A Brief History of Rand Paul's Evolving 'I'm Not An Isolationist' Op-Eds

Sen. Rand Paul continued his tradition of weighing in on the world's analysis of his foreign policy with another op-ed Thursday in Time magazine.

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Sen. Rand Paul continued his tradition of weighing in on the world's analysis of his foreign policy with another op-ed Thursday for Time magazine. "I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist," he wrote. "I look at the world, and consider war, realistically and constitutionally."

But this time, instead of sparring with Rick Perry or Ted Cruz over whether he's an isolationist — as he has in past opinion pieces — Paul's essay addresses his own shift. After weeks of chastising more hawkish politicians (on the left and on the right) and cautioning against another invasion in Iraq, Paul told the Associated Press in an email:

If I were President, I would call a joint session of Congress. I would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily."

Emphasis added. While this is being called Paul's flip-flop moment, or metamorphosisThe Huffington Post noted that "much has changed" since Paul warned against intervention in June. That change has shown in his various op-eds in response to critics of his foreign policy over the last several months — this time he's defending himself from himself.

"Everyone Stop Warping Reagan's Foreign Policy" (March 10)


Prompted By: Sen. Ted Cruz. That week Cruz said that while he's a big fan of Paul and they're friends, "I don't agree with him on foreign policy ... I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad, but I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did." At CPAC the week before Cruz painted himself as the middle ground between supposed over eager war hawks like Sen. John McCain and isolationists like Paul. From Slate:

The Republican Party—you can point to two points on the spectrum, where Republicans lie. On one side you have the views of John McCain. The other end of the spectrum, you have the views of Rand Paul. Now, with respect, my views are very much the views of Ronald Reagan, which I would suggest is a third point on the triangle.

Paul was not amused.

Response:  In an op-ed for Breitbart, Paul argued that, actually, Reagan was criticized by Republican war hawks for meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev and pulling forces out of the Middle East. In other words, certain people "too often people make (Reagan) into something he wasn’t in order to serve their own political purposes" possibly for "lack of their own ideas and agenda."

Key Passage:

I don’t claim to be the next Ronald Reagan nor do I attempt to disparage fellow Republicans as not being sufficiently Reaganesque. But I will remind anyone who thinks we will win elections by trashing previous Republican nominees or holding oneself out as some paragon in the mold of Reagan, that splintering the party is not the route to victory.

"America Shouldn't Choose Sides in Iraq's Civil War" (June 19)


Prompted By: Increased violence in Iraq, and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Two days before Paul's essay, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Cheney and his daughter Liz, arguing that the crisis in Iraq was his fault.

Response: In his Journal op-ed and on the Sunday talk shows, Paul refused to put all of the blame on the president, and instead placed some blame on those who were for the war in Iraq. Not that the Cheney/Paul feud is new — as Mother Jones reported, in 2009 Paul argued that Cheney used 9/11 to start the Iraq war to benefit his former company Halliburton. Paul has walked back from that, but the two still disagree.

Key Passage: 

Many of those clamoring for military action now are the same people who made every false assumption imaginable about the cost, challenge and purpose of the Iraq war. They have been so wrong for so long. Why should we listen to them again?

"Rick Perry Is Dead Wrong" (July 14)


Prompted By: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, supposedly being dead wrong. Specifically, Perry wrote an op-ed on July 11 in The Washington Post, directly responding to Paul's Wall Street Journal essay. Perry wrote:

I can understand the emotions behind isolationism. Many people are tired of war, and the urge to pull back is a natural, human reaction. Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further. That’s why it’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq. 

Response: In a nutshell, Paul argued in Politico that Perry was mischaracterizing his arguments, and both of them, along with President Obama, agree that intelligence, air strikes and other alternatives to troops on the ground work.

Key Passages:

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 aren’t that many good choices right now in dealing with this situation in Iraq."

(Meanwhile, here's Paul's sassiest passage: "There are obviously many important events going on in the world right now, but with 60,000 foreign children streaming across the Texas border, I am surprised Governor Perry has apparently still found time to mischaracterize and attack my foreign policy.")

"How U.S. Interventionists Abetted the Rise of ISIS" (August 27)


Prompted By: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's argument — made during an interview in The Atlantic — that the U.S. should have armed moderate groups in Syria to prevent extremist groups like ISIS from gaining power. While Clinton's hawkishness was criticized by Democrats, Paul condemned her comments in his Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Response: Basically, Clinton is a "war hawk," as he said during an appearance on NBC's Meet the Press last month, and it's a good thing she didn't get her way in Syria.

Key Passage: 

To interventionists like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, we would caution that arming the Islamic rebels in Syria created a haven for the Islamic State. We are lucky Mrs. Clinton didn't get her way and the Obama administration did not bring about regime change in Syria. That new regime might well be ISIS."

"'I Am Not An Isolationist'" (September 4)


Prompted By: Rand Paul, and ISIL. Concern over the Islamic State has grown exponentially, to the point that Paul — who has been slow to call for action — says he would "destroy ISIS militarily." On Wednesday, on Sean Hannity's show, he said that he would ask Congress for the power to destroy ISIL military, with regional forces from Iran, Syria and Turkey taking the lead. It's likely also in response to the president saying we "don't have a strategy" in Syria — Paul uses strategy or strategic nine times.

Response: This is not the same Paul who, in his op-ed on Perry in July, pointed out that he and Obama had very similar ideas on how to handle Iraq, including airstrikes. "If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS," he wrote. "I would have called Congress back into session—even during recess."

Key Passage: 

This is what President Obama should have done. He should have been prepared with a strategic vision, a plan for victory and extricating ourselves. He should have asked for authorization for military action and would have, no doubt, received it."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.