Today I had my second debate with Berkeley Law Professor and former Bush official John Yoo. The first debate sponsored by Christopher Newport University was held in Newport News four days ago and the second was sponsored by Hillsdale College at a debate held in Washington, D.C. There is a clear theme emerging to get Americans to embrace war as a continuing reality for American policy. Equally notable is how well-connected Republicans are returning over and over to another theme: Rand Paul must be stopped. In his luncheon speech, Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal repeatedly mocked Rand Paul and his opposition to the United States engaging in wars around the globe. It seems that there is a real fear that Paul could gain traction with Republicans in steering the U.S. from an interventionist course. There are many positions of Paul that people of good faith can disagree with. I certainly have such differences with him. However, it is specifically his notion of limited presidential authority and a disinclination toward new wars that is the focus of these attacks.
Today’s even also feature a terrific speech by Kevin Portteus of Hillsdale College on the historical and theoretical foundations for war powers.
As noted earlier, Yoo seemed to struggle to find ways to steer the debate into a slam against Paul as he did at Newport News. At one point, he proclaimed that electing Paul as our next president would be “the same as putting a drug dealer in charge of a police department.” Yoo praised presidents who committed the United States to wars without “weakly” seeking congressional approval. He even discussed how presidents who acted unilaterally in wars were the most popular — a type of “Got War?” bumper sticker for popularity-seeking presidents.
That theme was even more magnified in the remarks of Stephens who seems to have a fundamental problem with the notion of the separation of powers and limitations on presidential power — as well as a host of fundamental legal principles. Stephens directly challenged those who seek to avoid wars as isolationists and repeatedly derided Paul. Indeed, Stephens suggested that Paul, who has praised Eisenhower as someone who resisted the expansion of the war industry, should instead embrace the expansion of the military-industrial complex that occurred while he was president. He insisted that the United States should continue to punish “evil doers” and be “realists.” His definition of realism was to praise Henry Kissinger and offer the example of vaporizing an entire table of people in a U.S. city to get one terrorist. Stephens mocked those who would raise due process questions over such unilateral attacks. It was one of the most extreme views of presidential power that I have heard and actually made John Yoo look like a moderate on the subject.
Both men are articulate and popular speakers who incorporate historical sources into their presentations. It is remarkable however how we view identical historical sources and events in diametrically opposite ways.
However, it was the return to the attacks on Rand Paul that were most striking. At some point, the mainstream GOP voices doth protest too much in these attacks on Paul. There seems a palpable fear that a non-interventionalist movement could arise within the GOP and, perish the thought, a serious challenge to the continual military interventions of the United States around the world. Stephens tried to rally the audience to the model of what he called the United States as “liberator” as opposed to merely a symbol of liberty. What is clear is that many constitutional values have little place in Stephens’ view of “realism.” Indeed, notions of limited powers and due process were portrayed as naive and weak.
Perhaps the most chilling aspect of the speech was Stephens addressing the conflict between liberty and security. Rather than even try to accommodate liberty, Stephens insisted that security is liberty in a rather twisted Orwellian flourish. He suggested that security is the ultimate liberty since it protects your very existence. It is perfectly Putinesque.
Like Yoo, there appears to be an effort to rally Republicans around war as politics by other means, a “just say yes to war” theme . . . and of course the equally prominent “just say no to Paul” theme.