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John Feehery: Rand Paul wrong on NSA

Greg Nash

It’s a dangerous world out there.

Vladimir Putin is on the march in Eastern Europe. Syria is a complete mess. North Korea’s butcher has systematically liquated potential rivals as he threatens our allies in South Korea and Japan with nuclear annihilation. 

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The Chinese are expanding their power and reach, building up their armed forces and intimidating their neighbors. Afghanistan is about to be overrun by the Taliban as we get ready to depart, and the Iranians are building up their nuclear capabilities and are moving to dominate Iraq. 

In Venezuela, Nicaragua and Argentina, political instability could lead to opportunities for mischief by our global rivals, with the most likely suspects being the Russians and the Chinese.

In the face of this more dangerous world, President Obama offers weakness. He admits that America won’t back our allies in Ukraine with any hope of military assistance, can’t get Congress to back him in Syria, and doesn’t do anything to counter the little dictator in Pyongyang.

Instead, Obama’s new budget cuts the Army to a size not seen since before the Second World War. According to USA Today, he proposed cuts to military assistance to Ukraine by more than 25 percent. He even proposed to cut military pay.

Where Ronald Reagan offered peace through strength, Barack Obama offers to dismantle the Pentagon piece by piece.

About the only thing the Obama has done right is to keep much of his predecessor’s spy capabilities in place. 

If nothing else, we lead the world in trying to figure out what our enemies (and some our friends) are up to. Most of this work is done by the National Security Agency, although the CIA and other elements of our intelligence community contribute. 

It’s important work, and it has been pretty effective in keeping the bad guys at bay. 

But if you listen to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), you would think that the NSA is akin to the KGB. Paul, who fancies himself as a leading Republican contender for the White House, went to the University of California at Berkley (the once and future hotbed of radical thought) and got himself a standing ovation for his attack on the NSA. He made the spurious claim that the NSA was listening in on our cellphone conversations. As he told the crowd in California, “I believe what you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business.”

Such comments make for great theater, but they are absurd on their face. The NSA couldn’t care less what you tell your girlfriend on your cellphone — unless, of course, your girlfriend is a terrorist. This theory that the NSA is some sort of malignant cancer on the body politic is not only factually wrong, it is reflexively dangerous. 

The NSA keeps us safe from a dangerous world, and I, for one, am happy they are doing their job well. 

This is not the first time that Paul has ventured into fantasyland to make a political point. He famously launched a filibuster at the beginning of his senatorial term to decry the idea that drones could be launched on American soil against Americans, even though nobody really believed that the government would do such a thing unless the world was coming to an end. 

Paul is practicing the politics of paranoia, aimed directly at the American government. It’s a form of populist libertarianism that posits that the biggest threat to our liberty comes not from foreign powers but from our own government. 

That kind of paranoia is not grounded in reality, but it unquestionably has a following in this country. Edward Snowden, for example, enjoyed a warm welcome at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, despite being the houseguest of Putin. 

That Snowden could somehow continue to attract admirers despite his obvious betrayal of American national security says a lot about the deep vein of distrust that Paul is exploiting for his own political purposes. 

But we live in an ever more dangerous world, and neither Paul’s paranoia nor Obama’s weakness is going to make America any safer.  

Feehery is president of QGA Public Affairs and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as speechwriter to former Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).

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