Call me a single-issue voter.
If Rand Paul dropped to 0 percent and had $1 in his campaign coffers, he still might be the most important candidate in the Republican presidential race.
The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah seemed to agree recently, and for the same reason.
When South African-born Noah took over for Jon Stewart last month, he said the U.S. politician he was enamored with most was Paul. The Daily Beast reported, “Despite Paul’s lackluster standing and poll numbers in the 2016 primary, Noah says it was the senator’s two debate performances thus far that impressed him so much.”
“He was saying things that were sane at the debates, he really was,’ Noah said, referring, in part, to Paul’s less ‘knee-jerk,’ neoconservative, invasion-happy approach to foreign policy.”
“He wasn’t gung-ho,” Noah said.
Paul wasn’t “gung-ho.” He was saying sane things.
But perhaps that’s putting it too lightly.
Our foreign policy is run by crazy people. I don’t mean legitimately insane, but politicians who insist America must do things around the world that have been empirically proven not to work—for decades—at great cost to our country’s finances, military, prestige and actual security.
Some might say our foreign policy is more complex than this, and in many ways it is.
Except where it isn’t.
We toppled a secular dictator in Iraq in 2003, empowering Iran and creating a vacuum for radical extremists that led to the rise of ISIS. We toppled a secular dictator in Libya in 2011 that destabilized the country, including creating the conditions that led to the 2012 tragedy in Benghazi. We gave weapons to supposedly “moderate” rebels in Libya and Syria that ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Republicans and Democrats did these things—and the Middle East is less stable and our enemies are more emboldened today due to U.S. intervention.
What does Washington think we need to do to improve foreign relations? More intervention.
Conservatives complain that when liberals see a problem, they think government must fix it. Conservatives say government might make things worse. Liberals slam conservatives for “doing nothing.”
But what if doing something is worse than doing nothing?
This has been the story of U.S. foreign policy for the last twenty years.
Liberals never admit when a government program doesn’t work—they just insist we need to do more. Too many Republicans have the same attitude about foreign policy—no matter how disastrous the results, we simply must do more of what we’ve always done.
Somehow, it will be different this time.
Among the Republican candidates, most share some part of the basic Washington foreign policy consensus—that the never-ending plethora of problems abroad can be fixed to the degree that we are willing to use our military might.
Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina are some of the most hawkish among Republicans, but even frontrunner Donald Trump—who rightfully calls the Iraq war a mistake—says we should put boots on the ground to fight ISIS and invade countries to take their oil. Ben Carson, John Kasich and Ted Cruz have said a few sensible things on the foreign policy front. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy wouldn’t be different than that of most hawkish Republicans.
But as Trevor Noah seemed to notice, Rand Paul is the only Republican candidate who’s made fundamentally changing U.S. foreign policy part of his platform. The other Republican candidates differ mostly in degree, not kind, generally agreeing with each other that America must try to fix problems abroad that history and experience have taught us we can’t fix.
It’s just what Washington believes. It’s a status quo that doesn’t make sense, yet won’t change until someone successfully challenges it.
Donald Trump can be bombastic. Jeb Bush can be serious. Marco Rubio can be a fresh face. Carly Fiorina can be feisty. Their poll and fundraising numbers can go up and down.
I don’t care. Because none of them will change this:
Disclosure: I co-authored Senator Rand Paul’s 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington.