As Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) kicked off the Senate debate on President Obama’s call for authorization to arm and train “moderate” Free Syrian Army rebels to help combat ISIS, the potential GOP presidential candidate said the president and Congress are on “a fool’s mission” if they think this will strengthen the U.S.’s hand in combating the jihadist terrorists.
Paul warned the U.S. would repeat the blunder of funneling arms to rebel forces in the Syrian civil war in hopes of pressuring the regime of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad – only to have those weapons end up in the hands of ISIS forces.
While he acknowledges the importance of the U.S. and its allies in stepping up airstrikes and counter-terrorism efforts against ISIS in northern Iraq and parts of Syria, he said it would be a disastrous mistake to provide additional arms to rebels friendly to the U.S. that almost certainly would end up in ISIS’s hands and used against the U.S.
“I warned a year ago that involving ourselves in Syria’s civil war was a mistake,” Paul said. “That an inescapable irony is that someday the arms we supply will be used against us or Israel. That day is now. ISIS has grabbed up from the U.S., from the Saudis, from the Qataris weapons by the truck load. And we are now forced to fight against our own weapons. And this body wants to throw more weapons into the mix.”
The Senate is expected to vote later Thursday to approve a roughly $1 trillion continuing resolution through early December that includes the funding authorization for aiding the Syrian rebels. The House approved the measure and policy yesterday.
The freshman senator – a prominent libertarian and Tea Party champion – has struggled recently to clarify his stands on U.S. intervention in the Middle East crisis and to shed a reputation as an isolationist among more hawkish GOP lawmakers. In the wake of ISIS’s videotaped beheadings of two American journalists, Paul has joined the chorus of other Republicans in calling for a strong response.
“Even those of us who have been reluctant to get involved in Middle Eastern wars feel now that American interests are threatened, that our consulates and our embassies are threatened,” he said. “And we feel that if ISIS is left to their own devices, that maybe they will fulfill what they have boasted – an attack on our homeland. So, yes we must now defend ourselves from these barbarous jihadists, but let’s not compound the problem by arming feckless rebels in Syria who seem to be merely a pit stop for weapons that are really on their way to ISIS.”
While Obama has requested congressional authority for spending to arm and train the rebels, he insists he already has adequate authority from Congress dating back to 9/11 and the launching of the Iraq War to pursue his broader plan for “degrading and ultimately destroying” ISIS. But Paul and other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle argue the president would be making a serious mistake without obtaining added military authorization from the Congress.
Congress has the constitutional responsibility to make war, Paul said, but “Obama feels he is above the separation of powers.”
“It’s not that I’m against all intervention,” he said. “I do view ISIS as a threat. But I see previous policy as making it worse.
Here’s more of what Paul had to say on Thursday:
- “If there’s a theme that connects the dots in Middle East it is that chaos brings terrorism. What much of the foreign policy elites fail to grasp though, is that intervention to topple secular dictators has been the prime source of the chaos, from Hussein to Assad to Gaddafi – it’s the same history. Intervention topples a secular dictator, chaos ensues and radical jihadists emerge. The pattern has been repeated time and time again. And what we have here is a failure to understand, a failure to reflect on outcome of our involvement in Arab civil wars.”
- “They say nature abhors a vacuum. Radical jihadists have again and again filled the chaotic vacuum of the Middle East. Secular dictators, despots who frankly do terrorize their own people, are replaced by radical jihadists who seek terror not only at home but abroad. Intervention when both choices are bad is a mistake…. Intervention that destabilizes the Middle East is a mistake. Yet here we are again wading into a civil war.”
- “Remember clearly that the president and his Republican allies have been clamoring for over a year for airstrikes against Assad. Assad was our enemy last year – this year he’s our friend. Realize that the unintended consequences of involving ourselves in these complicated, thousand year-long civil wars lead to unintended consequences. Had we bombed Assad last year, ISIS would be more of a threat this year. ISIS may well be in Damascus had we bombed Assad last year. Had the hawks been successful last year, we would be facing a stronger ISIS, likely in charge of all Syria and most of Iraq. Intervention is not always the answer and often leads to unintended consequences.”
- “We did give arms and assistance to the rebels through secret CIA operations, through our erstwhile allies. We gave 600 tons of weapons to the Syrian rebels in 2013 alone. And they cry out that we haven’t given them enough... It’s a mistake to send more arms to the Syrians.”
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