Summer wasn’t the only thing bringing the heat for the Obama administration this summer. The midterm elections — deeply implicated by the beginning of unofficial auditions for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination — have bolstered Republican attacks against the president. Furthermore, a number of concurrent foreign policy crises have soured public opinion of America’s standing in the world, damaging President Obama’s approval rating and enabling Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) — widely thought to be a candidate for president in 2016 — to unleash a number of attacks on the current administration.
From the effective disintegration of the border between Ukraine and Russia, to a perceived distancing from our ally Israel, to the chaos caused by ISIS in the Middle East, President Obama’s administration has faced an onslaught of criticism from right-wing politicians and pundits, including Paul. However, exploring the alternative courses of action that Senator Paul has offered — most prominently in a TIME opinion piece dated Sept. 4 — reveals that the foreign policy divide between him and Democratic leaders isn’t as deep as his fiery political rhetoric suggests.
Writing in TIME, Senator Paul criticizes President Obama for a lack of “vision” and prescribes “airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria … arm[ing] and aid[ing] capable and allied Kurdish fighters … [and] help[ing] reinforce Israel’s Iron Dome protection against missiles.”
A number of Republicans and Democrats agree with those ideas. Unfortunately for Paul, one of them is President Obama. Having had authorized ongoing airstrikes in Iraq, Obama recently revealed plans to extend airstrikes to Syria as part of a broader campaign to defeat ISIS. Al Jazeera America reported on Aug. 11 that the State Department and the CIA had assisted in “facilitat[ing] weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds.” And, following passage by the House and Senate, President Obama signed a bill authorizing the allocation of $225 million in emergency aid to Israel in order to bolster its Iron Dome military system.
In light of these facts, it appears that Paul’s criticism is nothing more than political posturing against the Obama administration as he pivots toward 2016. As President Obama’s approval ratings dwindle down toward the low forties, a number of potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates are doing everything to throw the GOP base red meat in anticipation of the 2015 primary season. Paul’s stature as a quasi-libertarian positions him uniquely in the Republican pack.
If, as is widely assumed, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeks and captures the Democratic nomination for the presidency, her profile as a national security hawk would paint a strong contrast between her and Paul, who is generally known for his more dovish, non-interventionist tone. A ClintonPaul general election would have the potential to fundamentally reshape the national electoral map, given his appeal among millennials and targeted outreach to racial minorities, two groups that have eluded the GOP in national elections for the past 40 years.
Before potentially facing Clinton in a general election, Senator Paul would first have to make it through an extremely competitive GOP primary that will likely feature more than a dozen candidates. Given the mood of the nation following the emergence of ISIS, national security hawks — including most prominently Senator Ted Cruz, a one-time Paul ally — will find a base that is very receptive to their arguments during the nominating season. Furthermore, the base may be turned off by Paul’s inconsistency between interventionism and isolationism. While at one time calling to cut off all aid to Israel and retracting America from a prominent role in global affairs, Paul is now scurrying back to the right to win favor with primary voters.
Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for president in 2012, is widely thought to have lost due to a lack of core beliefs. The same critique could be applied to Paul. While the approaching primary season may further clarify what Senator Paul actually believes in terms of a foreign policy philosophy, one thing is very clear at the moment — he’ll say and do anything to be president.