“Those sons of bitches won’t be happy until we have 25,000 troops in Managua and I’m not going to do it.”
President Ronald Reagan
“Make it a hundred [years] …; we’ve been in Japan for 60 years. We’ve been in South Korea 50 years or so. That would be fine with me.”
Sen. John McCain
“I am very pessimistic about the future of the country — we are certainly being dragged towards war and bankruptcy and socialism all at once.“
Sen. Robert Taft
“We must again show the U.S. is willing and prepared to get into a war in the first place.”
Sen. Tom Cotton
“I believed that it would be undesirable and impracticable … to retain sizable forces permanently in the territory of a jealous and resentful government amid an openly hostile population.”
President Dwight Eisenhower
“I think most Americans want to keep the war away from our shores and understand you’re going to need some troops over there to keep the fight from coming here.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham
Sen. Rand Paul’s de facto filibuster on the Patriot Act’s spying program — not to mention his recent comments blaming Republican hawks for arming ISIL — has finally given the only real story in next year’s GOP presidential nomination battle the airing it deserves.
The backlash against the Kentucky senator has been swift and unanimous — at least from the ranks of fellow would-be nominees for president. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s over-the-top rhetoric, suggesting Paul is “unsuited to be the commander in chief,” is only the beginning. The Cheneys (Dick and Liz, that is) have said Paul is “out to lunch” on foreign affairs. And aides to Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina (whose zeal for overseas meddling knows few bounds) have indicated that one reason Graham is seeking the GOP presidential nod is to prevent Paul from getting it.
But the neoconservatives who have taken over the GOP are also running against party tradition. Indeed, the defining characteristic of 20th-century Republicanism could be defined as a wariness of war-minded leaders — from Woodrow Wilson to Lyndon Johnson. All that changed when big-spending interventionists, unhappy with the 1970s pacifism of George McGovern and the “San Francisco Democrats,” jumped ship to the GOP — giving it a much more “muscular” foreign policy than even Ronald Reagan could imagine.
In fact, at the height of the Cold War, it was Reagan himself who looked beyond the hard-liners and brought the Marines back from Lebanon, saying a battle with terrorists in a foreign civil war was not in our best interests. It was Reagan who negotiated with the Soviets and swore off sending troops abroad.
Hence, Paul’s claim that not only is he a Reagan Republican who believes that “some interventions lead to unintended consequences,” but that his critics are actually nothing more than “lap dogs” for interventionist Democrats: “They support Hillary Clinton’s war in Libya; they supported President Obama’s [threatened] bombing of Assad; they also support President Obama’s foreign aid to countries that hate us …[P]eople who call loudest to criticize me are great proponents of President Obama’s foreign policy — they just want to do it 10 times over.”
Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, known as “Mr. Republican” in his day, was also labeled an isolationist for his opposition to war. But Taft believed that a government on a permanent war footing would require far too much blood and treasure from its citizens (e.g., the wartime origins of modern income-tax withholding) and place far too much power in the executive branch. Sound familiar?
Though political adversaries, both Taft and Dwight Eisenhower reflected the once-dominant Republican skepticism toward the use of force abroad. For his part, Ike refused to be drawn into the Suez Canal crisis on behalf of the British and Israelis or into Indochina on behalf of the French.
“When people speak to you about a preventive war,” said Eisenhower, “you tell them to go fight it. After my experience I have come to hate war. War settles nothing.”
Perhaps it’s time for all of today’s gung-ho Republican candidates and commentators criticizing Sen. Paul to explain once and for all why the GOP heroes of the past were wrong and how it is that big government abroad can ever lead to small government at home.
Jason Lewis, a former radio talk show host, is the author of “Power Divided is Power Checked: The Argument for States’ Rights” and blogs at www.jasonlewisshow.com.