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Photo: Gage Skidmore

Remember the Iraq war? Most Americans do. But few remember it favorably—including most of the men and women who fought it.

How about our 13-year long war in Afghanistan? Not many support that anymore either.

Remember when President Obama bombed Libya in 2011? Most Americans were against it.

Remember when President Obama wanted to bomb Syria last year? Americans didn’t like that either.

Ah, but what about Iran? Most Americans would be OK going to war there, right? Not really.


What about Ukraine? Surely the American people want the U.S. to go in and clean up that mess, right? Not so much.

Nor do most Americans think it’s their country’s role to police the world.

Nor do they support the National Security Agency spying on them.

Nor do they think it’s strange that a Republican like Senator Rand Paul agrees with them on all of these foreign policy and civil liberties issues.

But who does think Paul’s foreign policy and civil liberties views are strange?

The Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens, for one, who argued recently that Paul is so far outside the mainstream that he would badly damage the Republican Party if he became the 2016 nominee. Stephens also still thinks the Iraq war was a good idea, that we should stay in Afghanistan, was eager to intervene in Syria and definitely thinks we should be policing the world.

National Review editor Rich Lowry recently said Paul’s foreign policy views were “immature,” “dewy-eyed” and more suited for the “dorm room.” Lowry is not reflexively anti-Rand Paul, but he is hawkish, supporting every intervention from Iraq to Syria. He doesn’t have a problem with NSA overreach. He even once entertained the idea of nuking Mecca.

Then there’s the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, who is always eager for military intervention and who blindly trusts just about everything the National Security Agency does. Rubin’s hatred for Paul’s foreign policy views knows no bounds. In March, she mentioned Paul’s name 143 times, more than any other figure except Obama. In April, she mentioned Paul’s name 147 times—more than any other figure including Obama.

Every mention was negative.

Like most hawks, Stephens, Lowry and Rubin make at least two important mistakes when it comes to assessing recent U.S. foreign policy and public opinion.

  1. They refuse to consider whether the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the two primary foreign policy events that most Americans now view as mistakes, might have been mistakes.
  2. They believe the only acceptable Republican foreign policy is one committed to defending those mistakes and possibly repeating them.

To most Americans this sounds crazy. It is.

Last week, the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza pointed to even more data outlining where most Americans now find themselves on foreign policy:

That the percentage of people who want the U.S. to be “less active” in world affairs has quadrupled over the last 13 years is absolutely remarkable… The party breakdowns on the questions are even more revealing. Nearly half of all Democrats and Republicans (45 percent for each) say that the U.S. should be less active in world affairs. A whopping six in ten political independents feel that way.

And, the NBC-WSJ poll is not an isolated finding. Back in December, Pew conducted a poll asking people whether they agreed with the statement that the U.S. should “mind its own business” internally.

Not only did a majority of Americans agree with that sentiment — up from three in ten in 2002 — but just 38 percent disagreed with it, the most lopsided edge for “minding its own business” in the nearly five-decade history of the poll.

Cillizza concluded:

Combine those two poll findings and it seems quite clear that simply dismissing Paul’s views on foreign policy as too outside either the GOP mainstream or the broader electorate’s thinking is a major mistake. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — and the fact that a majority of Americans now believe they weren’t worth fighting — has fundamentally re-shaped how most people view the U.S. role in the world. The political establishment — especially in the Republican party — look to be behind that curve.

Much like liberals with Obamacare, Republican hawks can’t bring themselves to admit another Iraq or Afghanistan would be a bad idea no matter how much everyone else arrives at that consensus. They become so ideologically invested in their agenda or vision that their faith begins to dictate their facts, not the actual facts.

To read the writings and hear the rhetoric of most hawks is to step into a bizarro world where most of the major foreign policy decisions of the last fifteen years were somehow wise, and even crazier—still somehow benefit the Republican Party—despite most data and public opinion telling us the opposite.

Hawks’ evidence for saying Rand Paul is outside the mainstream on foreign policy seems to be that it used to be true, and saying this over and over again now will somehow make it true again.

That’s not evidence. It’s a wish.

Most Americans are now with Rand Paul on foreign policy—whether some in his own party like it or not.

Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington

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