Is Sheldon Adelson Turning Even Rand Paul Anti-Isolationist?

The staunchly pro-Israel megadonor’s 2016 involvement puts Paul in a precarious position.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
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Lucia Graves
April 17, 2014, 1 a.m.

When Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls met with Shel­don Ad­el­son in Las Ve­gas last month, the bil­lion­aire casino mogul who al­most single-handedly kept the Newt Gin­grich primary cam­paign alive in 2012, had just an­nounced his in­ten­tion to back the Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate with the clearest shot at win­ning the White House in 2016.

But Rand Paul, the Ken­tucky sen­at­or who’s been singled out as a Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner, was nowhere to be found. It’s not en­tirely sur­pris­ing giv­en that Paul was sim­il­arly miss­ing from the wish list of 2016 con­tenders Ad­el­son drew up last year.

While Ad­el­son has re­peatedly in­sisted his de­cision about whom to back in 2016 will be gov­erned solely by elect­ab­il­ity, two pet is­sues stand above all the rest. One is his push to kill on­line gambling (there’s evid­ence he’s already made in­roads with the GOP there). The oth­er — and this is where Paul comes in — is pro­tec­tion of Is­rael.

Rand Paul’s for­eign policy views have al­ways been more nu­anced than those of his isol­a­tion­ist fath­er, Ron Paul, but they’ve still earned him ample cri­ti­cism from con­ser­vat­ives. In par­tic­u­lar, his ar­gu­ment for cur­tail­ing for­eign as­sist­ance abroad has con­cerned al­lies of Is­rael, which re­ceives more than $3 bil­lion in aid from the U.S. an­nu­ally.

The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Jen­nifer Ru­bin, in a Tues­day ed­it­or­i­al titled “Rand Paul’s For­eign Policy Ex­trem­ism,” sug­ges­ted such po­s­i­tions won’t sit well with people “who play a sig­ni­fic­ant role in pres­id­en­tial primar­ies.” In­deed.

Though he was nev­er men­tioned by name at the Las Ve­gas meet­ing, an event put on by the Re­pub­lic­an Jew­ish Co­ali­tion, speak­er after speak­er im­pli­citly cri­ti­cized Paul’s re­l­at­ively isol­a­tion­ist ap­proach to for­eign policy, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Time‘s Zeke Miller. From Miller’s re­port:

Sev­er­al prom­in­ent GOP donors at the con­fer­ence sug­ges­ted that [Shel­don] Ad­el­son, who spent more than $100 mil­lion back­ing Newt Gin­grich and Rom­ney in 2012, is likely to spend vast sums against Paul if he ap­pears to be well po­si­tioned in the Re­pub­lic­an primar­ies. Ad­el­son’s spend­ing is largely mo­tiv­ated by his strong con­cern for Is­rael, and Paul’s po­s­i­tions may well put a tar­get on his back.

Re­cently, Paul’s been go­ing out of his way to em­phas­ize that his for­eign policy po­s­i­tion is evolving, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to Is­rael. He’s in­creased out­reach to pro-Is­rael and neo­con­ser­vat­ive groups, ac­cord­ing to Miller’s re­port. And while he once favored deep cuts in for­eign aid, in­clud­ing elim­in­at­ing U.S. money for Is­rael, he has since softened his stance. Paul now says the U.S. should start by cut­ting aid to coun­tries who “don’t ap­pear to be our al­lies,” and in 2013 traveled to Is­rael to per­son­ally re­lay the mes­sage.

In a Tues­day op-ed pub­lished in The Wash­ing­ton Post, Paul sought to cla­ri­fy his po­s­i­tion on Ir­an, where de­vel­op­ment of nuc­le­ar weapons is a ma­jor con­cern for Is­rael.

“I am not for con­tain­ment in Ir­an,” he wrote (con­tain­ment here means liv­ing with an Ir­an with nuc­le­ar weapons). “Let me re­peat that, since no one seems to be listen­ing closely: I am un­equi­voc­ally not for con­tain­ing Ir­an.”

Paul’s ar­gu­ment was that his vote against a bill that would have pre­ven­ted a policy of con­tain­ment in Ir­an had been mis­in­ter­preted by the me­dia. But his ap­peal didn’t end there. “For­eign policy is com­plic­ated and doesn’t fit neatly with­in a bump­er stick­er, head­line, or tweet,” Paul said. “Those who re­duce it to such do a dis­ser­vice to their re­port­ing and, po­ten­tially, to the se­cur­ity of our na­tion.”

Much of the ed­it­or­i­al was ded­ic­ated to at­tack­ing the per­cep­tion that his views are anti-Amer­ic­an-in­ter­ven­tion in any cir­cum­stance. “False choices between be­ing every­where all of the time and nowhere any of the time are fod­der for de­bate on Sunday morn­ing shows or news­pa­per columns,” he wrote. “Real for­eign policy is made in the middle; with nu­ance; in the gray area of dip­lomacy, en­gage­ment and re­luct­antly, if ne­ces­sary, mil­it­ary ac­tion.”

Paul will likely nev­er win over pro-Is­rael groups, and some move­ment to­ward the middle, or nor­mal­iz­ing, is in­ev­it­able for any ser­i­ous 2016 con­tender. Still, wheth­er he’s ac­tu­ally evolving on for­eign policy or simply, as he claims, cor­rect­ing for me­dia spin, the op­tics of his Is­rael-friendly pro­nounce­ments aren’t good — the tim­ing is such that it’s hard to ig­nore the in­cent­ives put in place by Ad­el­son and the hawk­ish, pro-Is­rael wing of the GOP.

After all, even a Paul can’t run a win­ning pres­id­en­tial cam­paign on $25 checks from the grass­roots alone. 

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