The reason Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) signed onto a controversial letter to the leaders of Iran was to give President Barack Obama more leverage in his negotiations over the country's nuclear program, the would-be presidential candidate said Sunday. "There's no one in Washington more against war and more for a negotiated deal than I am," Paul said in an interview at SXSW in Austin, Texas. "But I want the negotiated deal to be a good deal. So my reason for signing onto the letter, I think it reiterates what is the actual law, that Congress will have to undo sanctions. But I also signed onto the letter because I want the president to negotiate from a position of strength which means that he needs to be telling them in Iran that 'I've got Congress to deal with.'"
Iran policy trips up Rand Paul
It's the worst of both worlds: Rand Paul signed onto the GOP sabotage letter last week, but he didn't understand its purpose.
Last month, in honor of Valentine's Day, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) thought it'd be funny to create a fake Pinterest page to mock Hillary Clinton -- because there's nothing more amusing than jokes that combine Valentine's Day and Benghazi conspiracy theories. The page, dismissed as "sexist, unfunny and painfully lame," was taken down soon after.
The Republican senator is not, however, done playing little online games. His political action committee's Facebook page launched a quiz late last week, asking visitors "to guess whether remarks over U.S.-Iranian negotiations are from Hillary Clinton or a spokesman for Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei."
Of course, given the larger context, Paul's latest Internet enterprise might be more compelling if he hadn't just signed on to the Senate GOP letter intended to sabotage American foreign policy, side with Iranian hardliners, and end international nuclear diplomacy with Iran.
In some respects, this might be 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.
Rand Paul's argument, on the other hand, is more of a mess.
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 -- especially for someone who would like to be the leader of the free world in 22 months.
Keep in mind, the Kentucky senator has had some time to come up with a good defense for his participation with this dangerous stunt, but he apparently can't think of anything else. 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.
There's a growing list of issues Rand Paul claims to care deeply about, but which he does not appear to understand at a basic level. It appears we now have a new addition to that list.
For more on the senator's appearance at the SXSW conference in Austin, check out Dafna Linzer's report from the weekend.