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Why Rand Paul should change his stance on Iran

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
Greg Nash
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) leaves the Senate chamber following a vote on a nomination, Dec. 15, 2022.

One of the leaders of the Iranian activists with whom I work asked me who was the lone Republican senator to block Senate Resolution 47. The resolution reaffirmed American support “for the Iranian citizens who have taken to the streets in peaceful protest for their fundamental human rights, and [condemned] the Iranian security forces for their violent response.” It called for “the international community to speak out against the Iranian regime’s human rights violations, and [urged] continued efforts to hold those violators accountable including through additional coordinated sanctions.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved this bipartisan resolution. That’s no small feat in today’s age of political polarization. The resolution called for no American boots on the ground, only a commitment to stand by our ideals in support of people yearning for their freedom against a regime that has been our nemesis for 43 years.

So, who could be against something that supports the rights of people who have been intimidated, tortured, raped and executed by a government whose fundamental nature and policies are anti-American? The answer is Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), my fellow ophthalmologist. My colleagues tell me he is an excellent doctor.

As a senator, Paul may infuriate Republicans and Democrats alike when he thwarts the will of bipartisan majorities on foreign aid, but he is consistent with his stances. Whether he is blocking aid to Israel or Egypt, or hindering Senate actions on Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Paul draws attention to himself in a crusade that, to many, is simply about isolationism. As Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said, “My colleague, Sen. Paul, has always been basically an isolationist. He’s proud of it and believes that’s where America ought to be.”  

Paul opposed 49 fellow Republicans in March when he said, “Condemning a [nuclear] deal that is not yet formulated is akin to condemning diplomacy itself.” However, the Biden administration was not renegotiating an agreement — it wanted a return to the same Iran nuclear deal, and Paul voted against that Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015. Yet, we may find some agreement in challenging the wisdom of withdrawing from the deal. I believed at the time that withdrawing from the JCPOA was a mistake without a “Plan B.” Paul evidently thought the agreement was working well, despite evidence that Iran was cheating on its provisions.  

Paul wants to stop aid to countries such as Egypt for human rights abuses, yet he apparently doesn’t mind enriching Iran with a trillion dollars in sanctions relief by returning to the JCPOA. Isn’t he troubled by the contradiction, since Iran is a leading state sponsor of terror and its IRGC has the blood of hundreds of American soldiers on its hands? I would ask him to revisit his understanding of the Islamic Republic of Iran, an unrepentant revolutionary theocracy. Its fundamental mission of Twelver Shia Islamic power justifies the human rights abuses of their people. I want America to be on the side of freedom.  

Beyond the JCPOA, Paul voted against 98 Democratic and Republican senators for legislation to sanction Iran for its non-nuclear work on ballistic missiles and illegal arms transfers to and from Iran. “By a vote of 98-2, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act of 2017 impose[d] new mandatory sanctions against persons and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards” and mandated “the president to block assets of any person or entity involved in the supply, sale or transfer of illegal arms to or from Iran.” 

So, is Rand Paul “a grandstanding obstructionist whose chief joy seems to be blocking the few bills on which there is broad agreement,” as described by the conservative Weekly Standard in 2018, using the advocacy of diplomacy as a curtain to hide his isolationism? Or is he simply a libertarian, appalled by America’s spendthrift ways and the giving of our support to oppressive regimes? Some think he is a chip off the old block, since his father, former congressman Ron Paul, held similar beliefs regarding foreign policy. Rand Paul’s stance is more nuanced than his father’s, but his vote against supporting Iran’s protestors is hard to understand. Only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) voted with Paul not to sanction Iran for its missiles and illegal arms. 

Does Paul believe that a world where we withdraw and create a power vacuum filled by China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin is safer for our children? America is safer and more prosperous when we engage in the world and lead with the power of our ideals. The best way to avoid war, when dealing with adversaries, is to show strength. Paul said it himself in his brief 2016 presidential campaign: “Peace through strength only works if you have and show strength.”  

I would ask Sen. Paul to please reconsider his stand regarding the Iranian protesters. Most regime changes occur nonviolently. Let’s not be on the side of oppression — let’s lead with humility and strength. 

As Ronald Reagan said, “It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. … The years ahead will be great for our country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization.” Those are words that should inspire the Iranian people and they’re words that make me proud to be an American.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report. Follow him on Twitter @MepinOrg.

Tags Iran nuclear deal Iran protests Islamic Republic of Iran Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Rand Paul Rand Paul

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