Have Islamic State atrocities turned Rand Paul into a hawk?

The junior GOP senator from Kentucky, long known for anti-interventionist views, has blasted the Obama administration for inaction in the wake of atrocities carried out by the brutal Islamic State.

Charlie Neibergall/AP/File
Sen. Rand Paul (R) of Kentucky is introduced to speak during a meeting with local Republicans in Hiawatha, Iowa, Aug. 5, 2014.

Has Rand Paul morphed into a hawk?

That’s the question now that the junior GOP senator from Kentucky, long known for anti-interventionist views, has blasted the Obama administration for inaction in the wake of atrocities carried out by the brutal Islamic State.

Over the weekend, Senator Paul said in a speech that if he was president he’d have asked for congressional authorization to “destroy ISIS militarily.” (The IS is sometimes referred to as ISIS or ISIL.) He repeated this assertion on Thursday in an op-ed on the subject for Time Magazine.

“If I had been in President Obama’s shoes, I would have acted more decisively and strongly against ISIS,” writes Paul.

If nothing else, this proves Paul is pretty much certain to run for president in 2016. His relatively dovish foreign-policy views have long been seen as perhaps his biggest handicap in Republican primaries. Some pundits have gone so far as to leave him off their lists of serious contenders because they judge his anti-interventionist philosophy to be too far out of the mainstream of his party’s thinking.

Now Paul seems to be using the IS crisis as a means to rebrand himself as not entirely his father Ron Paul’s son. When he ran for the White House Rep. Ron Paul railed against what he saw as the waste of US resources on foreign adventurism.

Rand is distancing himself from dad’s isolationistic words.

“I’ve said since I began public life that I am not an isolationist, nor am I an interventionist,” writes Paul in Time.

So what is he? According to his recent statements, he’s a Ronald Reagan-like peace-through-strength conservative, who sees war as a last resort but knows sometimes the US has to fight if vital interests are threatened.

Paul isn’t a neo-conservative of the type who directed much of the nation’s foreign policy during the George W. Bush administration, according to a key adviser.

Richard Burt, a former ambassador to Germany and arms negotiator for Presidents Reagan and Bush 41, told the National Review this week that unlike the neo-con crowd, Paul would use force selectively and have an exit strategy from the beginning.

“Paul is embracing the conventional foreign-policy stance of the pre-Bush era,” writes Eliana Johnson in the right-leaning National Review.

Claiming the mantle of Reagan will be a popular tactic tried by lots of GOP hopefuls in the upcoming presidential race. But concerning the specific problem of IS, and its occupation of a large swath of land stretching from Syria through Iraq, what would Paul actually do?

His recent statements indicate he’d immediately push for authorization for a use of force from Congress. That’s something the Obama administration hasn’t done up to this point. Beyond that, Paul supports air strikes, which the White House has carried out.

The Kentucky senator says the air strikes should be part of a “larger strategy,” but he doesn’t really define what that strategy should be. He talks about coalitions, perhaps with Turkey and other regional allies, but so do current administration officials. He talks about treating IS as a global threat, and the need to understand the roots of jihadist Islam, but what national security wonk, of either party, doesn’t?

Paul does not say whether the US should extend military action into Syria, and if so, how it would avoid propping up the Bashar al-Assad regime in the process. He elides discussion of the ramifications of working with Iran to defeat the shared IS enemy.

That’s caused some on the left to complain that, on the particulars of this issue, Paul actually sounds much like Obama, the guy he complains isn’t strong enough.

“If Paul has truly figured out a way to ‘destroy ISIS militarily’ … then let’s hear it. And if it turns out he isn’t the greatest military genius in American history, then he should perhaps not attack Obama for the absence of a clear strategy for dealing with ISIS. He doesn’t have one, either,” writes left-leaning Ed Kilgore at the Washington Monthly’s Political Animal blog.

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