WASHINGTON, July 14 (UPI) -- Two of the Republican Party's most prominent members (and potential 2016 standard-bearers) are duking it out in a battle of op-eds over foreign policy.
On Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry penned a deeply critical column slamming policies espoused by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and on Monday, Paul shot back with a scathing response.
"Apparently his new glasses haven't altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly," Paul said.
Perry, arguing for intervention in Iraq against the group known as the Islamic State (formerly ISIS), called Paul's stance against choosing sides "disheartening."
"In the face of the advancement of the Islamic State, Paul and others suggest the best approach to this 21st-century threat is to do next to nothing," the governor wrote. "I personally don't believe in a wait-and-see foreign policy for the United States. Neither would [President Ronald] Reagan."
"Reagan led proudly from the front, not from behind, and when he drew a "red line," the world knew exactly what that meant," he continued. "Paul is drawing his own red line along the water's edge, creating a giant moat where superpowers can retire from the world."
In response, Paul said Perry's interpretation of his statements is "a fictionalized account of my foreign policy so mischaracterizing [of] my views that I wonder if he's even really read any of my policy papers."
"In fact, some of Perry's solutions for the current chaos in Iraq aren't much different from what I've proposed, something he fails to mention," Paul said. "His solutions also aren't much different from President Barack Obama's, something he also fails to mention. Because interestingly enough, there aren't that many good choices right now in dealing with this situation in Iraq."
"If the governor continues to insist that these proposals mean I'm somehow 'ignoring ISIS,' I'll make it my personal policy to ignore Rick Perry's opinions," the senator snarked.
Paul's libertarian brand of conservatism has propelled him to a narrow lead in early 2016 polling, especially as his ability to appeal to younger voters, with whom the broader party has struggled to connect, sets him apart from his fellow Republicans.
Meanwhile, Perry has overseen continued economic growth in Texas, even as the rest of the country has struggled to shake off the lingering effects of recession. The governor's recent outspokenness on the ongoing border crisis reads like an effort to reposition him from the "oops" guy into a serious contender with the foreign policy chops to take on the role of commander in chief.
The two men are likely to be at the very center of the conversation for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, and these early debates in the pages of inside-the-beltway publications are meant to gather support of other party heavyweights.
In a surprising move, especially with President Obama's foreign policy job approval polls tanking, Paul took pains to point out similarities between his own policies, Perry's and the president's.
"Perry says there are no good options. I've said the same thing. President Obama has said the same thing," Paul said. "So what are Perry's solutions and why does he think they are so bold and different from anyone else's?"
But eventually, Paul sets himself apart from Obama, Perry, and even the bulk of his party.
"If repeating the same mistakes over and over again is what Perry advocates in U.S. foreign policy, or any other policy, he really should run for president," he said. "In Washington, he'd fit right in, because leading Republicans and Democrats not only supported the Iraq War in the first place, but leaders of both parties campaigned on it in 2008."
"I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country -- a nation the Iraqis won't defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Governor Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq?" he asked.
"I will not hold my breath for an answer. If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an 'isolationist,' then perhaps its time we finally retire that pejorative."