Rand Paul Defends Obama Against Dick Cheney

Rand Paul
Rand Paul speaks during the second day of the Fifth annual Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" Policy Conference in Washington, June 20, 2014. Larry Downing / Reuters

Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, has waded into the ongoing blame game over who is responsible for the unfolding crisis in Iraq. A constant critic of President Barack Obama, this time the Republican presidential hopeful sided with the president and criticized the George W. Bush administration.

Paul’s intervention follows an op-ed written by Paul for the Wall Street Journal in which he criticizes President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war to oust the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. “Much of the rationale for going to war did not measure up” to the “Weinberger Doctrine” by which President Ronald Reagan decided whether the U.S. should involve itself in foreign military adventures, Sen Paul argued.

On Sunday Paul will return to the fray. In a clip of an interview that will air Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Paul, a libertarian who is considering a presidential bid in 2016, responded to former Vice President Dick Cheney, a key architect of the Iraq War who recently penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed attacking Obama’s foreign policy.

“Do you think Dick Cheney is a credible critic of this president?” host David Gregory asked Paul, quoting from Cheney’s op-ed in which Cheney wrote, “Rarely has a U.S. president been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many.”

“I think the same questions could be asked of those who supported the Iraq War,” Paul responded. “You know, were they right in their predictions? Were there weapons of mass destruction there? That’s what the war was sold on. Was democracy easily achievable? Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn’t really, I think, understand the civil war that would break out. And what’s going on now.”

Paul continued: “I don’t blame on President Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq War on the chaos that is in the Middle East. I also blame those who are for the Iraq War for emboldening Iran. These are the same people now who are petrified of what Iran may become, and I understand some of their worry.”

Until now, the crisis in Iraq has ignited a round of finger-pointing between Democrats and Republicans in Washington over who is responsible for the current crisis: Was it President George W. Bush’s Iraq War that led to the crisis, or is President Obama to blame.

But as the Sunday talk shows take on the issue this weekend, Paul’s interview will also highlight the ongoing struggle within the GOP between its isolationist and neo-conservative factions. Paul is squarely in the isolationist camp, though he has made repeated overtures to demonstrate that he is not as stridently isolationist as his father, former GOP Representative Ron Paul of Texas and a libertarian hero.

With military and diplomatic crises from the civil war in Syria to the upheaval in Ukraine, Paul’s more isolationist leanings were at odds with many in the GOP who wanted Obama to become more involved in these regional conflicts.

The crisis in Iraq, on the other hand, in which an ultra-extreme terrorist group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (often called ISIS or ISIL), has taken over large swaths of Iraq and threaten the stability not only of Iraq’s government but the entire Middle East, provides Paul with an opportunity to defend his foreign policy approach.

“Saying the mess in Iraq is President Obama's fault ignores what President Bush did wrong. Saying it is President Bush's fault is to ignore all the horrible foreign policy decisions in Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere under President Obama, many of which may have contributed to the current crisis in Iraq,” Paul wrote in his op-ed. This back-and-forth “only serves as a reminder that both sides continue to get foreign policy wrong.”

Here’s Paul seizes his moment to pitch his own foreign policy: “We need a new approach, one that emulates Reagan's policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.”

Paul’s decision to criticize the last Republican president is echoed by other conservative voices, including Christopher Ruddy, editor in chief of the conservative news outlet Newsmax.

“‘Blame Obama’ seems to be the mantra of the day, especially from the Republican side of the aisle, whether it be the Bergdahl-Taliban swap or the new crisis in Iraq,” wrote Ruddy. While condemning Obama for making “a bad deal” over the release of Sergeant Bowe Berghdal exchange for releasing five Al Qaeda terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Ruddy defends the president on the current Iraq crisis.

“Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to criticize the president about. I have done, and will continue to do, my share,” wrote Ruddy and reminded conservatives, “Republicans should remember if they complain about everything, they complain about nothing.”