Former Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul was not at all pleased with last week’s announcement about January’s deadly drone strike along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The former Texas congressman said the Americans killed in the strike “were literally assassinated.”
And given his history, it’s tempting to assume Ron Paul’s son, Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul, would use similar rhetoric. It was, after all, the Kentucky senator who took to the chamber floor two years ago to speak for nearly 13 hours about his deep skepticism surrounding the U.S. drone policy.
But as it turns out, Rand Paul and Ron Paul, at least publicly, are not on the same page. As Dave Weigel reported this morning, the current GOP presidential candidate made this clear on Fox News this morning.
“I do think that there is a valuable use for drones and as much as I’m seen as an opponent of drones, in military and warfare, they do have some value,” Paul said [on “Fox & Friends”]. “I think this is a difficult situation. You have hostages being held; some of them are American. You have people holding hostages; some of them are American. I’ve been an opponent of using drones about people not in combat. However if you are holding hostages, you kind of are involved in combat. So I look at it the way it is in the United States. If there’s a kidnapping in New York, the police don’t have to have a warrant to go in.”Had Paul never spoken out about drones before, this would have been a newsless answer, comparable to what other Republican candidates and politicians had been saying. But Paul has a long, dramatic record of pronouncements about drones.
Though Rand Paul seemed likely to be the only Republican to go after the Obama administration’s admitted mistake, the Kentucky Republican, after saying very little soon after the revelations last week, is prepared to give the president a pass.
“You really don’t get due process or anything like that if you are in a war zone,” Paul this morning. “I tend not to want to blame the president for the loss of life here. I think he was trying to do the right thing.”
The senator’s apparent “evolution” is now complete.
Remember, it wasn’t just Rand Paul’s 13-hour speech that positioned him as a chief critic of U.S. drone policy. As we talked about last week, not long after the “Stand With Rand” moment on the Senate floor, the Kentucky Republican insisted drone strikes as part of a counter-terrorism policy are at odds with the American system of due process. In May 2014, the senator railed against a presidential judicial nominee, again over drones.
He then quietly started shifting his posture. In fact, exactly one year ago yesterday, Rand Paul said on Fox News that he’s comfortable with the executive branch having the authority to use drones on Americans over U.S. soil if an administration perceives an “imminent threat.” The senator even went so far as to say, “If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and 50 dollars in cash, I don’t care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him.”
As of this morning, his skepticism appears to be gone altogether.
It’s possible Rand Paul is adopting a new posture as a matter of partisan convenience – he desperately wants to be seen as part of the Republican “mainstream” – though it’s a curious strategy. GOP hawks will never take his newfound positions seriously, and all the while, the senator is simply giving away one of the few things that helped him stand apart in a crowded Republican field.
Or maybe Rand Paul never fully understood drone policy as well as the political world thought he did, and his embrace of this as a signature issue was always superficial and poorly thought out.
Either way, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who’s been quietly fueding with his Kentucky colleague, trolled Rand Paul on Twitter this morning, congratulating him on his “new position.”
There are all kinds of worthwhile questions about U.S. drone policy that could, in theory, be part of a national debate, especially during a presidential campaign filled with Obama critics. Does the U.S. drone policy work? Why is there so little transparency? What safeguards are in place to prevent deadly mistakes? Should responsibility for implementing the policy be under military or CIA control? To what degree is due process even considered? Do officials even know who’s being targeted by the drone strikes themselves?
If you’re waiting for Rand Paul to ask any of these questions, you’ll have to wait a while longer.