Will a Rand Paul Victory Signal an Isolationist GOP?

Ron Paul’s son is rising fast in Kentucky and one theory is that the driver is his opposition to Iraq and concerns about Afghanistan:

Rand Paul, an eye surgeon who got into politics by working on the campaigns of his father, libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, is pounding Trey Grayson, a two-term secretary of state groomed for the Senate by fellow Kentuckian Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

They both label themselves as “100 percent pro-life,” small-government conservatives. They are both anti-bailout, anti-Obamacare, pro-border fence and pro-gun…

…Paul says invading Iraq was the wrong thing to do, and while he supported the attack on Afghanistan, he expresses reservations about President Obama’s mission for U.S. forces there and speaks about the need to scale back overseas commitments.

Grayson, meanwhile, defends the Iraq invasion and argues for a long-term commitment to Afghanistan as part of “keeping America on the offensive” in the war on terrorism.

So, same/same on all issues but the war. Paul looks like a winner, ergo GOP voters are souring on the war and foreign intervention. Its a good theory, and true as far as it goes. But one shouldn’t read too much in to it.

The American people will sustain a military effort as long as victory is the goal. Part of the problem people are having with Afghanistan is that Obama is not seeking victory. He doesn’t even use the word as a goal – and without a clearly defined goal, it then becomes a question of “what are we fighting for?”.

If Rand Paul is making hay on this issue, it isn’t because the American people aren’t willing to fight for a better world but that they are not willing to fight endlessly just to spare an elected official the embarrassment of losing a war. If Obama were to vigorously proclaim victory and start being forceful – and stop coddling the Iranians who are backing our enemies – then there would be a much different dynamic in popular opinion about the war. A Paul victory will, in this sense, just instruct us – again – that in war there is no substitute for victory.

We can fence ourselves in, but we can’t fence the world out – in other words, we can’t become isolationist and wind up with other than a major war at some point. And probably with long odds against us because if we isolate, our friends in the world will be picked off one by one. But this doesn’t mean we have to plunge in to every conflict, nor does it mean we have to station troops in nations perfectly capable of defending themselves (Japan, Germany, South Korea – I’m looking at you).

The fundamental change I want to see in our foreign and military policy is that we only go forth to battle during a declared state of war against a particular nation or group of nations. In hindsight, President Bush should have sought a formal declaration of war against Afghanistan – and, in my view, against Iran, Saddam’s Iraq, Syria, Libya and Lebanon. All at once, and within days of 9/11 – might as well have fought it all out to the finish. It’d probably all be over by now – and while it would have been more costly initially, it would almost certainly cost less than its going to cost as we deal with this issue – including a nuclear-armed Iran – for another generation.

And if a President cannot carry Congress and people in to war, then the war should not be fought.