Rand Paul on War & Peace
Republican Kentucky Senator
PAUL: I think the mission is beyond what we need to be. We're actively in war in about seven countries, and yet the Congress hasn't voted on declaring or authorizing the use of military force in over I think the Afghan war is long past its mission. I think we killed and captured and disrupted the people who attacked us on 9/11 long ago. And I think now it's a nation-building exercise. We're spending $50 billion a year. And if the president really is serious about infrastructure, a lot of that money could be spent at home. Instead of building bridges and schools and roads in Afghanistan or in Pakistan, I think we could do that at home.
Of course, that's only likely to be the case if Paul can defeat his more hawkish GOP rivals for the Republican nomination. Recent public polls have reflected a competitive race, with Paul and several others jockeying for the top spot. The Kentucky Republican has publicly feuded with many in his party about national security issues, saying the GOP has at times appeared "too eager for war," and that the US should be more judicious in the use of military force.
Paul's dovish line started to seem a bit embarrassing when men with unmarked uniforms began to seize control of parts of Crimea. Paul then issued this timid warning for the Kremlin: "Russia should be reminded that stability and territorial integrity go hand in hand with prosperity. Economic incentives align against Russian military involvement in Ukraine."
Eight days later, he published an essay in Time under the headline, US Must Take Strong Action Against Russian Aggression. He wrote, "It is our role as a global leader to be the strongest nation in opposing Russia's latest aggression."
Montesquieu recognized this. He wrote that when the Executive Branch usurps the legislative authority, when the president says, "I can write the laws, watch me," he's got a pen, he's got a phone, he doesn't care what the law is, a tyranny will ensue and we must stop this president from shredding the Constitution.
It isn't just the harm that this president is causing, it's the future harm that he allows by destroying the checks and balances that once restrained each of the branches of government.
Though I detest violence, I could kill someone who injured or threatened my family. Though I hate war, I could commit a nation to war, but only reluctantly and constitutionally and after great deliberation. I believe that though some would find this a contradiction in terms that there is a such thing as a Christian or just theory of war, that a just war is a war of self-defense. At the same time I'm conflicted. I don't believe Jesus would have killed anyone or condoned killing, perhaps not even in self-defense. I'm conflicted.
Sometimes our national security warrants extreme sacrifices. In this case, however, there is little reason to believe that the continuing commitment of tens of thousands of troops on a sprawling nation-building mission in Afghanistan will make America safer. Al Qaeda's presence in Afghanistan has been greatly diminished. Al Qaeda has a much larger presence in a number of other nations.
PAUL: When it comes to foreign policy, the thing I liked about President Trump was his opposition to the Iraq War. I guess what I'm perplexed by is that he keeps nominating people around him on foreign policy who actually thought the Iraq War was so good that they want to have an Iran war now. The lesson of the Iraq War was that there are unintended consequences from regime change. And so I don't think somebody being the head of secretary of state who wants regime change in Iran is a good thing or wants regime change in North Korea. You really want a diplomat to be in charge of the State Department, not someone who is advocating for war. So, I can't vote for Pompeo.
Q: Will you filibuster?
PAUL: I will do everything [possible but] I don't have the power to stop nominations.
There are two million Christians in Syria. And you know what? If you asked them who would they choose, they would all choose Assad over ISIS, because they see the barbarity of perhaps both. But they see the utter depravity and barbarity of ISIS. And so bombing Assad probably isn't a good policy.
Well, that's all they'll let me attach it to. But I forced them to debate. And I think that's one of the things to me that has been most exciting about being in the Senate, is I could be at home saying, "Congress should declare war," and, "Why won't Congress get involved?"
But now, I'm actually there. And I can say, "You know what? I'll make them vote on this. And they will have to discuss war." And they did. We had a great discussion. It didn't come to a resolution, but I'm still pushing to say, "Look, you should not be at war." And in fact, I've said the president, if he wanted to be a great leader last August should have come before a joint session of Congress and laid out the plan.
Paul's support for the Kurds includes giving them more weapons, but he doesn't feel the same about Syrian rebels for reasons that include fear the arms would land in the hands of extremists. He also insists the Obama administration was wrong to intervene in Libya.
Paul said Hillary Clinton was to blame for what he described as foreign-policy failures: she was a proponent of interventions during popular uprisings against the ruling regimes in Libya and Syria. "Hillary's war in Libya has been an utter disaster," Paul said. "There are now jihadists roaming all across Libya. It's a jihadist wonderland."
The US was part of an international coalition to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi from power in 2011. "Gadhafi was a secular dictator," Paul said. "Not the kind of guy that we want to have representing us in country, but he was secular. He didn't like radical Islam, and he kept them down because they were a threat to him. What happened when we toppled the secular dictator? Chaos. More radical Islam."
