Rand Paul’s Modified Limited Hangout on Israel

So who wants to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016? It’s been rumored for a while that the junior United States Senator from Kentucky is very interested.

But if so, Rand Paul has some fences to mend. And he’s been working on one via a trip to Israel last week, where he sought to offset his long-standing demands for reduced U.S. aid to Israel (and everybody else) with all sorts of sympathetic noises about Israel’s own policies, as explained by the New York Sun‘s Seth Lipsky:

In Jerusalem last week, the senator met a broad range of leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, as well as Naftali Bennett, a rising right-wing leader aligned with the settler movement.

The Jerusalem Post quoted Paul addressing questions about what Israel should do about the settlements and Gaza. “Well,” he replied, “America should and does have an opinion about these things, but ultimately these are decisions you have to make.”

There hasn’t been such a supportive comment on Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and in Jerusalem since Sarah Palin last spoke on the subject. Her comments drove the left up the wall.

Paul also voiced support on Gaza: “I don’t think you need to call me on the phone and get permission to stop missiles raining down from Gaza.” He seems to want Israel to have a free hand in its own affairs, which dovetails with his wariness on foreign aid.

Indeed. It’s one thing to say you have no issues with Israel going to war with Iran, and another altogether to promise to join right in. But I guess Paul’s doing what he can do to perform the maneuver famously described in the Nixon White House Tapes as a “modified limited hangout” by going as far as he can go, even if he’ll never earn the trust of neocon foreign policy types.

And that may not matter a lot for someone more interested in the good opinion of the people at Pizza Ranches in Iowa than in the offices of The Weekly Standard. The Iowa Republican reports that Paul’s entourage in the trip to Israel–itself sponsored by the famously homophobic social conservative group the American Family Association–was chock-a-block with Iowa Christian Right stalwarts:

The trip was arranged by the American Family Association and included 53 prominent evangelicals and conservative activists. Among them: RPI Chairman A.J. Spiker, Iowa National Committeewoman Tamara Scott and Pastor Brad Sherman, who played a key role in Mike Huckabee’s 2008 Iowa campaign … South Carolina’s GOP Chairman Chad Connelly was also on the trip.

Who cares if William Kristol or Jennifer Rubin considers you an Enemy of Israel if the real “Israel Lobby” in the GOP, the Christian Right, disagrees? Not Rand Paul.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.