By Craig Robinson
U.S. Senator Rand Paul turned heads after he returned from Israel in January. Senator Paul seemed to break from his father’s anti-interventionist position when he said, “any attack on Israel will be treated as an attack on the United States.”
Most political pundits viewed the Senator’s trip and the comments that followed as an indication that Paul was already positioning himself for a 2016 presidential run. He followed his hawkish remarks regarding Israel with strong opposition to President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense, former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel.
However, when the final vote on Hagel came on Wednesday, Senator Paul was one of only four Republicans who voted for his confirmation. The other three who voted for Hagel were Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Senator Mike Johanns of Nebraska, and Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama.
Republicans made a number of arguments against Hagel’s nomination. Some were based on his temperament and others were based on his business and paid speeches, but the main argument against Hagel was that he was too sympathetic to some of America’s biggest adversaries.
Politico listed 10 different occasions when Hagel had either spoken negatively towards Israel or advocated for leniency in dealings with countries like Iran and Russia. Hagel also favored talks between the U.S. and Hamas, a group that has pledged to destroy Israel.
Sen. Paul’s vote for Hagel will likely haunt him should he run for president in the future. Foreign policy issues always find their way into a presidential election in one way or another, even during times of peace. American voters want to know that there is a steady hand at the wheel when it comes to the country’s dealings with the rest of the world. In a Republican primary, a candidate’s support of Israel is incredibly important, especially in conservative states like Iowa.
There were questions about Paul’s support of Israel in his 2010 primary campaign. The Republican Jewish Coalition worked against Paul in that race. The group’s executive director had this to say about Paul back then: “Rand Paul is outside the comfort level of a lot of people in the Jewish community, and in many ways outside of where the Republican Party is on many critical issues.”
Like it was with his father’s campaigns, foreign policy is the major inhibitor of Sen. Paul becoming a legitimate candidate for the presidency. That’s why his Israeli trip and subsequent comments about Israel were so widely discussed in political circles. His vote for Hagel’s confirmation only gives his future opponents ammunition.
As Sen. Paul was explaining to the media that he supported Hagel because the President gets to choose his appointees, one of his likely 2016 opponents, Rick Santorum blasted the vote to confirm Hagel.
“I’m disappointed Senators would vote to support Chuck Hagel as Defense Secretary because it sends the wrong message to our allies and enemies in the Middle East. Hagel has made a career of being outside the mainstream on foreign policy issues. He’s been too lenient on Iran’s development of nuclear weapons, he’s alienated our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel, and second guessed the troop surge in Iraq. In addition, during confirmation hearings, he failed to provide full details of profits from foreign investors and statements he made during past speaking engagements. I fear the signal that Hagel’s nomination sends to our enemies abroad.”
The website, DailyPaul.com celebrated Sen. Paul’s vote by writing, “Major win for the anti-war folks, embarrassment for the Neo-cons, Zionists/Israel lobby who fought tooth & nail against it. And based on his facebook, Rand was one of four Republicans to vote for Hagel. Yeah Rand! Cheers.”
Sen. Paul’s vote will be easy to explain to his anti-war, libertarian-leaning supporters, but will be a hard sell with more traditional voters should he run for president in 2016.
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