Rand Paul Is Still Figuring Out His Middle East Policy
In a long speech on the Senate floor, the Kentucky Republican laid out a spotty foreign policy vision while taking swipes at members of his own party. By Rebecca Nelson
Rand Paul ramped up his rhetoric Thursday on the Senate floor, forcefully repeating his view that the United States government should not arm and train Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State.
This time, however, he took it a step further, saying that arming the Free Syrian Army could have devastating consequences for Israel.
"There is not one of those jihadists," he told his fellow senators, "not one of those so-called moderate rebels that will recognize Israel. And if they win, they will attack Israel next."
He also took the opportunity to assert his broader views on foreign policy, which critics say have endured flip-flopping over the last few months. Paul criticized both the Bush and Obama administrations for interventionist tendencies, blaming the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on past meddling in the Middle East. Intervention, he said, "toppled secular dictators," leading to the radical jihadist groups of today in places like Libya.
"When does a track record of being consistently wrong stop you from being a so-called expert when the next crisis comes up?" Paul questioned. "We should remember that they were wrong. There were no WMDs, that Hussein, Qadhafi, and Assad were not a threat to us. Doesn't make them good, but they were not a threat to us."
In a possible dig at John McCain, he alluded to a falsehood he's brought up before: that the Arizona senator may have been cozy with future ISIS members.
"Intervention created this chaos," he said. "To those who wish unlimited intervention and boots on the ground everywhere, remember the smiling poses of politicians pontificating about so-called freedom fighters and heroes in Libya, in Syria, and in Iraq. Unaware that the so-called freedom fighters may well have been allied with kidnappers and are killers and jihadists."
Despite the anti-interventionist theme, he made clear that he does support fighting ISIS. But he thinks President Obama has abused his power, commandeering Congress's authority to declare war.
"People ask me as I travel around the country, what has the president done, what is the worst thing he's done?" Paul asked the chamber. "It's the usurpation of power."
In a nod to a likely 2016 matchup, he also fit in an attack on Hillary Clinton, bringing up what he called her "terrible decisions" in Benghazi. "This is one of the reasons it persuades me that, as reluctant as I am to be involved in Middle Eastern wars, that we have to do something about it," he said. "I think we are doing the right thing but just in the wrong way."