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On Israel, Rand Paul Attempts to Bridge Conservative and Libertarian Ideas

U.S. Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) position on Israel has been the subject of heated debate since 2010. Paul’s father, former congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), was often criticized as being “anti-Israel,” and people wondered where the younger Paul would stand on the issue. Yet, Rand Paul appears to be in the midst of assembling a coalition where a pro-Israel position is compatible with a humbler foreign policy.

In Congress, Paul has sought to cut all foreign aid, including aid to Israel. His stance has shifted slightly since taking office. Paul believes Israel should continue to receive aid, but there should be a gradual reduction in the amount given over time.

I wouldn't question what (the Israelis) need to do to defend themselves.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
Paul also introduced legislation to remove all foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority unless the body disassociates from Hamas. On at least two occasions, Paul voted for economic sanctions on Iran.

While Paul may be allaying fears of the GOP’s ardent Israel supporters, he may also risk losing the support of his libertarian base, many of whom believe loosening support for Israel is a conduit for a more restrained foreign policy.

In Israel’s current battle with Gaza, Paul has kept his distance.

“I wouldn’t question what [the Israelis] need to do to defend themselves,” the senator said during a radio interview. “”It’s not our job to second guess.”

Blogger Daniel Larison criticized this interpretation, saying that a refusal to “second guess” what an ally “does in the name of self-defense is to say that we should simply stop thinking about the relevant issues” concerning foreign policy. Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer and one-time adviser to Ron Paul, deemed the son “unfit to lead” over his “persistent pandering to Israel.”

However, Paul’s actions do appear aimed to accomplish at least two objectives:

  1. Move American foreign policy from one that frequently intervenes to one more restrained.
  2. Obtain enough political cover so that achieving the first objective does not appear synonymous with abandoning an American ally.

Despite Ron Paul’s improved showing in 2012, he was still far from claiming the Republican presidential nomination. Losing the core of Ron Paul’s supporters does little to sink a Rand Paul nomination. A number of moves have pleased his libertarian base, but the gates of support must be widened for the younger Paul to win the nomination.

In at least one poll, as much as 70 percent of white evangelicals support Israel against Gaza. To win the Republican nomination, this constituency — a much larger voting bloc than the libertarian base — must be addressed

So when opposing a potential Syrian war, Paul tied opposition not to the “American Empire,” but to the fate of Syria’s Christian population. Paul warned intervention could lead to “another Islamic state where Christians are persecuted.”

On foreign aid, Paul has reasoned that it is in Israel’s interests to be free of American money. After his 2013 trip to Israel, the senator said removing foreign aid may mean Israel can act more independently. It may also free the U.S. from shared responsibility in all actions of the Israeli government.

Rand Paul’s approach to the subject of Israel has been an attempt to reconcile two factions of his party into a winning coalition: those who want to maintain a tight relationship with Israel and those who want to loosen those bonds in favor of a more peaceful foreign policy. The road has been bumpy at times, but polls showing Paul as a formidable 2016 presidential candidate demonstrate that the road he has taken has thus far not overturned his ambitions.