the national interest

Rand Paul Says Something Non-Crazy About Iran

Real Talk. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The official U.S. line on Iran is that allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon is completely and totally intolerable. The implication is that, should peaceful means fail to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, we may use military strikes. Rand Paul said, in so many words, Come on, man, let’s get real:

They said containment will never ever, ever be our policy,” Paul said of those who oppose Iran getting nuclear weapons at any cost. “We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons. If that would have been our policy toward Pakistan, we would be at war with Pakistan. We woke up one day and China had nuclear weapons. We woke up one day and Russia had them.”

“The people who say ‘by golly, we will never stand for that,’ they are voting for war,” he added.

Staunch neoconservative Jennifer Rubin is, not surprisingly, aghast. “No GOP elected leader or 2016 contender would agree with him. In fact, no elected Democrat probably would, either,” she writes. The key term here is elected. Plenty of unelected analysts say the United States can tolerate a nuclear-armed Iran. “Tolerate” doesn’t mean “enjoy.” It means we should take every non-military step to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but should those fail, deterrence is a more workable strategy than war. Hawkish Democratic foreign advisor Kenneth Pollack has made this case in two books.

It’s true that elected politicians tend not to say this, because why admit the potential failure of Plan A? What Paul is doing is merely saying out loud what many of them understand perfectly well.

But in so doing, Paul has put himself, once again, at odds with hawks who actually want to carry out bomb strikes if necessary, as opposed to using them as a bluff. Rubin unleashes what may be the most serious charge one can make against a fellow Republican:

It definitively de-Reaganizes him. Reagan did not say maybe we wouldn’t necessarilyrespond to a Soviet strike or maybe they’d win and we lose the Cold War. The idea that Reagan would consider allowing a reckless enemy of the United States with terrorists at its beck and call get the bomb is preposterous.

He’s been de-Reaganized! Reagan would never allow a reckless enemy with terrorists at his beck and call to develop serious weapons. He might give them the weapons on his own, sure. But he’d never say something reasonable about the subject.

Rand Paul Says Something Non-Crazy About Iran