“Senator Paul’s position is inexcusable. It renders him unfit to serve as President of the United States should he be eyeing the 2016 candidacy.” — Richard Epstein, September 2
It was inevitable. The atrocities of ISIS have rekindled conservatism’s love affair with military interventionism, and there are a few self-identified libertarians who want to make it a threesome (a full blown orgy, really, if you count the Democrats). Naturally this means that Rand Paul, whose prospects for the GOP primaries for 2016 were looking quite good not so long ago, will be placed on the defensive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see his consistently high poll numbers begin to slide while those of the usual line-up of platitude-spouting know-nothing interventionists begin to rise. This is America after all.
The Washington Post’s overview of the situation seems fairly accurate to me, noting that Paul has been moving in a more “hawkish” direction under pressure and criticism. It doesn’t seem like it will be enough now, though. Interventionists will take the opportunity to say “see I told you so”, even though Paul has never been a) a pacifist or b) a non-interventionist. He has from the beginning distanced himself from his father’s rhetoric. But one can hardly blame Rick Perry, or even Richard Epstein, author of the latest anti-Paul screed, for their confusion: Paul’s distancing has only resulted in a clear message on occasion. Much of the time he seems deliberately vague, and this is also understandable. It isn’t easy to call for less intervention, never mind the non-intervention he never supported, and run for the GOP nomination.
In politics, however, all that matters is perception. Rand Paul, as the son of Ron Paul and as an advocate for merely less interventionism than what PNAC would recommend, is perceived to be a fully paid-up pacifist, and because of this, he is now perceived to be as weak and indecisive as Obama is now widely regarded to be.
It must be said, however, that Epstein’s arguments are absurd. They are a more sophisticated rendition of the hysterical and emotional alarmism broadcast on FOX News 24/7. Epstein begins by stating:
For my entire professional life, I have been a limited-government libertarian. The just state should, in my opinion, protect private property, promote voluntary exchange, preserve domestic order, and protect our nation against foreign aggression. Unfortunately, too many modern libertarian thinkers fail to grasp the enormity of that last obligation.
How enormous is it?
A nation that believes in the primacy of liberty has to defend it at home and abroad, and do so over the long haul, without imposing artificial deadlines on its military commitments… Our commander-in-chief cannot be a bystander in world affairs. He has to have the courage to lead and rally a nation in times of trouble, lest the liberties that we all cherish perish by government indifference and inaction.
So in order to defend liberty, we need a state so massive and well-funded that it can intervene anywhere, around the world, at any time, to act against any perceived threat to liberty. Is it really possible that this “limited-government libertarian” has never made the connection between war and statism, that he has never heard of or seriously considered the slogan “war is the health of the state”? A permanent war-footing (no deadlines, remember!) without any sort of realistic objective means an endless expansion of the state.
We have no obligation to defend anyone else’s liberty but our own. If it is in fact vital to our own liberty that we engage in a foreign war, then it is certainly worth doing, but the notion that “the liberties we cherish” will “perish” if the U.S. doesn’t play a direct role in defeating ISIS – if it doesn’t take the lead of the dozen nations directly threatened by it already – is simply nonsense. It has been met and matched by both the Kurds and even the floundering Iraqis, it has been engaged by the Syrian military, its is now engaged with the Lebanese military, who will have the assistance of Hezbollah, and finally and most importantly, Iran is shifting its own policy to becoming more confrontational with ISIS. There is also the possibility that ISIS will extend operations to Chechnya, in which case Russia would become involved.
ISIS may well be defeated or at least contained without significant U.S. involvement. In fact I hope it is. The longer Obama dithers, the longer the rest of the world will be given an opportunity to demonstrate, once and for all, that our American tax dollars and our American soldiers are not needed to fix every problem. It will also demonstrate than in spite of the horrific consequences of U.S. interventionism, of which ISIS itself is only the latest example, the people of the region were able to set them right.
If boots on the ground belong anywhere in the defense of liberty, they belong on the Mexican border, through which ISIS may actually cross (though it sounds like nothing but bluster to me). The possibility of ISIS collaborating with the drug cartels confirms what I have long believed as well: that the Mexican drug-cartels are an immediate and actual threat to our national security, operating as de facto sovereign entities that have engaged in military aggression against the southwestern states. The “indifference and inaction” Epstein warns about have far, far graver consequences here on our own border than they ever will in the Middle East. Let’s give the Shiites, Assad, and the Sunni states a chance to do the work themselves (and spend their own money and lives) and focus on the immediate threat. And then let’s stop the pious moralizing about evil dictators “killing their own people.” For many of the people Hussein, Gaddafi, Assad, and Mubarak were killing, were the types that flock to ISIS.