Rand Paul’s taking a leading role as Israel’s protector lately. The other day the Republican Senator from Kentucky went head to head with John Kerry during Kerry’s Secretary of State confirmation hearing, grilling him and lecturing him about the Middle East (3:34):
Paul: You’ve heard President Morsi’s comments about Zionists and Israelis being blood suckers and descendants of apes and pigs, do you think it’s wise to send them F16’s and Abrams tanks?
Kerry: I think those comments are reprehensible and those comments ah set back the possibilities of working towards mutual, issues of mutual interest. They are degrading comments…
Paul: They only understand… strength, if we keep sending them weapons they’re not gonna change their behavior…
Kerry: Now, let me finish. President Morsi, President Morsi has issued two statements to clarify those comments, and we had a group of senators who met with them just the other day who spent a good part of their conversation and relatively heated discussion about it. But not everything, this is always the complication in dealings in the international sector. Not everything lends itself to a simple clarity; black-white/this-that every time. We have critical interest with Egypt, critical interest with Egypt. Egypt has thus far supported and lived by the peace agreement with Israel, and and…has taken steps to begin to deal with the problem of security in the Sinai. Those are vital to us and our national interest and to the security of Israel…
Paul: But this has been our problem with our foreign policy for decades Republican and Democrat; we funded bin Laden; we funded the Mujahideen; we were in favor of radical Jihad because they were the enemy of our enemy. We’ve done this so often, I see these weapons coming back to threaten Israel. I see support for Syrian rebels coming back to threaten Israel as well….
Kerry: As you know Senator in any of the arms sales the United States has ever engaged in in that part of the world, there is always a measure, a test which is applied with respect to a qualitative difference in any of those weapons with respect to Israel’s defense and security. And we do not sell weapons and will not sell weapons that might upset that qualitative balance —
Paul: Yes we sell 20 F16’s to Egypt we gotta give 25 to Israel. Sounds like we’re fueling an arms race. Why don’t we just not give any weapons to Israel’s enemies, that would certainly save us a lot of money and might make it safer for Israel. One final quest…
Kerry: Or better yet until we are at that moment where that might be achievable maybe it would be better to try to make peace.
Paul can claim not to be a newbie because he went to Israel earlier this month, raising speculation that he plans to run for president, and took briefings with neoconservatives, including Romney adviser Dan Senor:
Rand Paul has been holding a series of meetings with neo-conservative pro-Israel foreign policy hands as the libertarian prepares to take a seat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
After Paul returned from Israel, he proved to be very useful. When Jeffrey Goldberg published an article in the run-up to the Israeli election saying that Obama had “said privately and repeatedly, ‘Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are,’” the Israeli press had a field day. And Paul, fresh off the plane from Tel Aviv, was perfectly placed to provide the pushback. He delivered in spades. He held a conference call with a gaggle of journos chastising Obama and spewing a number of thread worn neocon talking points. Naturally neoconservative Jennifer Rubin was in on the call:
“That’s an arrogant and presumptuous point of view and doesn’t further progress on anything,” the senator said, and he returned to that view throughout the call as he discussed the location of Israel’s capital and Israeli settlements. Paul decried U.S. politicians who display “this flippant and arrogant” attitude about internal Israeli affairs, saying that “no one can really know as much as people in the region” about such matters. “It is not up to the U.S. to dictate” to mayors and West Bank officials where housing goes, Paul added.
In that call, discussing “the location of Israel’s capital” and praising “an independent, strong Israel that is not a dependent state, not a client state,” Paul wasn’t advocating a reduction of aid anytime soon– a far cry from just a year ago when he advocated halting all financial aid to Israel.
How did a libertarian southern senator with Tea Party bona fides get to be a neoconservative wonderboy? Not to mention that Rand Paul is the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who was the one presidential candidate last year to say that we could contain Iran?
Going back in time to 2010, Rand Paul was running for Senate, and the media perked up when neoconservative godfather Bill Kristol said nice things about him on Fox News, picked up by Crooks and Liars in a sassy slapdown discussing Paul’s civil rights comments: Bill Kristol: Rand Paul Sophisticated, Complicated, Attractive, Plainspoken, Honest and Thoughtful:
“I’m not a huge fan of Rand Paul, but if you watch the clips with him, there is something attractive about him.”
The flirtation continued into Iowa in 2012, and the internet fluttered when Kristol approached Paul near the Des Moines Embassy Suites breakfast buffet. CNN Anchor Jake Trapper tweeted the sighting. Italian journalist Christian Rocca wrote a fun gossipy snippet about it on his blog. “You can’t make it up” declared Buzzfeed: The libertarian’s first words to the neoconservative icon were about Israel’s secret service, Rand Paul Asked Bill Kristol About The Mossad. Even Kristol’s staff referenced it as “the grand breakfast buffet meet-up“in coy coverage at The Weekly Standard.
