Tuesday, January 22, 2013

W. James Antle on Rand Paul's Israel Strategy

Here is a thoughtful piece in The American Conservative on Rand Paul's Israel strategy:

After being sworn into the Senate, Paul introduced a budget that zeroed out all foreign aid, including for Israel. He sought to de-authorize the Iraq War. He opposed the Patriot Act. He proposed amendments to sanctions bills for Iran and Syria emphasizing that these bills did not constitute an authorization of force.

Just in the last three months, Paul sought to expand Fourth Amendment protections under the Bush-era warrantless surveillance program and Sixth Amendment guarantees under the National Defense Authorization Act's terror-detention provisions. When he failed, he protested loudly and voted against both bills.

Speaking to reporters last week, Paul made clear that he was still ultimately opposed to all foreign aid and skeptical of foreign military adventurism. And he has compiled one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate, even when it has left him in the minority.

Recent polling suggests a majority of Republicans is at least open to retrenchment. According to the Pew Research Center, 53 percent of GOP voters want America less involved in Middle Eastern political change—not as noninterventionist as Democrats or particularly independents, but still nearly 20 points more than the percentage of Republicans who picked "more involved."

Arguments for foreign-policy restraint have failed to gain traction in the Republican Party because of three perceptions of the conservatives making them: namely, that they are hostile to Israel, indifferent to American national security, and naïve about brutal foreign regimes. Paul is aiming to correct these perceptions while emphasizing his common ground with the GOP and the broader conservative movement.
That's why Paul has focused on cutting foreign aid to Middle Eastern despots, who also happen to be virulently anti-Israel. It's why he talks about missile defense to protect American cities from attack. And it's why he observes that Israelis aren't burning American flags.

More hawkish conservatives may be noticing Paul's comments, but they are aimed at the Republican rank-and-file: evangelical well-wishers of Israel, primary voters who could be convinced that our overseas interventions are bad policy but not that the Muslim Brotherhood bodes well for secular democracy.

Paul may in the process repel those who are genuinely hostile to Israel or who dabble in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. But will Don Black's financial contribution really be missed? There will also be Ron Paul voters and donors without such noxious motives who will nevertheless be troubled by these overtures. They will be harder to replace.

This strategy carries a risk of failure, as both sides of the burgeoning conservative foreign policy debate could cool to Paul. But the old approaches have already failed, or at least reached the end of where they can take the antiwar right.

There is indeed more than one way to be a friend to Israel—and perhaps more than one way to be the spokesman of a less bellicose conservative foreign policy, too.

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