By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service
Sen. Rand Paul, who has often said the nation’s debt requires cuts in defense spending as well as domestic programs, on Monday told VFW members gathered in Louisville the U.S. “must have the strongest military on earth,” but shouldn’t be involved in “every civil war on the planet.”
Paul, the tea party Republican, was addressing the 144th VFW National Convention in Louisville, following earlier remarks by fellow Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer.
Paul also confirmed that Jack Hunter, who once billed himself as the “Southern Avenger” during his previous career as a radio host, has resigned from his staff. A story last week about comments from those days by Hunter glorifying the assassin of Abraham Lincoln and supportive of the right to secession caused a firestorm.
Paul has said he’s weighing a presidential run in 2016 and his speech before the VFW convention Monday was an opportunity to burnish foreign policy credentials. But just as on other issues like immigration, Paul must balance the need to broaden his appeal while not abandoning the small government, less spending positions which make him popular with his conservative base.
“No politician should lead this country who denies our armed services the weapons and technology to defend our great nation,” Paul told the veterans.
Paul alternately criticized spending on foreign aid and called for a vibrant military while quoting former Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower who after leading the Allied invasion of Europe often cautioned against foreign entanglements as president.
“When we fight, we fight for American principles, we fight under the American flag, and we come after we win,” Paul said at one point. But he also said, “War is the last resort, not the first,” and said he thinks the country’s defense is “weakened by our willingness to be in every civil war on the planet.”
Paul repeated his oft-stated desire to reduce foreign aid to countries like Egypt and Pakistan “that hate us or hate Israel” and criticized any effort by the United States to aid Syrian rebels. He criticized aid to Egypt first under dictator Hosni Mubarak and then under the regime of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and to Pakistan, which imprisoned a source who helped lead the U.S. to the location of Osama bin Laden.
“I say not one penny more to any nation that burns our flag,” Paul said.
But he said the country has a “life-long obligation” to veterans who fought to protect the country and its principles and he called for “fixing the broken VA (Veterans Affairs) system.”
Paul repeated a previous criticism of a potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who headed the State Department when U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three others were killed in raids on the Benghazi consulate, though he didn’t mention Clinton by name.
He said the Secretary of State ignored pleas for more security at the consulate and “no politician should remain in office who refuses to defend our diplomats.”
McConnell, who is preparing for his 2014 re-election bid, began his own remarks by mentioning “my good friend and colleague for Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul,” something he has done ever more frequently as he tries to hold off a challenge from his tea party right.
He said the “American people know that spending must be reined in,” and as he has before said Congress should not back away from the sequester cuts which were originally proposed because they were thought so onerous neither party would allow them to go into effect.
But McConnell said spending cuts should not affect veterans’ programs.
“Let me say, however, that even in a time when government must tighten its belt, I believe support for America’s veterans must always remain a top priority,” he said.
McConnell the talked at length about various efforts he’s made on behalf of veterans’ affairs, including the naming of the veterans’ hospital in Louisville, efforts to return the remains of POWs or MIAs, and the backlog of disability claims.
“In fact, five years ago I supported funding to the VA that was over $750 million more than the VA itself requested, specifically to address this unacceptable backlog,” McConnell said.
He did not specifically mention his re-election campaign.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.