So we asked the boss, safely back in his room, What’s up?
The boss’s response: “Needless to say, what happens at the Des Moines Embassy Suites breakfast buffet stays at the Des Moines Embassy Suites breakfast buffet…..”
A lot transpired between January’s buffet and November’s post election coverage, when Kristol and Fox panelists declared Ron (and Rand) Paul supporters are the future of the GOP. Next, Politico‘s “Welcome to the Rand Paul evolution” began talking about Paul as a future presidential candidate: “tea party conservatism … could woo younger voters.”
Speaking of evolution, what are Rand Paul’s views on Israel now? A month after the presidential election, Jennifer Rubin assured us that Paul just loves the Jewish state:
Rand Paul has received some criticism for his own regarding Israel. This year he hung up a vote in the Senate on Iran sanctions. That, along with his previously emphatic statements against foreign aid, have given the appearance of being anti-Israel. Others, unfairly in our view, attribute his father’s views to him.
I asked him if there is one perception about him that is particularly wrong. Without skipping a beat, he replied, “That I am unfriendly to Israel.” He is going to Israel for the first time. He told me, “We’ll have some meetings with political leaders. I want to hear from all sides.”
“We’ve talked about [such a trip] for a long time,“ he said, explaining that with three children (all boys, ages 13-19) and trips back to Kentucky it has been hard to schedule. He said he is looking forward to taking his family and “seeing our Judeo-Christian roots” He added, “I’ve always been fascinated with the 1st century,” citing reading he has done on the separation of Christianity from Judaism.
“Israel shouldn’t be dictated to by the U.S. They are a sovereign country,” Paul said — whether the issue is the peace process or Gaza. No one should be telling Israel how to respond, he added, “unless you have missiles coming down on your head. They are sovereign.”
I spoke Tuesday night with David Brog, executive director of the country’s largest pro-Zionist group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which has been outspoken in criticizing Paul’s advocacy for cuts in crucial military aid to Israel. Brog explained CUFI’s past concerns: “Paul has thus far seemed oblivious to the reality that Israel’s military is fighting our battles for us and keeping us from having to send our own soldiers to do the job.” Nevertheless, Brog told me that “we’re certainly encouraged to learn that Senator Paul is traveling to Israel…”…Brog makes the case that support for Israel actually meshes with Paul’s desire to conduct foreign policy with limited revenues. By providing military aid to Israel, Brog argued, we enable an ally to fight our common enemies. He said, “I hope Sen. Paul sees that his economic policy and foreign policy and political interests need not conflict with support for Israel. In fact, it will earn him a great following.”
Yes, it’s a little early to be humping for a 2016 presidential run, but Paul’s off to a running start and now he’s got Kristol’s blessing. Paul knows that neoconservatives deliver money and deliver establishment support. Bill Kristol is not a godfather for nothing. He bragged about purging the Republican Party of “old fashioned Arabists” like George H.W. Bush. As Kristol and Dan Senor have both explained, cultivating possible presidential candidates is one of the Israel lobby’s core activities. From a report on the 2008 AIPAC policy conference:
Bill Kristol said that Hart Hasten, a Holocaust survivor and successful Indianapolis businessman, had been crucial to shaping Dan Quayle’s view of Israel, having “spent a lot of time” with Quayle when he was still a congressman. (Quayle’s office later told me [reporter Phil Weiss], “The statement Bill Kristol made was not exactly accurate. Mr. Quayle said his broad knowledge of Israel came from many people and sources, not specifically from Mr. Hasten.”) Dan Senor, an analyst on CNN and former AIPAC intern, boasted that AIPAC won over Spencer Abraham when he was the head of the state Republican Party, years before he became a Michigan senator. The party was $500,000 in debt, and an AIPAC leader helped him pay that off. And of course, the famous story was told of George W. Bush going up in Ariel Sharon’s helicopter in 1998, two years before he ran for president, and saying of Israel’s ten-mile waist, “We have driveways in Texas longer than that.”
Of all the 2016 GOP hopefuls smoozing up Adelson last summer, it’s Rand Paul who flew to Israel in the run up to their election, perfectly placed on his return to deliver a reverberating slap straight into Jen Rubin’s keyboard, timed with Goldberg’s shot across the bow. So long as the neocons have their eyes on Paul, so should we.