THE BLOG
08/20/2013 10:16 am ET | Updated Oct 20, 2013

Is Rand Paul Going Neocon on Iran?

Two years ago, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), after giving a foreign policy speech at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Service, said, "Iran has a large undercurrent of people who like the West. They like our music, our culture, our literature, and so I think we can influence people in those ways. I'd rather do that than go to war with Iran."

This statement was lauded by those--including myself--who seek a diplomatic solution with Iran.

Less than a year later, in March 2012, Sen. Paul put his money where his mouth is by standing up to his colleagues in Senate. He attempted to block a non-binding resolution that he felt would give the President carte blanche to preemptively attack Iran.

In October, I was able--along with another fellow Iranian-American from Kentucky--to meet with one of Sen. Paul's senior staff members.

"Sanctions don't have a history of working. All they do is lead us down a path to war," the staffer said, almost scoffing at the current within Congress to increase sanctions. I walked away feeling positive that diplomacy may actually get a chance.

What a difference a year makes.

Last Friday, I received an email from Rand Paul's office. He was, ostensibly, responding to my letter urging the Senate to oppose a new resolution that would call for the U.S. to enforce sanctions and provide economic, political, and military support if Israel attacked Iran. I opened it assuming that I'd read an email about how Senator Paul remained committed to standing strong against the push for war and sanctions. Boy was I wrong.

Ten months after sitting with what I assumed was a sympathetic ear, I read the following:

Iran continues to pose a threat to the region and the world as it continues nuclear development in the face of international sanctions and pressure to halt this aggressive behavior. Though a nuclear Iran would be a threat on the global scale, there is also concern that a nuclear Iran would aggressively target our ally Israel.

The United States and Israel have a special relationship. With our shared history and common values, the American and Israeli people have formed a bond that unifies us across many thousands of miles and calls on us to work together toward peace and prosperity. This peace is not only between our two nations, but also our neighbors.

In February 2013, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced S.Res.65, a Senate resolution stating it is the sense of Congress that the United States and international organizations should continue the enforcement of sanctions against Iran. In addition, S.Res.65 reiterates the policy of the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and our continued support of our ally Israel.

I supported S.Res.65, which passed both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the full Senate unanimously.

He goes on to mention that he got language included in the resolution stating that it does not authorize war. But I admittedly had to re-read the letter a few times. Here was a letter from Sen. Rand Paul, a supposed anti-sanctions, anti-war isolationist, that was basically doing a complete 180 degree turn away from what Paul's been advocating since before his election.

I guess Sen. Paul is no longer an anti-sanctions, anti-war stalwart. Instead, he's claiming sanctions and war threats are a vital part of preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon, despite the intelligence community's continued analysis that indicates Iran has still not decided to build one.

Could this turnabout be in reaction to the pressure Paul received for standing up against neoconservative calls for military threats against Iran on Capitol Hill? Is Paul caving to hawkish pro-Israel groups who have been angered by Paul's refusal to support the slide to war with Iran and his calls for cuts to foreign aid (including to Israel)? With his sights set on running for president, Dr. Paul appears ready to flip flop on Iran In order to shore up his credentials with AIPAC and others.

This signals just how powerful the neo-conservative movement is in the Republican Party. They apparently remain the kingmakers and if anyone wants to win the nomination in 2016 it won't be without their approval. And it looks as if they've answered affirmatively to Scott McConnell, who wrote a piece in November 2010 on the Tea Party's foreign policy:

The question is, can the neocons, as they have with other political factions in the past, successfully co-opt this new political force in such a way as to make it amenable to their goals?

It remains to be seen if Rand Paul is really willing to sell out his anti-sanctions, anti-war stance to AIPAC and the neo-cons. With a push underway for the Senate to consider new sanctions this fall, Paul will have a major role to play as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. If he is willing to flip flop on sanctions and war threats, I wonder what else he'd be willing to compromise. Will it be so farfetched to hear Paul calling for limited strikes on Iran--so long as Congress authorizes them. Will he continue to be the libertarian darling then? Regardless, his vow not to compromise post-2010 election looks in jeopardy.

David Shams holds a BA in Political Science from Murray State University and an MA in Diplomacy from the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce. He is currently a freelance journalist and comments frequently on events in the Middle East. He tweets @kypersian.

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