Apparently Rand Paul doesn’t meet Justin Raimondo’s eccentric and ever-changing purity test. Six months ago, Raimondo was full of praise for two reliable hawks who supported the Iraq war because they happened to be making the right politically expedient noises on Afghanistan, and he was cheering on Rep. Jason Chaffetz in particular as an example that the antiwar right was on the rise. As I pointed out at the time, Chaffetz believes that the United States should “take out” Iran’s nuclear facilities, which means that he explicitly called for starting a war with Iran. That didn’t bother Raimondo. However, Raimondo does think that Rand Paul’s statements on Iran are intolerably bad. So once again a consistent, early opponent of the Iraq war gets no credit from Raimondo, and Paul is now being held to a higher standard on Iran policy than the pro-war, pro-gasoline sanctions Chaffetz Raimondo celebrates.
I don’t deny that Rand Paul’s position on Iran leaves a lot to be desired. In the interview Raimondo cites, Paul says that he opposes government subsidies to companies doing business in Iran. That doesn’t mean very much, since the U.S. government doesn’t subsidize companies that do business in Iran. It is a formally pro-sanctions position without any new sanctions attached. He also wants public pension plans to divest any Iranian holdings, which is hardly the stuff of “crippling” sanctions, and it is probably just as meaningless as the other one. Divestment is futile for rather obvious reasons, and Paul overestimates the threat to regional stability from an Iranian nuclear weapon, and it is mistaken to say that a military option is on the table if one has no intention of exercising it.
As unfortunate as some of this is, there are some encouraging signs here. What seems significant is that Paul does not claim to favor imposing gasoline sanctions on Iran, nor does he voice any support for “crippling” sanctions of any kind. He does not go so far as to say that Iran’s nuclear weapons pose a threat to the United States, but instead he takes the exaggerated but more defensible position that they would contribute to regional instability. Obviously, he doesn’t volunteer any view in support of preventive war. Compared to Jason “The Time To Take Out This Threat Is Now” Chaffetz, Paul is far better on Iran policy, and for that matter he is far better on Iran policy than just about any major party candidate for the Senate. If he does not yet meet an exacting non-interventionist standard on this, he is much closer than most electable politicians. If Raimondo were applying any sort of consistent standard, he would have been far more critical of Chaffetz last year and far more enthusiasic about Paul right now.
Despite all this, Raimondo has cut Paul no slack and he has misrepresented Paul on an important point. Pro-war Chuck Hagel just had to make a few speeches against the “surge,” and Raimondo became ecstatic at the revival of the Old Right he claimed to see before his eyes, but when it comes to Rand Paul, who can credibly lay some claim to carrying on at least part of the legacy of the Old Right, Raimondo is suddenly suspicious and looks for problems. Paul’s criticism of the Nuclear Posture Review is just as misguided as every other Republican criticism we have heard, but we should understand that Paul’s criticism is consistent with Peter Feaver’s argument that removing strategic ambiguity was a mistake. I don’t agree with this, but it is hardly the unspeakable evil Raimondo pretends that it is. It is a debatable point, and it does not mean what Raimondo says it does.
Let’s try to remember that the review was addressing the possibility of using nuclear weapons in retaliation against states that launched biological or chemical weapons (and cyber-war) attacks on the U.S. The review exempted non-nuclear states that were in compliance with the NPT. All that Paul was objecting to was the modest change that explicitly and publicly included this exemption. As Feaver said in his op-ed a month ago, “Reasonable people can disagree as to whether the bargain is worth it, but it is a bargain on the margins.” Contrary to what Raimondo claims, this doesn’t mean that Paul necessarily favors nuking Iran under any circumstances, but that he believes strategic ambiguity is important for increasing deterrence. I don’t expect many non-interventionists to agree with this view, and I don’t agree with it, but it is actually a fairly mild disagreement that doesn’t tell us anything about how Rand Paul would vote on the sanctions bills pending before Congress or on any Iran-related legislation.
It certainly isn’t true that “not even the wildest-eyed neocon” has seriously proposed using nuclear weapons in retaliation against Iran in the (highly unlikely) event of an Iranian biological or chemical weapons attack on the U.S. After all, this is current Obama administration policy as laid out in the review itself, and most neoconservatives have been complaining that the review’s explicit exemption for NPT-compliant non-nuclear states was a sign of weakness. Rand Paul’s overall position on Iran is not as good as it could or should be, but it actually appears to be less confrontational and aggressive than administration policy, and it is clearly superior to the position of such supposed “antiwar” Republicans as Chaffetz.
Update: Raimondo has responded, but typically has nothing interesting to say except to make a lame jab at my support for the war in Afghanistan, which most non-interventionists also used to support when it was the war Bush neglected. He dislikes people who support the one just war we are fighting, cheered on someone who wants to start a war with Iran, and distorts the Iran position of one of the few candidates sympathetic to our views.
Earlier, I said that Raimondo misrepresented Rand Paul’s position on the Nuclear Posture Review. In his response, he does so again:
Rand Paul is the one who brings up the question of our nuclear first strike policy in the context of the Iranian question, not O’Reilly, and while O’Reilly agrees with him that we should strike a pose of “ambiguity” in this instance, the Fox News neocon drives home the point that Jim Bunning, Rand’s Republican predecessor (and endorser) would opt for an attack if it came to that. Rand’s answer is that he would “not take it off the table.”
So he’s not opposed in principle to attacking Iran – with nuclear weapons, no less! – and it seems likely, from his manner and his now well-established record of caving in to pressure, that he would go along with the program when the bombs start falling on Tehran.
The video is quite clear that Paul objects to the change in declaratory policy. That doesn’t mean that he favors using nuclear weapons in retaliation against non-nuclear unconventional attacks. He objects to making an explicit, public statement outlining when such weapons would not be used. The review is not concerned with using these weapons to launch a war against another state, but addresses their use in the event that the United States is attacked with unconventional weapons. What we can say with confidence is that Paul does not automatically rule out military action against Iran. He also said, “It is equally reckless to say, well, if they get a nuclear weapon, I’ll drop a nuclear weapon on Tehran.” In other words, Paul is specifically rejecting the view Raimondo attributes to him. Simply put, everything Raimondo said about Paul wanting to nuke Iran is baseless and unfounded. Raimondo is assuming the worst about Rand Paul on extremely weak evidence, and there seems to be no real purpose served by any of it. Could it get any drearier than that?