filibuster

Gideon Rachman

Rand Paul during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida. (Getty)

Rand Paul (Getty Images)

Rand Paul’s marathon filibuster last week – aimed at holding up the confirmation of John Brennan as head of the CIA – was much more than a parliamentary stunt. It has opened up interesting new debates and divisions on the future direction of US foreign policy.

Senator Paul’s highlighting of the Obama administration’s use of drones for “targeted killings” of terrorist suspects, has established an unlikely alliance between the libertarian right and the liberal left. Until Paul took up the drones issue, it was mainly the likes of the American Civil Liberties Union, who were making the running in criticising the drone strikes. But, as Paul illustrated, there is a good libertarian case for suspicion of the over-mighty covert state. Even more interestingly, Paul’s stand placed him directly at odds with the neoconservative wing of his own Republican Party.

The Wall Street Journal has denounced Paul for appealing to “impressionable libertarian kids” – a condemnation quoted with approval by John McCain, one of the party’s leading foreign-policy hawks.

Conveniently for President Obama, this argument between the two wings of the Republican Party places the president somewhere in the middle. He will never be as hawkish as the Republican neocons, many of whom are pressing for intervention in Syria, an assault on Iran and denouncing cuts in the Pentagon budget. On the other hand, the president’s expansion of the drone war and his unwillingness to rein in the burgeoning national-security apparatus makes him very far from being a “libertarian kid”.