Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s escalating war of words with former Vice President Dick Cheney, and, in effect, with neocons is continuing. It’ll be fascinating to see if the latest episode ends with Paul’s political stock plummet or soar. Because now he has all but come out and directly stated that Cheney was interested in getting the U.S. into the Iraq war so his former company Halliburton would benefit. Paul is positioning himself as the anti-establishment candidate, but not a bomb thrower like Texas Sen. Cruz but, rather, someone who can play the insider’s game when he wants to by doing thing such as endorsing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for re-election.
But the latest, revelation from Mother Jone’s David Corn, who seems to be making a career of revealing and writing about news-breaking videos involving politicians, takes Paul’s battle with the neocons to a new level:
Last week, continuing the sometimes catty intraparty feud between Republican hawks and GOPers skeptical of foreign intervention, former Vice President Dick Cheney took a shot at Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). But Paul is not likely to be fazed by criticism from Cheney, for several years ago the Kentucky senator was pushing the conspiratorial notion that the former VP exploited the horrific 9/11 attacks to lead the nation into war in Iraq in order to benefit Halliburton, the enormous military contractor where Cheney had once been CEO.
Speaking at a private Las Vegas gathering of Republican funders and activists on March 29, Cheney blasted what he termed isolationists within the GOP. “One of the things that concerns me first about the  campaign, that I’m worried about,” Cheney said, “is what I sense to be an increasing strain of isolationism, if I can put it in those terms, in our own party.” He didn’t name names, but he didn’t have to—at least, in one case. He obviously had Rand Paul in mind. And Cheney, who also approvingly talked about bombing Iran, chided the unmentioned Paul and other less hawkish GOPers for having not learned the supposed lessons of 9/11.
But years before this dustup began, Paul was on the attack against Cheney. In not widely noticed appearances on the campaign trail, Paul claimed that Cheney’s advocacy of the invasion of Iraq was partly nefarious and predicated on corporate self-interest, not national security priorities.
Corn then offers videos showing Paul’s comments, and here’s the bottom line of Corn says about the videos he found of Paul:
The message is clear: Cheney, a corporate shill, was more loyal to Halliburton—and the millions of dollars he earned from the company—than to the United States, and he and Halliburton manipulated the country into the Iraq War. Paul was essentially accusing Cheney of a profound betrayal: using 9/11 to start a war to profit Halliburton.
This is a harsh charge—and in these videos, Paul seems to believe it fully. He has, though, not spoken in such terms of late. (His Senate office did not respond to a request for comment.) In a recent speech on foreign policy, Paul talked about the value of “containment” and “engagement” and assailed the Cheney wing of the party—without naming the ex-veep—by decrying neocons for promoting a “neo-isolationism, in which diplomacy is distrusted and war is, if not the first choice, the preferred option.” Yet his previous accusations about Cheney, 9/11, and Iraq could well provide rich material for questions in presidential debates, should Paul run in 2016. The remarks illustrate just how sharp the divide is between Paul and the GOP establishment on foreign policy and suggest the bad blood runs deep, very deep.
But Cheney’s sniping at Paul — Cheney has made a career of dissing and trying to discredit anyone who disagrees with him, regardless of party — and Paul’s comments about his motives for pushing the United States into a war that is now acknowledged as one of the biggest debacles and misleadingly sold war in American history, indicates that if Paul does get the nomination, he’d be reshaping the party to his own liking with different assumptions about the motives of even Republican policy makers.
This means neocons will battle him tooth and nail not just for political control, but because they view his foreign policy as weak and his charges as fighting words that simply cannot ever let stand.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.