In Syria, Paul said that Islamic State--a militant group operating in Syria and Iraq that is also known as ISIS--was essentially created by the US aid program under the Obama administration. "I think we have to do something about ISIS," he said. "But, you know why we're doing something and why we have to be there again? Because of a failed foreign policy that got us involved in a Syrian Civil War. By supporting the Islamic rebels, ISIS grew stronger and stronger. And now we have to go back."
I support continuing our assistance to the government of Iraq, which include armaments and intelligence. I support using advanced technology to prevent ISIS from becoming a threat. I also want to stop sending U.S. aid and arms to Islamic rebels in Syria who are allied with ISIS, something Perry doesn't even address. I would argue that if anything, my ideas for this crisis are both stronger, and not rooted simply in bluster.
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.
Unlike Perry, I oppose sending American troops back into Iraq. After a decade of the United States training the Iraq's military, when confronted by the enemy, the Iraqis dropped their weapons, shed their uniforms and hid. Our soldiers' hard work and sacrifice should be worth more than that. Our military is too good for that.
PAUL: That evidence is overwhelming and, no, I don't think we can sweep this under the rug.
Q: President Trump imposed sanctions.
PAUL: The [Saudis] will see sanctions as weakness and if the President wants to act strongly he should cut off the arms sale not only because of the killing but until they stop indiscriminately bombing civilian populations.
Q: You're talking about in Yemen?
PAUL: Yes, in Yemen.
Q: Should this trigger some change in policy? The president says he's not going to hurt the economic benefits of arms sales.
PAUL: The arms sales don't make us safer. When we sell arms to a foreign country, it should not ever be for jobs, it should be for our national security. The Saudis' involving us in their war in Yemen is not good for our national security. So we should quit arming the Saudis.
PAUL: Absolutely not. We should put this brazen murder in context with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has basically over the decades been the largest state sponsor of radical Islam and violent jihad. They sponsor thousands of madrassas that teach hatred of Christians and Jews and Hindus around the world. So, this is just another in the line of long instances of Saudi insults to the civilized world.
Q: And what should we do about it?
PAUL: We really need to discontinue our arms sales to Saudi Arabia and have a long and serious discussion about whether or not they want to be an ally or they want to be an enemy. I think the Saudis need to be treated as who they are in the context of who they are. I don't think they are a friendly ally. They have been spreading hatred of our country for a decade after decade.
PAUL: I think the war in Yemen actually increases our national risk. It makes us less secure in the Middle East. We should not be supplying the Saudis with bombs. They've been indiscriminately killing civilians. Just last month, 50 schoolchildren were killed in the bombing of the school bus. They killed 150 people at a funeral possession. The Saudis have not been acting in a just fashion. Yemen's one of the poorest planets on the earth. Millions of people there face starvation, over a million people had cholera and the Saudis continue to block their ports. I don't think that there's a national security reason for us to be involved in the war in Yemen. This is a thousand-year-old war in the Middle East between Sunni and Shia, and Saudi Arabia is pitted up against Iran [Note: In Yemen, and the Saudis support the Sunni government, and the Iranians support the Shia Houthis].
CHRISTIE: Not only would I be prepared to do it, I would do it. Yes, we would shoot down the planes of Russian pilots.
PAUL: Well, I think if you're in favor of World War III, you have your candidate. My goodness, what we want in a leader is someone with judgment, not someone who is so reckless as to stand on the stage and say, "Yes, I'm going to shoot down Russian planes." Russia already flies in that airspace. It may not be something we're in love with the fact that they're there, but they were invited by Iraq and by Syria to fly in that airspace. And so if we announce we're going to have a no-fly zone, it is a recipe for disaster. It's a recipe for World War III. We need to confront Russia from a position of strength, but we don't need to confront Russia from a point of recklessness that would lead to war.
PAUL: I think the first thing we have to do is learn from our history. In the past several decades, if there's one true thing in the Middle East, it's that when we've toppled secular dictators, we've gotten chaos and the rise of radical Islam. So if we want a long lasting victory and peace, the boots on the ground are going to have to be Arab, and you're going to have to have Sunni Muslims defeating Sunni Muslims because even the Shiite Muslims can't occupy these Sunni cities. ISIS is essentially surrounded, but what we have to do is, we do need a ceasefire in Syria, and probably Russia's going to be part of that solution if we're willing to talk with them, but we also need to engage Turkey on one side. We need to engage the Kurds on one side.
TRUMP: If Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%. We can't continue to be the policeman of the world.
BUSH: Donald's absolutely wrong on this. We have to be involved. We should have a no fly zone in Syria.
FIORINA: Gov. Bush is correct. We must have a no fly zone in Syria because Russia cannot tell the USA where and when to fly our planes.
