Why a Rand Paul presidency isn’t kosher

The past week has seen heightened speculation over a potential 2016 bid for the White House by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R). On Sunday Paul was quoted as “seriously thinking about” a 2016 bid; the following day Senator Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) added to the gossip by responding that his son would “probably” run in 2016.

Senator Paul has had some admirable moments in his short Senate career, including his famous filibuster to force clarifications on assassinations of U.S. citizens, but the prospect of a Rand Paul presidency is a horrifying prospect, both for Israel and U.S. foreign policy in the region.

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Almost one year ago I ran through a torrential downpour in Jerusalem to attend a breakfast with Rand Paul put on by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies, an Israeli free-market think tank. The event was part of a whirlwind tour sponsored by the American Family Association, an evangelical group, that was seeking to combat Paul’s anti-Israel image, to make him a viable presidential candidate in 2016.

Senator Paul’s address to the breakfast was unforgettable for its unconventional approach to America’s Israel policy. Paul was quoted as saying, "If somebody asked me where to build in Israel, I would say it's none of my business," and he means it.

Paul is neither hawkish, nor dovish. He wants the U.S. out of the international aid business. That’s bad for the U.S. and it’s bad for U.S. interests in the Middle East.

As Paul praised Israel he simultaneously suggested gradually cutting all U.S. aid to the country, and immediately cutting aid to Israel’s Arab neighbors. His justification was based on Israel’s ability to flourish in free market arms trade and because the U.S. shouldn’t be borrowing from China to give to Israel.

On cutting aid to Arab countries, Paul said he didn’t want Israel to have to go to war with her neighbors and “face an Abrams tank.” Senator Paul has been consistent in his continued support of this rhetoric, but having a potential U.S. president espousing such views is worrying, both because of their illogical basis and the dangerous consequences of their implementation.

Israel’s defense industry is indeed already thriving in the world’s arms markets and currently sits as the 6th largest exporter in the world. However, from an Israeli perspective, why would something as vital as defense be put to chance in the free market? What if Israeli defense firms do well initially but are outcompeted in the globalized arms bazaar? Such a scenario could put Israel’s economy and military at a disadvantage.

On the American side of the equation, giving up aid to Israel as Paul suggests would be a foolish abandonment of influence. Without U.S. cooperation and military aid to Israel there would be less of an ability to step in and block arms deals against U.S. interests, as has been the case in the past. The converse of Paul’s rhetoric at the breakfast nearly a year ago is a scary prospect - America or her allies facing a Merkava tank or advanced drone.

As for aid causing increased U.S. debt, Israel is only allowed to spend up to 26.3 percent of American aid on Israeli manufacturers, the rest must be used on American made weapons systems. In essence, the U.S. is providing a stimulus package for its own companies. Further, some of the weapons systems developed and designed in Israel using Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants provided by the U.S. end up having their production transferred stateside. The U.S. also enjoys technology sharing, with Brigadier-General Shachar Shohat, commander of the IDF, recently suggesting joint production of Tamir interceptors, part of the infamous Iron Dome system.

After his trip to Israel, Senator Paul didn’t change his stance on cutting foreign aid to Israel, or any other country for that matter. Paul has been clear and consistent in supporting a foreign policy that would be detrimental to the U.S. and our ally Israel. As a senator who is deeply concerned about the deficit it seems ridiculous that Paul places so much emphasis on foreign aid, which as a whole makes up approximately 1 percent of the U.S. budget

For any supporter of Israel and an influential U.S. foreign policy, a vote for Rand Paul could only be explained as a deficit of logic.

Strauss is a recent M.A. graduate of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is now based in New York City. He works for The Common Good, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that strives to encourage broad participation in our democracy through the free exchange of ideas and civil dialogue.