Movement conservative opinion on Rand Paul’s filibuster seems roughly split between enthusiasm and derision. The derisives group around McCain’s view that Paul was grandstanding on a kind of “black helicopter” issue, one so farfetched as not to merit serious discussion. More interesting, however, were two neoconservative attacks targeting Rand’s supposedly hidden agenda.
As the filibuster was taking place, Jonathan Tobin of Commentary wrote that Paul’s real beef is not the threat of drones being deployed domestically, but something else:
The attempt to shift the discussion about drones to the fanciful suggestion that the Justice Department might target Tea Party members is a red herring. Paul’s core objection to the drone program remains what he calls the “perpetual war” against Islamist terrorists.
Most Americans, Tobin argues, support drone strikes against al-Qaeda terrorists, even those not actively attacking U.S. troops. But not Rand Paul, claims Tobin: the senator
does seem to oppose the drone strikes. Indeed, anyone who heard all or most of his several hours of talk on the subject heard a great deal that shows he thinks the “perpetual war” against the Islamists is the real problem.
Michael Gerson in the Washington Post elaborated on this broader Paul agenda in a column bluntly titled “Rand Paul masks his true world-view.” What is it? Gerson explains:
But in the course of a 13-hour filibuster, it becomes impossible to hide your deeper motivations. Paul employs the prospect of drone murders in an attempt to discredit the “perpetual war” in which “the whole world is a zone of war.” His actual target is the war on terrorism, which he regards as unconstitutional and counterproductive.
As further evidence, Gerson cites a speech Rand Paul made last summer in Tampa, Florida, the wrap-up to his father’s presidential campaign. There he praised his Dad for raising the concept of “blowback”—saying that if his father hadn’t raised it, no one would have. Gerson then goes on to quote Ron Paul, who repeated his oft-made point that much of the animosity against America—including that of the terrorists who carried out 9/11—was in response to America’s own aggressive foreign policies. (From Gerson’s account of the rally, it seems that Rand was simply praising his father for bringing blowback into the conversation, while not explicitly endorsing the concept.) Gerson concludes that Rand Paul is not really a “realist” as he describes himself, in the “Hagel” mode, but rather Rand is someone who believes—like his father—that American actions in the world are sometimes the cause for people to hate us. (Touching, is it not, to see the neocons, only weeks after depicting Chuck Hagel as the spawn of Ezra Pound, using him as an examplar of sober realism?)
It seems premature to give Rand Paul that much credit. Everyone who pays attention to world public opinion, especially in the Muslim world, knows it’s bloody obvious that American policies generate animosity—though not all policies and not among all Muslims. But Gerson is correct that few American politicians are inclined to acknowledge that fact directly.
Is Rand Paul—by casually letting slip the phrase “perpetual war” into a 13-hour filibuster—really readying a stand against the forever war? It would be exciting if he were. The idea that the United States should fight a perpetual war against radical Islam, which itself is going through a civilizational civil war (which Americans understand not at all), seems a dead-sure recipe to expose the United States to more terrorism, more restrictions on civil liberties, and budget deficits as far as the eye can see. The United States, half the world away, could survive quite well with a much smaller footprint in the Muslim world and hardly needs to take on for itself the project of eliminating every Muslim terrorist, real or potential. Do you think China squanders resources on ambitions like that?
I must confess, however, that I don’t see, yet, much real evidence that Rand Paul is going to become our century’s William Fulbright and lead a fight over this question. The neoconservative suspicions seem more based on his patrimony and over-interpretations of an isolated phrase here and there. But to be sure, neocon opinion minders are watching him closely and warily. They are on perpetual guard duty to squash any emergent tribune of “isolationist” sentiment, particularly in the Republican Party. They believe—probably correctly—that some variant of a more restrained, less belligerent foreign policy would be the most popular American position if it found effective leadership. Some now fear this is Rand Paul’s hidden agenda. Let’s hope they are right.