Posted by Curt on 20 December, 2014 at 10:49 am. 11 comments already!



Noah already wrote a policy rebuttal to Paul’s position, which Paul elaborated on this afternoon in a new op-ed at Time. (The op-ed, unlike his tweets, doesn’t mention Rubio by name. Although it does approvingly cite … George W. Bush?) Anyone want to make the case that thepolitics of attacking Rubio on this issue were smart, at least? I can’t figure out why Rand would do it.

When I tweeted out my surprise a few hours ago, a dozen people tweeted back, “Maybe Paul’s just saying what he really believes.” No doubt. But the thing that distinguishes Rand from Ron and what makes him a legit contender for the nomination is that he’s willing to temper his foreign policy positions in order to make himself more appealing to mainstream conservatives. Remember when he complained earlier this year, as things got hairy in Ukraine, how certain Republicans (*cough*McCain*cough*) always seemed to want to “tweak” Russia? That was a fine libertarian/paleocon sentiment. A few weeks later, after Putin had gotten more aggressive and conservatives were demanding that Obama show some muscle, Paul took to Time magazine to demand “strong action” against Russia. Remember when he scoffed at the idea of intervening again in Iraq, with the U.S. effectively serving as “Iran’s air force” by bombing ISIS, only to decide a few months later as conservatives rallied for force that he would seek to destroy ISIS militarily as president? Last month he introduced a bill to formally declare war on the group that would even allow ground troops in certain limited circumstances. Remember when he seemingly endorsed containment of Iran on ABC’s Sunday news show, only to come back the next week after the predictable uproar on the right ensued with an op-ed insisting he was “unequivocally” not for containing Iran? It’s not just conservatives who’ve noticed these reversals. Members of Paul’s libertarian base like Jacob Sullum and others at Reason have noticed them too. And everyone understands what it’s about: Rand’s afraid that if he takes a traditional libertarian line on hot-button foreign policy matters, it’ll be too easy for 2016 rivals to convince tea partiers that he’s just like his old man after all and can’t be trusted to protect America. Watering down his libertarian impulses may be cynical, but it’s smart.

So … why pick a fight with Rubio, then? It would have been easy for him to oppose the embargo while hedging enough to make conservatives comfortable with his position. E.g., “I believe in the liberating power of trade and support lifting sanctions on Cuba, but I’m concerned that Senator Rubio is right that this will mainly be a windfall for the Castros, not the Cuban people. The president needs to do more to ensure that the benefits of trade flow to the public, not to the regime, starting with demanding democratic reforms.” At the very least, he should have emphasized the point made by Noah, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and many others that tossing a bunch of capital into a corrupt, cronyistic socialist swamp with no meaningful civic institutions is likely to produce a fascist oligarchy like modern Russia, not a truly free state. But Rand didn’t hedge; instead he went right at Rubio, mocking him with a too-cute-by-half crack that Rubio’s the real isolationist. Why? Why, with the primary campaign just weeks away from going full tilt, would he suddenly refuse to pander to a position that probably 85 percent of the right-wingers he’s trying to woo hold?

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