This Is How Rand Paul Is Trying to Win Over the Right on Foreign Policy

The Kentucky Republican’s policies toward Israel may not have changed much. But his rhetoric has.

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the Berkeley Forum on the UC Berkeley campus on March 19, 2014 in Berkeley, California. 
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
July 2, 2014, 4:51 a.m.

Sen. Rand Paul has a new an op-ed in the Na­tion­al Re­view call­ing for in­creased U.S. sup­port for Is­rael, and giv­ing grist to the idea that he is an in­ev­it­able 2016 can­did­ate.

If he is in­deed plan­ning to run for pres­id­ent in 2016, the column gives us a good pre­view of the rhet­or­ic he’ll use to try to win over con­ser­vat­ives.

Paul’s Na­tion­al Re­view piece is centered on the three Is­raeli teen­agers who were found dead on Monday after dis­ap­pear­ing on June 12. The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment has held the ter­ror­ist group Hamas ac­count­able for the kid­nap­pings and murders, but Hamas has denied re­spons­ib­il­ity.

In his column, the sen­at­or known for hav­ing an isol­a­tion­ist streak strengthened his rhet­or­ic on Is­rael:

I think it is clear by now: Is­rael has shown re­mark­able re­straint. It pos­sesses a mil­it­ary with clear su­peri­or­ity over that of its Palestini­an neigh­bors, yet it does not re­spond to threat after threat, pro­voca­tion after pro­voca­tion, with the type of force that would de­cis­ively end their con­flict.

As Lu­cia Graves at Na­tion­al Journ­al pres­ci­ently wrote in May, Paul has vis­ibly “evolved” on Is­rael — or at least his rhet­or­ic has — since he be­came a sen­at­or. In 2011, shortly after be­ing sworn in, Paul called for the U.S. to cut off aid to Is­rael en­tirely.

“I think they’re an im­port­ant ally, but I also think that their per cap­ita in­come is great­er than prob­ably three-fourths of the rest of the world,” Paul told ABC then. “Should we be giv­ing free money or wel­fare to a wealthy na­tion? I don’t think so.”

That’s Paul’s conun­drum: At heart, he’s a de­fi­cit hawk. But to win over con­ser­vat­ive voters he must mas­quer­ade as a de­fense hawk.

Paul’s change in tone may be ideo­lo­gic­al, but it’s also prag­mat­ic. In March, Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial hope­fuls — not in­clud­ing Paul — met with the casino own­er and GOP megadonor Shel­don Ad­el­son in Las Ve­gas. The week­end was in­form­ally called the “Ad­el­son primary,” and at­trac­ted rumored can­did­ates such as Chris Christie, Scott Walk­er, and John Kasich.

Ad­el­son, 80, is the eighth-richest per­son in the world, and is staunchly pro-Is­rael. In the two days after the Las Ve­gas meet­ing, he per­son­ally made $2.1 bil­lion — 21 times more than the amount he donated in the 2012 elec­tion. An aide to Paul told The At­lantic he’d been in­vited to the Shel­don primary, but had to de­cline be­cause of per­son­al com­mit­ments.

Since that fate­ful week­end, Paul has been beef­ing up his Is­rael bona fides. In May, he in­tro­duced the Stand With Is­rael Act, which would cut off U.S. aid to the Palestini­an Au­thor­ity un­til it form­ally re­cog­nizes the state of Is­rael. The bill hasn’t moved in the Sen­ate yet, and Paul is try­ing to give it an­oth­er boost with his new op-ed. Even the Amer­ic­an Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, the top pro-Is­rael lob­by­ing shop in the coun­try, has said it won’t sup­port Paul’s bill.

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Paul’s latest pro­pos­als are not so dif­fer­ent from those of the non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist Paul we’ve seen in years past. He’s not re­quest­ing the U.S. air­drop troops onto the West Bank, or even any ad­di­tion­al U.S. in­volve­ment. The dif­fer­ence is that now, he’s wrap­ping his pro­pos­als in more hawk­ish lan­guage, ba­sic­ally call­ing on Is­rael to take Hamas out.

“Some say my po­s­i­tion is too hard-line, too strong,” Paul wrote on Tues­day. But it’s hard to ima­gine which hy­po­thet­ic­al people have ac­cused Paul of tak­ing too hard a line on Is­rael … yet.

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