Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson: Rand Paul's Grand Deception

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Michael Gerson: Rand Paul's Grand Deception

Article excerpt

In March 2013, Rand Paul occupied the Senate floor for a 13-hour filibuster, promising to "speak until I can no longer speak" in the cause that "no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime." Enthused Ted Cruz: "You're standing here today like a modern 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.'" Marco Rubio also rose in support, with a speech that will be long remembered for its quotes from rappers Wiz Khalifa and Jay-Z.

This was probably the high point of hip-hop-based Senate discourse. It was certainly the center-stage moment for libertarian foreign policy -- appealing to a concern for civil liberties, an exhaustion with the global war on terrorism and a suspicion President Obama is capable of missile strikes against citizens at cafes.

But the greatest enemy of ideology is history. Military aggression by Russia, a regional power grab by Iran and the rise of the Islamic State as the most dangerous terror state in modern times have all highlighted the risks of American passivity. The main GOP charge against Obama is weakness, not executive overreach. And the three musketeers have had a breakup. "I don't agree" with Paul on foreign policy, says Cruz. Rubio, should he run, would be the field's foremost exponent of muscular internationalism.

Paul himself has beat a tactical retreat from the front lines of libertarian foreign policy. Having previously proposed slashing defense spending, he now awkwardly embraces increases.

This movement from paranoia to platitudes highlights the tension at the heart of the Paul campaign. He must send signals of sympathy to the extensive libertarian field organization assembled by his father. He must also show indications of evolution to mainstream Republicans to be imaginable as commander in chief. Every word Paul says on foreign policy must pass through this balancing test. …

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