Rand Paul vs. Rick Perry on Foreign Policy: A 2016 Preview

There is no debate we’re a country in transition. The only debate is what we’re actually transitioning to, and whether we’ll be better or worse as a people for it.

Such transitions challenge trusted traditions to prove they’re still relevant. Old alliances are tested. And folks tend to gravitate to new ideas quickly before they’re fully vetted, mainly because they’ve lost faith in the old ideas.

In the political arena, nowhere will this attempted paradigm shift be more apparent than the foreign policy debate that could very well define the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. Recently, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul and Texas Governor Rick Perry gave us a preview.

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In a guest op-ed for The Washington Post, Governor Perry criticized Sen. Paul by name when he said, “It’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul, suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq.”

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Perry was just getting started. Also in the sharply-worded op-ed he referred to Paul as “curiously blind” to threats from radical Islamists in the Middle East. Perry then rebuked Paul’s claims his foreign policy aligns with Reagan’s: “His analysis is wrong. Paul conveniently omitted Reagan’s long internationalist record of leading the world with moral and strategic clarity.”

Perry may have a point there.

As I wrote for The Washington Times earlier this year, Paul’s father – former Texas Congressman Ron Paul – was often very critical of Reagan’s foreign policy exploits at the time. Ron Paul criticized Reagan for “ignoring world court rulings” against him, said Reagan was “determined to pick a fight” with Khadafi in Libya, urged Reagan to lift the Cuban embargo, and said “the invasion of Grenada is hardly the victory the American people were led to believe.”

His many foreign policy disagreements with Reagan helped prompt Ron Paul to leave the Republican Party for a time, and he became the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president back in 1988. While his son, Rand, may be known for urging non-interventionism in foreign affairs, when it comes to domestic politics he chose to fire right back at Perry.

In a column for Politico with the not-so-subtle title “Rick Perry is Dead Wrong,” Rand says “with 60,000 foreign children streaming across the Texas border, I am surprised (Perry) has apparently found time to mischaracterize and attack my foreign policy.”

But that’s not all. Not by a long shot. Paul also wrote:

In fact, some of Perry’s solutions for the current chaos in Iraq aren’t much different from what I’ve proposed, something he fails to mention. His solutions also aren’t much different from President Barack Obama’s, something he also fails to mention. Because interestingly enough, there isn’t that many good choices right now in dealing with this situation in Iraq. So what are Perry’s solutions and why does he think they are so bold and different from anyone else’s? He writes in the Washington Post, “the president can and must do more with our military and intelligence communities to help cripple the Islamic State. Meaningful assistance can include intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sharing and airstrikes.”

The United States is actually doing all of this now. President Obama has said he might use airstrikes in the future. I have also been open to the same option if it makes sense. I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq, which include armaments and intelligence. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat. I also want to stop sending U.S. aid and arms to Islamic rebels in Syria who are allied with ISIS, something Perry doesn’t even address. I would argue that if anything, my ideas for this crisis are both stronger, and not rooted simply in bluster. If the governor continues to insist that these proposals mean I’m somehow “ignoring ISIS,” I’ll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry’s opinions.

I have a hard time imagining Paul’s father supporting any of the measures that Rand has put in writing here. I saw Ron Paul in a GOP presidential debate prior to the 2011 Iowa Straw Poll say he didn’t think we should intervene to stop terrorist-sponsoring Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Even going so far as to say “one can understand why (Iran) might want to become a nuclear capable, if only to defend themselves and to be treated more respectfully.”

Rand’s tough talk in Politico is one of several departures from his father on foreign policy, which shows he’s not nearly as devoted to non-interventionism/libertarian orthodoxy as his father was. Rand also broke ranks from his dad when he said last year “an attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the U.S.” In fact, Rand’s father would’ve panned these words as “war mongering” if they came from George W. Bush or Dick Cheney.

When it comes to foreign policy, Rand has already gone out of his way to show he is not a chip off the old block. Nevertheless, his detractors/campaign rivals like Perry are going to force him to continue to make that case. Rand’s ability to do so, without alienating his father’s non-interventionist base that he obviously needs at the same time, could go a long way towards determining his fate in the race for the nomination.

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