PAUL: You're asking for a no fly zone in an area in which Russia already flies. Russia flies in that zone at the invitation of Iraq. I'm not saying it's a good thing, but you better know at least what we're getting into. So, when you think it's going to be a good idea to have a no fly zone over Iraq, realize that means you are saying we are going to shoot down Russian planes. If you're ready for that, be ready to send your sons and daughters to another war in Iraq. You can be strong without being involved in every civil war around the world.
PAUL: I've made my career as being an opponent of the Iraq War. I was opposed to the Syria war. I was opposed to arming people who are our enemies. Iran is now stronger because Hussein is gone. Hussein was the great bulwark and counterbalance to the Iranians. So when we complain about the Iranians, you need to remember that the Iraq War made it worse. Originally, Governor Bush was asked, "Was the Iraq War a mistake?", and he said, "No. We'd do it again." We have to learn sometimes the interventions backfire. The Iraq War backfired and did not help us. We're still paying the repercussions of a bad decision. We have make the decision now in Syria, should we topple Assad? I said no, because if you do, ISIS will now be in charge of Syria.
WALKER: You terminate the deal on day one, you put in place even more crippling sanctions..
Q: Senator Paul, would you tear up the deal on day one?
PAUL: I oppose the Iranian deal, and will vote against it. I don't think that the president negotiated from a position of strength, but I don't immediately discount negotiations. I'm a Reagan conservative. Reagan did negotiate with the Soviets. But you have to negotiate from a position of strength, and I think President Obama gave away too much, too early. If there's going to be a negotiation, you're going to have to believe somehow that the Iranians are going to comply. I asked this question to John Kerry, I said "do you believe they're trustworthy?" and he said "No." And I said, "well, how are we gonna get them to comply?" I would have never released the sanctions before there was consistent evidence of compliance.
There has to be the threat of military force. But my hope is really that negotiations continue. There are some in my party who say, "Oh, I don't want any negotiations." They're ready to be done with it. But once you're done with negotiations, the choices are war, or they get a weapon, and I don't want to have just those two binary choices.
PAUL: Occasionally, I can be partisan, but, on this, I don't think I would jump to the conclusion that, all of a sudden, the ayatollah of Iran is telling the truth, and my government is lying to us. Now, the biggest problem we have right now is that every time there is a hint of an agreement, the Iranian foreign minister tweets out in English that the agreement doesn't mean what our government says it means. So I keep an open mind as to who is telling the truth. It is very, very damaging to the American public, and to the details of this agreement, if we can't trust the sincerity or the credibility of the Iranian government
Q: So, at this point, you have an open mind about this?
PAUL: Yes. I want peace. I want negotiations. I don't want another war. But I also want a good agreement.
"Intervention is a mistake. Intervention when both sides are evil is a mistake. Intervention that destabilizes the Middle East is a mistake. And yet, here we are again, wading into a civil war," Paul said.
His doubts ran contrary to the thinking of Rubio, who advocated an aggressive response, saying the threat should have been addressed earlier. "If we do not confront and defeat ISIL now we will have to do so later, and it will take a lot longer, be a lot costlier, and be more painful," Rubio said, using an acronym for Islamic State. "If we fail to approve this, the nations of that region will say America is not truly engaged."
I disagree with Sen. Paul's representation of what America should be doing, and when you read his op-ed, he talks about basically, what I consider to be, isolationist policies.
PAUL: I see mostly confusion and chaos, and I think some of the chaos is created from getting involved in the Syrian civil war. You have to realize that some of the Islamic rebels that we have been supporting are actually allies of the group that is now in Iraq causing all of this trouble.
Q: ISIS, as a terrorist organization, has been billed by many as a clear and present danger. Do you see that?
PAUL: I look at it on a personal basis. I ask, "Do I want to send one of my sons, or your son, to fight to regain Mosul?" And I think, "Well ya, these are nasty terrorists, we should want to kill them." But I think, "Who should want to stop them more? Maybe the people who live there." Should not the Shiites, the Maliki government, should they not stand up? Yes, we should prevent them from exporting terror; but, I'm not so sure where the clear-cut, American interest is.
PAUL: Was the war won in 2005, when many of these people said it was won? They didn't really understand the civil war that would break out. And what's going on now, I don't blame on Obama. Has he really got the solution? Maybe there is no solution. But I do blame the Iraq War on the chaos that is in the Middle East. I also blame those who are for the Iraq War for emboldening Iran. These are the same people now who are petrified of what Iran may become, and I understand some of their worry.
Q: You're not a "Dick Cheney Republican" when it comes to American power in the Middle East?
PAUL: What I would say is that the war emboldened Iran. Iran is much more of a threat because of the Iraq War than they were before--before there was a standoff between Sunnis and Shiites--now there is Iranian hegemony throughout the region.
