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Bill Straub: The ‘lone wolf’ joins the pack, as Rand Paul hands committee green light to Mike Pompeo

WASHINGTON – Back a little more than five years ago, Sen. Rand Paul marched onto the floor of the upper chamber and launched a filibuster that lasted nearly 13 hours, a move that earned the Bowling Green Republican a lot of attention, established him as an iconoclastic spirit and proved beyond any doubt that the man could talk.

Now the public, including the voters of Kentucky, are beginning to understand that the commonwealth’s junior senator is all talk, and that when push comes to shove he can be expected to fold like a cardboard suitcase.

Paul, after weeks of vowing that he would never, ever, ever vote to confirm President Trump’s (EGADS!) choice of Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo to serve as secretary of state, suddenly announced that, well, maybe he might reconsider that decision for no particular reason.

Sen. Rand Paul

So when Pompeo’s name came up before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, there was old Rand, who had vowed on CNN that he would “do whatever it takes” to derail Pompeo, raising his hand in support, kowtowing to the man in the White House who first embarrassed him and then defeated him for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

So it appears the humiliation is complete.

Paul, as a result of the filibuster (which concerned drone surveillance tactics, by the way) and other tough-talking outbursts, has gained a reputation for being a lone wolf, a lawmaker who follows his own muse, disdains GOP orthodoxy and acts completely on principle, regardless of whether the Libertarian-tracking principles he espouses actually make a lick of sense.

They rarely do.

Now the lone wolf has devolved into a lemming, your standard-issue right-wing Republican eager to follow our ersatz president off the cliff and into the great beyond.

Paul, it turned out, was the decisive vote in determining whether the Pompeo nomination would go to the Senate floor with a positive recommendation. The die already was cast in Pompeo’s favor – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, was going to bring it up for a floor vote regardless of the outcome in committee and a sufficient number of Democrats have voiced support to assure approval – but Paul’s opposition would have raised questions about Pompeo’s suitability.

The rationale behind Paul’s initial opposition was fairly clear. He felt Pompeo was too ready and willing to lead the United States into yet another unnecessary war without substantial provocation and that the nation’s involvement in Afghanistan would rage on and on.

But his disapproval didn’t end there. Writing in The American Conservative, Paul noted that Pompeo “has defended torture in the past” and is considered “a stalwart defender of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) unconstitutional spying programs and has even written in support of expanding the information government can collect.”

“I could not support appointing him as CIA director in 2017, and for those same reasons, I will oppose his nomination to be our chief diplomat now,” Paul said.

“Allowing the failed foreign policies of the past to have a place in this administration, and sanctioning the infiltration of our government by those who eagerly await the next opportunity for war, not only says we don’t learn from our mistakes, it will result in a world with far more enemies than opportunities for stability and peace,” he concluded.

That all changed with a little tete-a-tete with Trump. Paul emerged no longer talking about a filibuster. Instead he left the discussions convinced that Pompeo supports the effort to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and believes the war in Iraq was a mistake.

That was good enough for him.

“Having received assurances from President Trump and Director Pompeo that he agrees with the President on these important issues, I have decided to support his nomination to be our next secretary of state,” Paul said.

Mike Pompeo

Of course none of that addresses his initial concerns about militarism, torture and unconstitutional spying tactics. But who worries about such items when your new best friend and golfing buddy, the president of the United States, orders you to fall into line?

The sad thing is Paul’s initial reaction was on the money. Pompeo has expressed a preference in the past for military action over diplomatic solutions. The nominee told the Foreign Relations Committee that the president isn’t required to obtain congressional authorization to launch an attack on an opposing country, meaning, essentially, that Trump can initiate hostilities based simply on his say so.

That’s the sort of claim that usually raises Paul’s dander. This time he’s out to lunch. Pompeo also asserted, during his confirmation hearing for his nomination to the CIA post, that he was open to re-introducing waterboarding as an interrogation tactic.

Further, he has offered controversial comments about Muslims that are unlikely to play well in the Middle East.

Soon after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, then-Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo said, “When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on those that are the leaders of that faith. Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts.”

Pompeo also has said he would not challenge Trump on matters of foreign policy.

But ol’ Rand is suddenly all in. The lone wolf has joined the pack.

Just what Paul gains from all this is open to speculation. He received nothing concrete from Trump in return for his vote, only assurances that Pompeo supports pulling out of Afghanistan. And as anyone who’s dealt with POTUS can tell you, his promises and assurances carry little, if any, value. As noted in a previous column here, Trump is one of those guys who would rather climb up a tree and tell a lie than stand on the ground and tell the truth. Yet Paul, despite all evidence, has chosen to trust him.

As noted in The American Conservative, which printed the piece that Paul used to announce his opposition:

“All Pompeo and Trump had to do to get Paul to flip was offer him some meaningless assurances that don’t require them to do anything. If Paul had at least extracted concessions from the administration on war powers or U.S. policy in Yemen or Syria or some commitment about other current issues, that might have made the decision to support Pompeo a little more tolerable. It would still have been a bad decision, but it wouldn’t have been a complete loss. Instead, Paul will get nothing except widespread derision for caving to pressure.”

Paul could regain some credibility in short order. He has publicly announced his opposition to the nomination of Gina Haspel to succeed Pompeo as the nation’s chief spy. An agency veteran, Paul said Haspel operated a CIA “black site” in Thailand and destroyed evidence that the agency tortured individuals.

So he may vote against Haspel. Or he can cave again.

Regardless, it now seems like Henry Hill at the end of Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, Rand Paul is just another schnook.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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