one of the New York Times opinion blogs on what Rand Paul is trying to do: