Among Senate Republicans, it’s probably fair to say no two members are more dissimilar on foreign policy than Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The South Carolinian is a hawk who’s long demonstrated an eagerness to exercise the United States’ military might, while the Kentuckian is a libertarian who envisions a drastically reduced military presence abroad.
One would ordinarily expect a president, especially a Republican president, to side with one of these GOP lawmakers. Donald Trump, however, seems to vacillate between them, depending on the day.
I’m reminded of fictional characters, presented as having an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other, each whispering in the protagonist’s ear – except in this case, it’s an amateur president, who has no consistent foreign policy vision of his own, and who apparently sees value in two opposing visions.
When Trump first announced a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, no Republican was happier than Rand Paul, just as no Republican was as dissatisfied as Lindsey Graham. The president proudly tweeted praise from the Kentuckian, while condemning the South Carolinian’s motives.
Two weeks later, the president seemed to flip, abandoning his plan for a precipitous withdrawal. After a meeting with Trump, a relieved Graham told reporters that when it came to U.S. troops in Syria, the president agreed to a “pause situation.”
Sen. Rand Paul strongly suggested that President Donald Trump is poised to begin scaling back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and will follow through on his promise to pull out of Syria, the Kentucky Republican told reporters Wednesday.
Paul met with Trump privately and in a larger meeting with other senators on the president’s plans to wind down the U.S. presence in Syria. While Paul would not talk specifics of Trump’s plans, he said that the president recognizes “we’ve been at war too long and in too many places.”
This is consistent with Josh Rogin’s recent piece for the Washington Post, which noted, “These days, Trump is listening more than ever to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is quietly steering U.S. foreign policy in a new direction.”
Rogin’s column was published on Dec. 27, less than a week after Trump had lunch with Lindsey Graham and changed direction, only to flip back to Rand Paul’s vision soon after.
At this point, is it safe to assume Graham is trying to scheduled another lunch with the president, at which point the administration’s foreign policy will switch once more?