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Rand Paul and “Reckless Driving”

Emma Roller reports on Rand Paul’s recent “pro-Israel” pandering:

Since that fateful weekend, Paul has been beefing up his Israel bona fides. In May, he introduced the Stand With Israel Act, which would cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority until it formally recognizes the state of Israel. The bill hasn’t moved in the Senate yet, and Paul is trying to give it another boost with his new op-ed. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the top pro-Israel lobbying shop in the country, has said it won’t support Paul’s bill.

Paul’s latest proposals are not so different from those of the noninterventionist Paul we’ve seen in years past. He’s not requesting the U.S. airdrop troops onto the West Bank, or even any additional U.S. involvement. The difference is that now, he’s wrapping his proposals in more hawkish language, basically calling on Israel to take Hamas out.

The latest op-ed reminds me a bit of Sen. Paul’s response to the annexation of Crimea, which read like a parody of hawkish talking points. The specific measures he mentioned in the Russia op-ed were unworkable or irrelevant, and the op-ed had the effect of making him indistinguishable from every other elected Republican on the subject. This week’s op-ed on Israel and Palestine has a similar effect. Paul is going overboard to demonstrate how “pro-Israel” he is, but he isn’t a convincing hard-liner and he shouldn’t want to be one on this or any other issue.

In the current debate over Iraq, Sen. Paul has very effectively distinguished himself from both the administration and from his party’s hard-liners, which is the right position to be in as a matter of policy and politics. The contrast with his handling of issues relating to Israel is instructive. On Iraq, Sen. Paul isn’t trying to satisfy people that will never accept what he has to say, but instead directly attacks the hawks’ credibility and rejects their assumptions. On most things related to Israel, Sen. Paul is always too defensive, too eager to say what he thinks most Republicans want to hear, and too worried about being judged wanting in his support for the client state. Like his unnecessary security guarantee to Israel last year, this latest push to cut off funds to the Palestinian Authority is a doomed bid to beat hard-liners at their own game.

The larger problem with this is that it helps to perpetuate an undesirable status quo in U.S.-Israel relations. At present, Israel can act in whatever way it wishes without having to fear the loss of any U.S. aid or diplomatic support, and the U.S. then naturally takes some of the blame for the behavior of its client. That enables Israel to behave in harmful and ultimately self-destructive ways, and that undermines U.S. interests in the process. This is the phenomenon that Barry Posen refers to in Restraint as “reckless driving,” which the U.S. encourages by providing uncritical and effectively unconditional support to some of its allies and clients. Sen. Paul should be trying to discourage this recklessness and reduce the U.S. role in enabling it, but at the moment he is doing just the opposite.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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