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“Calling Them Out”: Rand Paul Is Pushing The GOP To Confront Its Terrorism Problem. Too Bad The Other 2016 Candidates Won’t Listen

Any time there’s a genuine difference of opinion concerning a policy issue within a presidential primary it’s worthy of note, even if there’s only one candidate standing apart from the others. Rand Paul may be the one you’d expect would dissent from his peers when it comes to foreign policy, but he nevertheless surprised many when he said on Wednesday that it was his own party that bore responsibility for the rise of ISIS.

When asked on Morning Joe how he’d respond to attacks from foreign policy hawks like Lindsey Graham, Paul responded, “ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of these arms were snatched up by ISIS.” He even tied his Republican colleagues to the despised Hillary Clinton: “ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya, they just wanted more of it.”

Whatever you think of the particulars of Paul’s analysis, his charges probably aren’t going to go over too well in a party where the consensus is that everything in Iraq was going swimmingly until Barack Obama came in and mucked it all up. Jeb Bush spoke for the other candidates when he recently said, “ISIS didn’t exist when my brother was president. Al Qaeda in Iraq was wiped out when my brother was president.” As it happens, neither of those assertions is even remotely true. But the fact that Paul is making the claims he is means Republicans might have to grapple with the substance of an alternative perspective on ISIS in particular and terrorism in general.

The prevailing view among Republicans is that the most important thing when confronting terrorism is, as with all foreign policy questions, strength. If you are strong, any problem can be solved. Likewise, all failures come from weakness. Barack Obama fails because he is weak (and also because he hates America, but that’s another story).

Rand Paul, even in his unsophisticated way, is saying something fundamentally different: Strength not only isn’t enough, sometimes it can make things worse. Seemingly alone among the Republican candidates, he realizes that there’s such a thing as unintended consequences. You can have all the strength in the world — as, for all intents and purposes, the U.S. military does — and still find events not working out the way you want.

One might think that the experience of the last decade and a half would have taught us all that. In justifying their support for the Iraq War, Republicans will often say that “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” as though it were self-evident that conditions improve once you remove a brutal dictator. But it’s not at all clear that that’s true — Saddam is gone, but a couple hundred thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed, a corrupt sectarian government in Baghdad allowed ISIS to take hold, Iran’s strength in the region was enhanced — all things that the architects of the Iraq War either didn’t consider or thought wouldn’t happen.

ISIS itself offers a demonstration of a common unintended consequence terrorism analysts have been talking about for a while, which is that a strategy aimed at decapitating terrorist groups can actually produce more violence. When one leader is killed, his successor feels the need to prove his mettle by expanding the group’s ambitions and increasing its level of brutality. ISIS started out as Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi; after Zarqawi was killed by an American airstrike, an action hailed at the time as a great victory, the group not only didn’t disappear, it evolved into the ISIS we see today.

Yet to hear most of the Republicans tell it, all we need to solve the problem is strength. They quote action heroes as though there might be some genuine insight from Hollywood B-movies on how to combat terrorism. “Have you seen the movie Taken?” says Marco Rubio. “Liam Neeson. He had a line, and this is what our strategy should be: ‘We will look for you, we will find you, and we will kill you.'” Or Rick Santorum: “They want to bring back a 7th-century version of jihad. So here’s my suggestion: We load up our bombers, and we bomb them back to the 7th century.” So strong.

Yet when it comes time to say what specifically they would do about ISIS or Syria if they were to become president, the candidates grow suddenly vague. It’s almost as though, the tough talk notwithstanding, they know that getting into too much detail about the policy challenge will inevitably force them to confront the possibility that saying they’ll be strong doesn’t quite answer the question.

Perhaps on a debate stage a few months from now, Rand Paul will manage to get his opponents to address that possibility. Or maybe they’ll be able to just give a look of steely resolve, quote a movie they saw, get an ovation from the crowd, and move on.

 

By: Paul Waldman, The Week, May 28, 2015

May 29, 2015 - Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , ,

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