McCain Fuels Intra-GOP Foreign Policy Fight, Blasting ‘Misguided’ Rand Paul

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and John McCain (R-AZ)

Tensions within the Republican Party on foreign policy reemerged on Thursday with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) taking a broad shot at the vision of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and his allies.

At an event at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), McCain took several not so subtle swipes at Paul’s recent attempts to take on the GOP’s foreign policy orthodoxy and singled out the anti-drone filibuster Paul led in March as an example of Republicans yielding to political pressure to back something easy rather than asking tough questions about foreign policy:

McCAIN: Last month, most Republican senators joined a filibuster to protest the President’s policies on the use of armed drones. Rather than debating the very real issues associated with targeted killings, my colleagues chose to focus instead on the theoretical possibility that the President would use a drone to kill Americans on U.S. soil, even if they’re not engaged in hostilities. As misguided as this exercise was, the political pressures on Republicans were significant and many ultimately did — including many who know better.

While he did not name names, among the more senior Republicans who joined in the filibuster were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX). McCain in the immediate aftermath of the drones filibuster referred to Paul and co-filibuster leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as “wacko birds,” a phrase he later apologized for using.

McCain admitted that the GOP needs to change its positions on counter-terrorism and other policies, listing several measures he would be putting forward in the coming weeks and months, including an update to the the 2001 Authorization of the Use of Military Force, which his fellow Republicans are likely to embrace. Others, like revisions to U.S. foreign aid strategy towards Egypt and reining in Defense Department spending on costly and underperforming projects will likely earn him more enmity from various blocs within his party.

The Iraq War debacle and much of the Bush administration’s counter-terror policies led Americans to realize that Republicans were selling junk national security policy. Yet at the same time, the neocon stranglehold on the GOP remains alive and well (a sticking point Mitt Romney was faced with during last year’s presidential election).

Since the election, the Party’s soul-searching on foreign policy has broken into the public as struggles for the future of the party on foreign affairs have been frequent. Various sides have been loosely led by Paul, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and McCain and none seems ready to yield. And at present, it appears that the fight can only be overcome by adhering to a very slim set of neocon-esque foreign policy principles, or, as Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel discovered during his nomination battle, face accusations of apostasy and risk internal isolation.

So far, McCain is fine with having the debate, but appears to be wondering whether there is room for his views in the GOP. “Right now the far left and far right in America are coming together in favor of pulling us back from the world,” McCain warned at CNAS. “The President and I have had our differences, many of those differences will persist. But there are times these days when I feel I have more in common on foreign policy with President Obama than I do with some in my own party.”