Rand Paul is a man of conviction. His reputation for acting on principle is the foundation on which he has begun to build the infrastructure of a presidential campaign. It is very difficult, however, for a man of conviction to adjust his image without compromising his reputation for integrity.
In the realm of foreign policy, Senator Paul faces the challenge of dispelling perceptions that he shares the isolationist tendencies of his father, former congressman Ron Paul of Texas. He wants to convince conservative voters that he has been mislabeled and misunderstood. His approach to foreign affairs has not changed, yet Senator Paul now presents his views as applications of Ronald Reagan’s firm but cautious approach to national security.
The Achilles’ heel of this rebranding effort has been Paul’s own candor. When speaking off the cuff, he has made observations that seem to reflect the worldview of President Reagan’s left-wing and isolationist critics. In that vein, Paul suggested that the United States provoked Japan before Pearl Harbor and that Dick Cheney supported the invasion of Iraq in order to make a profit for his former employer Halliburton.
Now there is the strange case of Paul’s reading list for students, which can be found on his official Senate website. The foreign policy section of the list consists entirely of works that blame the United States for the rise of Islamic extremism while offering solutions that verge on isolationism. Most of the books also express a sharp hostility toward Israel and toward those who believe that U.S. foreign policy should serve the cause of human freedom. Reagan, to put it mildly, was a friend of Israel and advocate of freedom.
Encouraging young voters to read is a commendable enterprise, especially since they encounter few conservative works on America’s intellectually imbalanced campuses. To Paul’s credit, his list includes genuine classics such as F. A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative. Yet his selections on foreign and defense policy relentlessly echo the misguided notions of the left-liberal professoriate.
Noticeably absent from the list are any books about Ronald Reagan or the nearly bloodless downfall of Soviet communism. Also absent from the list are any books about the Founding Fathers, the Civil War, or World War II. All in all, there are no volumes that suggest any reason to believe that American power has been a force for good in the world.
There are, however, 3 books written by Ron Paul out of the 17 on the list. Although filial piety might explain the presence of any one of Rep. Paul’s numerous works, A Foreign Policy of Freedom illustrates that Ron Paul is not simply an opponent of foreign interventions, but an unrepentant conspiracy theorist whose worldview could not be further from Reagan’s.
Ron Paul’s book consists mainly of floor speeches delivered during his long tenure in the House. “Our policy is designed to promote the military-industrial complex and world government,” he asserted in the late 1990s. “Every week we must find a foreign infidel to slay, and, of course, keep the military-industrial complex humming,” he noted, adding that “no one has the foggiest notion whether Kofi Annan or Bill Clinton is in charge of our foreign policy.” The elder Paul often repeats the canard that Osama bin Laden was America’s “close ally” to whom we gave “financial assistance, weapons and training.” For Ron Paul, the ultimate cause of terrorism is precisely what Osama bin Laden says it is: “The U.S. defiles Islam with military bases on holy land in Saudi Arabia, its initiation of war against Iraq, with 12 years of persistent bombing, and its dollars and weapons being used against the Palestinians.”
If Ron Paul’s message isn’t clear enough, the curious student may turn to another book on the list, Pat Buchanan’s critique of George W. Bush’s foreign policy, Where the Right Went Wrong. “America’s huge footprint on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia led straight to 9/11. The terrorists were over here because we were over there. Terrorism is the price of empire.” Whereas Ron Paul condemns George Bush’s “Christian-Zionist-oil crusade,” Buchanan explains that “the Beltway Likud was plotting and propagandizing for war on Iraq long before 9/11.” The distinctive trait of this clique is that it sees “U.S. and Israeli interests as identical.”