the national interest

Rand Paul, Rick Perry Holding a Reagan-Off

You’re no Ronald Reagan. No, YOU’RE no Ronald Reagan. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This weekend, some hot Rand Paul–on–Rick Perry action broke out in our nation’s op-ed pages. Paul wrote an op-ed last month opposing military intervention against ISIS rebels in Iraq. On Friday, Perry wrote an op-ed of his own calling Paul an isolationist. Today Paul has another op-ed responding to Perry.

As is often the case with intra-Republican squabbles, the dispute has taken the form of a Reagan-Off. All sides take as settled fact the premise that Reagan revealed the truth to the world in its entirety forever and ever, and any revisions to the Party canon must make the case that rival claimants have incorrectly interpreted the Reagan writ. The ritual can be seen in the dueling op-eds.

Accordingly, Paul’s initial foray opens, “Though many claim the mantle of Ronald Reagan on foreign policy, too few look at how he really conducted it,” and builds up to a rousing call for “a new approach, one that emulates Reagan’s policies, puts America first, seeks peace, faces war reluctantly, and when necessary acts fully and decisively.” In conclusion, Ronald Reagan.

Perry replies that he will see Paul’s mere four Reagan references and double them:

Paul still advocates inaction, going so far as to claim in an op-ed last month in The Wall Street Journal that President Ronald Reagan’s own doctrines would lead him to same conclusion

Paul conveniently omitted Reagan’s long internationalist record of leading the world with moral and strategic clarity.

Unlike the noninterventionists of today, Reagan believed that our security and economic prosperity require persistent engagement and leadership abroad. He, like Eisenhower before him, refused to heed “the false prophets of living alone.”

Reagan identified Soviet communism as an existential threat to our national security and Western values, and he confronted this threat in every theater. Today, we count his many actions as critical to the ultimate defeat of the Soviet Union and the freeing of hundreds of millions from tyranny.

At the time, though, there were those who said that Reagan’s policies would push the Soviets to war 

I personally don’t believe in a wait-and-see foreign policy for the United States. Neither would Reagan.

Reagan led proudly from the front, not from behind; and when he drew a “red line,” the world knew exactly what that meant.

But in today’s world, with today’s threats, we still cannot “take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost.” That was President Reagan’s warning. Sen. Paul would be wise to heed it.

Paul today replies, oh, no — you don’t Reagan my Reagan, I Reagan your Reagan:

This is where many in my own party, similar to Perry, get it so wrong regarding Ronald Reagan’s doctrine of “peace through strength.” Strength does not always mean war. Reagan ended the Cold War without going to war with Russia. He achieved a relative peace with the Soviet Union — the greatest existential threat to the United States in our history — through strong diplomacy and moral leadership.

Reagan had no easy options either. But he did the best he could with the hand he was dealt. Some of Reagan’s Republican champions today praise his rhetoric but forget his actions. Reagan was stern, but he wasn’t stupid. Reagan hated war, particularly the specter of nuclear war. Unlike his more hawkish critics — and there were many — Reagan was always thoughtful and cautious.

The winner of this debate will meet Scott Walker, who hosts an annual dinner on Reagan’s birthday serving Reagan’s favorite foods, including macaroni-and-cheese casserole and jelly beans.