As visitors to her blog already know, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin has a big problem with Rand Paul. The disagreement centers on foreign policy, which is fair game and reflects a broader, genuine ideological split on the right. Except when it doesn’t …
Like when Rubin pretends to have uncovered an explosive video of Paul channeling isolationists from Robert Taft, Charles Lindbergh and Pat Buchanan. “Rand Paul trashed military option for Iran and blamed the U.S. for WWII,” reads the dramatic headline. Here’s Rubin setting the tone for her misleading post:
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s push to be a Reaganite on foreign policy is eviscerated by remarks caught on video last year in which he denigrates the potential use of force in Iran and bizarrely claims the United States was partially to blame for causing World War II.
Despite Rubin’s best efforts to create the perception that Rand Paul is Ron Paul, nothing he says in the video is radically “isolationist” or particularly bizarre. In fact, those who bother to watch the four-minute video would find Rand defending his vote for sanctions against Iran.
Rand, at least in this talk, lays out his reading of the debate over Iranian sanctions and explains why he takes a position on the “middle ground.” Paul mentions that “doing something” can be “worthwhile,” but that sanctions may also produce unintended consequences. This is not exactly an extremist notion. As an example, Paul poses the idea that post-World War I sanctions on Germany “may have encouraged some of their anger.” Now, I’m sure AEI’s David Adesnik, who Rubin quotes, is incredibly knowledgeable about the history of isolationism, but here he misrepresented Paul’s position. “Sen. Paul’s comments on Germany are so eccentric,” he says, “that it’s hard to be sure what he’s even talking about … There is extensive debate about whether German resentment of the Versailles Treaty helped bring Hitler to power. Yet Hitler didn’t just oppose Versailles; he wanted all of Europe to become a Nazi slave empire.”
I don’t entirely agree with Paul’s formulation, but contending that the punishment inflicted on Germany “after World War I” – which the United States played a part in – “may have” precipitated anger among Germans which in turn may have spurred resentment and made Nazism possible is neither an excuse for Nazism nor does it lay the blame for war on the United States. If the extent of the burden inflicted on Germany is a common debate, it is not eccentric. What Paul never contends is that Hitler’s ideology hinged on the idea of opposing Versailles. He was talking about Germany and Germans. In front of me is Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, where the author basically makes the same case and Margaret MacMillan’s Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, in which she writes that though Versailles’ impact had likely been exaggerated by German governments, it allowed political parties like the Nazis to tap into widespread “anger” and resentment. Sounds like that’s what Rand was saying.
Another thing Paul didn’t do was blame “the U.S. for Pearl Harbor.” Historians often debate the role that trade restrictions imposed by the United States may have had on Japan believing war with the United States was inevitable sooner than later. That neither excuses the Japanese fascism nor Japan’s attack. Yes, many isolationists make the case Adesnik is referring to, but Paul does not — at least not here.
Paul didn’t even really “trash” a military option for Iran, though clearly he’s not in favor of it. He lays out an array of legitimate concerns that should be considered. Not one of them is “I detest Israel.” Rubin dismisses Rand’s comment about a Mossad chief warning people to stop continually referring to Iranian weapons as an “existential threat” because it puts Israel in a precarious position should they have to live with a nuclear Iran. Well, as Rand “claimed,” Tamir Pardo, Mossad chief, reportedly said this:
On Tuesday evening, Pardo addressed an audience of about 100 Israeli ambassadors. According to three ambassadors present at the briefing, the intelligence chief said that Israel was using various means to foil Iran’s nuclear program and would continue to do so, but if Iran actually obtained nuclear weapons, it would not mean the destruction of the State of Israel. “What is the significance of the term existential threat?” the ambassadors quoted Pardo as asking. “Does Iran pose a threat to Israel? Absolutely. But if one said a nuclear bomb in Iranian hands was an existential threat, that would mean that we would have to close up shop and go home. That’s not the situation. The term existential threat is used too freely.”
But Rubin, who has a habit of speaking for all Israel supporters, seems to believe conservatives lacked any foreign policy tradition before 2001. Note: you can believe the United States isn’t guilty of causing World War II and still believe that bombing Iran is probably a bad idea. You can be a Reaganite and wonder if negating Iran’s nuclear program via military force is logistically possible or worth it. And a person can support Israel without sounding like war is the answer to every question.
There’s a legitimate foreign policy debate to be had between the neoconservatives and libertarian wings of the GOP. When Rand offers that “foreign policy is not always a right or wrong answer — there is murkiness,” he’s demonstrating a seriousness about the world that people with the moral certitude of Rubin never do. Whether you agree with him or not, his position is worthy of a serious response from hawkish conservatives. Taking a few innocuous comments and concocting an imaginary blame-America-first extremist doesn’t help your case. Actually, it reminds me a lot of people who throw around “Israel-firster” to attack people who defend the Jewish state.
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist and author of the The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter.