I want to apologize to my readers, although I can only hope for forgiveness.  I certainly don’t deserve it.

OK, Justin—I can hear you now—what have you done this time?

The sin of which I am guilty is optimism of the most fatuous sort—or, rather, projecting an inauthentic optimism onto a most unworthy object.  The object is Sen. Rand Paul, whose presidential ambitions I mentioned at the end of last month’s column.  Recalling the libertarian slogan of my youth, “Freedom In Our Time,” I opined that the senator’s campaign for the White House put this goal within reach.

I was wrong.

That issue of Chronicles had just gone to press when the news broke: 47 Republican senators had signed an open letter to the Iranian leadership penned by neoconservative stalwart Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).  In the letter, Cotton lectured the Iranians on the U.S. political process, pointing out that a treaty must be approved by the Senate and helpfully noting that a future president could very well disavow any “executive agreement” made by Barack Obama in the absence of Senate approval.  In short: If I were you, I wouldn’t sign anything.  The clear intent was to sabotage the ongoing negotiations, in support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s relentless campaign against any American accommodation with Iran, which had culminated in a warmongering speech before a joint session of Congress.

Rand Paul was among the cosigners.

Before this, Senator Paul had been warning of the danger of getting sucked into a war with Iran.  He told an audience in Iowa that, unless we give negotiations a chance, the only alternative is bombing Tehran, followed by a military occupation unto eternity.  But when the neocons started beating the drums, the senator started dancing.

This sudden turnabout did Paul no good: It didn’t appease the unappeasable neocons, who viscerally hate him.  And it angered his supporters, the considerable base of GOP activists built up by his father.

I doubt any money was actually exchanged, but Senator Paul did meet with neocon billionaire Sheldon Adelson—who had pledged to finance a smear campaign against Rand—and came out of it smiling.  Adelson, who got rich bilking suckers at his casinos in Nevada (and a few in China), holds dual citizenship in Israel and the United States.  He once said that he was proud that his son, instead of joining the U.S. military, opted for the Israeli Defense Force.  Adelson is on record as demanding war with Iran and has funded a bevy of neocon front groups, including the Washington Free Beacon, which has made a specialty out of attacking Senator Paul (and calumniating his father).

Until recently, Paul’s public statements have been anti-interventionist, albeit a bit on the squishy side, but now he has gone off the rails in his effort to distance himself from what he and his clueless advisors call isolationism—a neocon smear word invented in order to discredit anti-interventionists.  I could see Paul describing himself as a “conservative realist,” and I even defended his view of the latest Iraq crisis, that an air campaign against ISIS but no “boots on the ground” was reasonable though flawed.

But undermining the negotiations with Iran and risking World War III—not to mention going along with the Israelis, who spied on U.S. “secure” communications and leaked information about the emerging deal—is a bridge too far.  And to do so at the behest of Tom Cotton—the neocons’ favorite son in the Senate—amounts to self-inflicted humiliation.  That Paul allowed himself to be bullied like this rules him out as any kind of leader, let alone president of the United States.

Now he’s saying we have to boycott Saudi Arabia, like we did South Africa—not because the Saudis are vicious cretins who enabled the September 11 terrorists and continue to fund extremism throughout the world, but because the Saudis “oppress women.”  Paul is going after Hillary Clinton because the Clinton Foundation hit the Saudis up for millions.  If he thinks playing the feminist card is a winner in a contest with Hillary, he’s even dumber than he looks.

As I write, news is breaking that Rand will be launching his campaign against the backdrop of the USS Yorktown, parked in a South Carolina harbor, to counter his image as an isolationist.  Instead, it may wind up signifying his own muddled concept of what it takes to win.  His campaign, which started with such promise, may just wind up being laughed into oblivion.

In my eagerness to see a victory as I enter the final phase of my career as a libertarian activist, I deluded myself into thinking that the triumph of liberty was within reach.  We will live to fight another day, although I may not live to see “Freedom In Our Time.”  That’s better than accepting a pallid substitute and pretending it’s the real thing.