After initially declaring his opposition to CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination for secretary of state, yesterday Senator Rand Paul announced that he would instead vote to confirm him. The junior senator from Kentucky is well within his rights to change his mind, but his explanation doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Senator Paul laid out his reasoning on Twitter:
So, according to Paul, he can now support Pompeo for secretary of state because he agrees with President Trump that the Iraq war was a mistake and the United States should end its military presence in Iraq. But there are a few of problems with this explanation. First, while it’s great that Pompeo might now acknowledge that the Iraq war was a mistake, that would be more relevant if he were being confirmed for secretary of state in March 2003, not 2018. Second, and related, if mistaken beliefs about the use of military force are important, the relevant questions should be about American military involvement in Syria or a potential war with North Korea. Did Senator Paul ask the president or his nominee about the potential for further strikes on the Assad regime? Or America’s course of action with regard to North Korea should upcoming talks with the Kim regime failto achieve denuclearization? And third, while Senator Paul seems pleased that Pompeo now agrees with President Trump that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan should come to an end, it’s unclear the president agrees President Trump given the open-ended military mission he committed the country tolast year.
Last year, journalist James Antle argued that Paul was working to stay in the Trump administration’s good graces—for example, voting to confirm drug warrior Jeff Sessions as attorney general—to prevent foreign policy hawks, such as Elliot Abrams and John Bolton, from joining the administration through his position on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While Trump personally nixed Abrams appointment to deputy secretary of state, Bolton is now national security advisor, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.
The plan Antle described, to the degree it ever existed, doesn’t seem to be going great.
While it’s possible the senator secured some concessions from the president that he did not include in his tweeted explanation last night, I wouldn’t hold my breath given the track record so far.