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National Security

Paul and Graham Both Have Something to Learn

The intraparty feud is missing the point: Obama's failed policies.

Nate Jackson · Jun. 2, 2015

There’s no mistaking that foreign policy is a driving issue in the 2016 election — or at least the GOP primary. And it’s making for a heated debate. Whereas Rand Paul is the only Republican running on a noninterventionist platform, other Republicans have opened fire on him. In some cases it’s deserved, but both sides could use a bit of message refinement.

Paul’s fight over the NSA’s massive metadata collection program has been admirable, even if his claim that proponents want an attack so as to prove him wrong were detestable. He also recently channeled a bit of his father’s penchant for unfairly blaming the chaos in the world on American foreign policy. To be sure, there is enough truth to some of both Pauls’ claims to make them sting. America doesn’t have a spotless track record, and there are consequences to both failure and success. Just one example of bad policy yielding trouble: U.S. interference in Iran in the 1970s led to that nation’s current regime. Barack Obama would have no mullahs with which to negotiate a bad nuclear deal had it not been for the yeoman’s work of America’s former worst president, Jimmy Carter.

But Paul took his rhetoric too far toward the noxious Blame America First platform of the Democrats when he said, “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb [Syrian dictator Bashar al-] Assad, which would have made ISIS’s job even easier. They’ve created these people.”

He’s putting the emphasis in the wrong place. In Mark Alexander’s latest column on the related subject of Iraq, he wrote:

The objective of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in 2003 was 1. to remove Saddam Hussein from his reign of terror and disable his capacity to establish a regional hegemony; 2. to eliminate Iraq as a principal state sponsor of terrorism and find and remove any weapons of mass destruction that could end up in the hands of terrorists; 3. to establish a stable democratic government in Iraq; and 4. to establish a forward deployed military capability in Iraq to ensure regional stability.

Our military forces, at great cost in blood and treasure, accomplished the first of these objectives and largely accomplished the second and third under President George W. Bush. The fourth was well underway and was left up to Bush’s successor, Barack Obama. But out of pure political expedience, Obama chose failure. …

Tyranny does not tolerate a vacuum, and when Obama vacated Iraq the “JV Team” quickly filled it.

We too argued against indiscriminately arming Syria rebels, just as Paul has, but the rise of the Islamic State was largely due to Obama’s abandonment of Iraq. Arming Syrian rebels was a questionable idea because of the rise of the jihadi army and the difficulty in telling the difference between the bad guys and the worse guys.

And Paul could certainly do better than to blame those in his own party — even if he is trying to establish his libertarian bona fides for his presidential run.

That said, there are at least two hawks in the presidential field who favored Obama’s plan to oust Assad, and they are Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. Paul no doubt meant his comments for them.

Graham, who officially announced Monday, is running as The Hawk With the Experience, the guy who never met a military intervention he didn’t like. He is at once gunning for Paul and for Rubio, who he deems too inexperienced.

Recall that in 2013, Libya was descending into chaos following Obama’s foolish actions to remove Moammar Gadhafi with no follow-up strategy, and conservatives feared a repeat in Syria. Obama was thumping his chest over removing Assad with no plan to keep the then-infant Islamic State from taking over during the raging civil war. Graham was on board with Obama’s plan, only lamenting it didn’t go further.

In fact, Graham is so guns-a-blazin’ that he would even use drones to kill American citizens who merely think about joining the Islamic State. That’s exactly why the surveillance state is troublesome.

Both Graham and Paul — and every other GOP candidate — could learn something here. The Islamic State has risen because Barack Obama failed to lead and confront the threat. He chose to abandon Iraq, leaving a vacuum, all while Assad was weakened by civil war, leading to a power struggle in Syria too. Instead of a forward deployed American force working for stability, the Islamic State controls half of Iraq and Syria.

And among at least some of the GOP candidates, thoughtful debate and policy solutions have fallen by the wayside in favor of foolish rhetoric.

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