US Republican Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul addresses the 2015 Conservative Policy Summit at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, DC on Jan. 13, 2015.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

Why Rand Paul can’t explain his support for the sabotage letter

When 47 Senate Republicans sent a letter to Iran in the hopes of sabotaging international nuclear talks, it was a bit of a surprise to see Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) name on the list. Given his ideology and purported beliefs, it looked as if he’d fallen in with a strange crowd – filled with colleagues he disagrees with.
The day the letter went public, Glenn Greenwald, who has at times been complimentary towards the senator on matters related to the national security state, highlighted the surprising fact that Rand Paul “is part of the GOP campaign to threaten to undo a US/Iran deal on behalf of Israel.”
The Kentucky Republican has been struggling ever since.
A few days after the letter went public, Paul told Matt Lauer that he signed on to the sabotage letter because he wanted to “strengthen the president’s hand.” When the “Today” host seemed incredulous, the GOP presidential candidate struggled to respond.
Several days later, at the SXSW conference in Austin, Paul repeated the bizarre line, saying he signed the letter intended to undermine the president’s negotiating position “because I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength.”
It’s been two weeks, and the unannounced presidential candidate apparently can’t think of a more coherent explanation.
“We wrote laws putting sanctions on Iran,” Paul said. “My goal in supporting those was to get them to the negotiating table. I don’t want to push them away. I have not favored more sanctions during the negotiations – I want the negotiations to succeed.”
Dan Brian, a technical writer at Dyn, looked skeptically at Paul as the senator answered his question. “I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength,” said Paul.
The New Hampshire voter who asked the question left unsatisfied, saying he found Paul’s response “kind of ridiculous.” There’s a good reason for that.
As we talked about the other day, the senator’s posture is arguably the worst of both worlds. For far-right politicians like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), last week’s unprecedented stunt was at least coherent – he and other Republicans wanted to derail the diplomatic efforts, betray President Obama, undermine American foreign policy, and push the world closer to a military confrontation with Iran. Putting aside whether or not the letter was disgusting, there was at least an obvious parallel between the letter and its objectives.
There is no similar logic to Rand Paul’s argument. He’s opposed to a war with Iran, so he signed on to a letter than would push us closer to a war with Iran. He wanted to help the White House “negotiate from a position of strength,” so he put his signature on a letter designed to weaken the administration’s negotiating position.
The fact that Rand Paul signed the letter is a problem. The fact that Rand Paul apparently didn’t understand the point of the letter he signed is a much more alarming problem.
And the fact that after two weeks, the senator still doesn’t know what to say about this fiasco is just sad, especially for a presidential candidate.