The PJ Tatler

GOP Divide on Foreign Policy Widening

The war of words between Senator Rand Paul and Governor Rick Perry escalated on Sunday when Perry again blasted Paul’s views on foreign policy in an interview with CBS News.

Perry wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post on Friday, saying that Paul’s “isolationist” policies were “curiously blind” and “wrong.”

Noting “the main problem with this argument is that it means ignoring the profound threat that the group now calling itself the Islamic State poses to the United States and the world,” the governor wrote. “. …This represents a real threat to our national security — to which Paul seems curiously blind — because any of these passport carriers can simply buy a plane ticket and show up in the United States without even a visa.”

Perry then picked apart an opinion piece Paul recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal arguing against U.S. military intervention in Iraq.

Writing that Paul went “so far as to claim…that President Ronald Reagan’s own doctrines would lead him to same conclusion,” Perry said, “his analysis is wrong. Paul conveniently omitted Reagan’s long internationalist record of leading the world with moral and strategic clarity.”

Paul responded through a spokesman with ridicule:

“Interesting to be lectured entirely in talking points though,” Stafford said. “His new glasses apparently don’t make him see the world any more clearly.”

And in a statement to CBS, Paul asked Perry, “How many Americans should send their sons and daughters to die for a foreign country, a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves?”

The back and forth continued on Sunday with Perry’s CBS interview:

“He talks about basically, what I consider to be, isolationist policies,” Perry said. “And America can no longer come back onto the Continental United States, and draw a red line around the shore of America, and think that we’re somehow or another not going to be impacted.”

Perry, who got some good reviews from many Republicans this week confronting President Obama over the border crisis, used his heightened visibility to pick a fight with the GOP frontrunner. It’s a preview of the line of attack some candidates will take against Paul, who insists he’s not an isolationist — he’s a non-interventionist.

Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union, , Senator John McCain said he wasn’t going to take sides in the debate — and then proceeded to, well, take sides:

“Senator Paul is part of a wing of the [Republican] party that’s been there ever since prior to World War I … and that is a withdrawal to fortress America,” The Republican senator from Arizona said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The things we’re seeing in the world today, in greater turmoil than at any time in my lifetime, is a direct result of an absence of American leadership, and we are paying a very, very heavy price.”

Paul is right when he says that many Republicans misunderstand his foreign policy vision — some, like Perry and McCain, deliberately so. Paul is no Robert Taft. He’s never advocated leaving the UN or breaking up NATO. But he has yet to impart a coherent set of principles in foreign policy that would ease the concerns of Main Street Republicans that he wouldn’t defend American interests beyond our borders if they came under attack.

If McCain and Perry exaggerate Paul’s non-interventionist stance, Paul inflates the McCain-Perry desire for more assertive leadership as something akin to military adventurism. Both sides would benefit if they realized they weren’t really that far apart and that their differences on substantive issues like Iraq aren’t enough to start a war over.

But a presidential campaign is all about highlighting differences so we can assume that Perry’s line of attack and Paul’s responses will be echoed many times over the next two years. It will be interesting to see if GOP voters give greater emphasis to a candidate’s position on foreign policy issues over the next few months. With all that’s happening in the world, it’s certainly a possibility.

Even more interesting will be Rand Paul’s efforts to convince Republicans he is not what Rick Perry and John McCain accuse him of being.