The hostility that Rand Paul’s recent foreign policy address has evoked in neoconservative circles has, I suspect, rather little to do with the content of his speech. How could it? Consider the Senator’s opening salvo:
- History has not ended.
- Russia slides backward vainly hoping to resurrect the Soviet Union.
- Vladimir Putin justifies aggression in Ukraine as defense against decadent and hypocritical Western powers.
- In East Asia, Beijing extols the remarkable rise of China as the supremacy of a one-party state capitalism.
- In the Middle East, secular dictatorships have been replaced by the rise of radical jihadist movements, who in their beliefs and barbarity—represent the antithesis of liberal democracy.
- These challenges are in part consequences of failing to define our national security interest in a new era.
- Our allies and our enemies are unsure where America stands.
No, what bothers neoconservative stalwarts like the regrettable Jennifer Rubin and the cast of characters over at the Weekly Standard is not that Senator Paul is an isolationist, neo- or otherwise, but that he isn’t a tabula rasa: what D.C.’s hearty band of neocons most wish for is influence, access, and power, above all. A presidential candidate like Paul—who clearly has his own ideas about foreign policy—is simply less likely to genuflect before the arbiters of neoconservative ideology and beg for advice. And so if Paul won’t debase himself at the feet of Bill Kristol, who will?
David Frum’s recent mash note to Texas Gov. Rick Perry in The Atlantic provides something of a clue. Besides its cringe-worthy unctuousness, which has long been a hallmark of Frum’s style, the piece was notable because Frum, despite a brief (and of course very well-publicized) break with the neocons in 2010, remains a reliable bellwether of what passes for thinking in neoconservative circles.
According to Frum, the Texas governor would provide an attractive “alternative to the neo-isolationist approach championed by Sen. Rand Paul” because he would begin the race with two “big advantages.” The first is that Perry, by virtue of his current office, can credibly claim to have had nothing to do with the 2011 sequester deal which, by neocon lights, has supposedly gutted the venerable American war machine. The second advantage Perry would bring to the 2016 contest is that not only is his last name not “Bush” but his relations with the Bush clan are positively frosty. It is hard to argue with Frum on that score.
In any event, Frum finds abundant evidence for a credible Perry run in the latter’s recent trip to Europe—cut short by the Ebola outbreak in Dallas. Rejecting the relativism of our supposedly feckless multiculturalist President, Frum says Perry told an audience at the Royal United Services Institute that he, at least, can tell the good guys from the bad guys:
The shortcomings of Western democracies, the systematic savagery of the enemy, to a certain way of thinking, it all gets mixed up as one: ‘They’ve got their bad guys over there; we’ve got a few of our own, what’s the difference?’
What Frum liked even more was the text of the speech Perry had been scheduled to give in Poland, where Perry was to assure an audience of Varsovians that, as opposed to Russia, “we operate a little differently in the NATO countries. We actually keep our commitments. That helps explain why, after nearly 70 years, there is still a NATO.”
Actually, that has nothing to do with why “there is still a NATO,” but details have never been the governor’s strong suit. But it’s those tricky details that neocons like Mr. Frum are all-too-anxiously waiting in the wings to provide.
James Carden is a TAC contributing editor, and served as an advisor to the U.S.-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the State Department from 2011-2012.