It is a dumb idea to announce to Iran that you would accept and contain that country if it were to become a nuclear power. But it is equally dumb, dangerous and foolhardy to announce in advance how we would react to any nation that obtains nuclear weapons. If, after World War II, we had preemptively announced that containment of nuclear powers would never be considered, the US would have trapped itself into nuclear confrontations with Russia & China.
I believe all options should be on the table to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, including the military option. I have voted repeatedly for sanctions against Iran and will continue to do so. But I will also continue to argue that war is a last resort.
PAUL: I've repeatedly voted for sanctions against Iran. And I think all options should be on the table to prevent them from having nuclear weapons. I'm a stickler on what the wording is, because I don't want to have voted for something that declared war without people thinking through this. They said containment will never, ever be our policy. We woke up one day and Pakistan had nuclear weapons. If that would have been our policy towards Pakistan, we would be at war with Pakistan. The people who say, "by golly, we will never stand for that", they are voting for war.
Q: Could the US live with a nuclear armed Iran?
PAUL: It's not a good idea to announce that in advance. Should I announce to Iran, "well, we don't want you to, but we'll live with it." No, that's a dumb idea to say that you're going to live with it. However, the opposite is a dumb idea too.
PAUL: No. And I think it's a mistake to get involved in the Syrian civil war. I would ask, "Do you think that it's less likely or more likely that chemical weapons will be used again if we bomb Assad?" Is it more likely or less likely that we'll have more refugees in Jordan or that Israel might suffer attack? I think all of the bad things that you could imagine are all more likely if we get involved in the Syrian civil war.
Q: Secretary Kerry says for you and others not to authorize force is really hurtful to US credibility.
PAUL: The one thing I'm proud of the president for is that he's coming to Congress in a constitutional manner & asking for our authorization. That's what he ran on: his policy was that no president should unilaterally go to war without congressional authority. And I'm proud that he's sticking by it.
PAUL: The line in the sand should be that America gets involved when American interests are threatened. I don't see American interests involved on either side of this Syrian war. I see Assad, who has protected Christians for a number of decades, and then I see the Islamic rebels on the other side who have been attacking Christians. I see Al Qaeda on the side we would go into support. And I don't see a clear-cut American interest. I don't see [the rebels, if] victorious, being an American ally.
Q: How would the US look if the president decided to take military action and Congress does not give that authority?
PAUL: I think it would show that he made a grave mistake when he drew a red line. When you set a red line that was not a good idea to beginning with, and now you're going to adhere to it to show your machismo, then you're really adding bad policy to bad policy
Paul, a reliably libertarian voice, said in a statement that the situation in Syria lacks a "clear national security connection" to the U.S. but that the nation "should condemn the use of chemical weapons." There needs to be an "open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement."
Among his concerns, Paul said, is that there are "too many Christians that live in Syria... and I just don't want to see my kids or weapons of the U.S. used to kill Christians in Syria."
I will not vote to go to war without a formal declaration of war, as our soldiers deserve and the Constitution demands.
"The strange thing about Hussein & Iraq is that we actually had been their biggest ally for 20 years because we saw them as a bulwark against the Iranian dominance of the region. I don't think there was a reason to go into Iraq," he said.
Ballotpedia.org summary:Dozens of Republican senators wrote an open letter to the leadership of Iran, warning them that any nuclear deal signed between Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama might not last beyond his presidency, without Congress signing off on it as well. No Democrats signed it. [The letter caused intense backlash. V.P. Joe Biden said of the letter, "In 36 years in the US Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which senators wrote directly to advise another country--much less a longtime foreign adversary--that the president does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them." On Twitter, the hashtag "47Traitors" became the top trending topic in the world, and a debate raged as to whether the 47 who signed the letter were traitors or patriots. Here is the text of the letter.
An Open Letter to the Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran:
Under our Constitution, while the president negotiates international agreements, Congress plays the significant role of ratifying them. In the case of a treaty, the Senate must ratify it by a 2/3 vote. A so-called congressional-executive agreement requires a majority vote in both the House and the Senate (which, because of procedural rules, effectively means a three-fifths vote in the Senate). Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement.
We will consider any agreement regarding your nuclear-weapons program that is not approved by the Congress as nothing more than an executive agreement between President Obama and Ayatollah Khamenei. The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.
We hope this letter enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system and promotes mutual understanding and clarity as nuclear negotiations progress.
Axios.com summary: The House passed a symbolic war powers resolution directing President Trump to halt the use of military force against Iran unless he obtains approval from Congress.
The big picture: A classified briefing on the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani [by the US military] left Democrats and even some Republicans deeply skeptical, with many claiming that officials did not provide evidence that there was an "imminent" threat from Iran. Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) said they will vote in favor of a similar resolution in the Senate [S J Res 68].
What opponents are saying: Former national security adviser and notorious Iran hawk John Bolton tweeted: "The 1973 War Powers Resolution is unconstitutional. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Constitution allocated foreign affairs authority between the President and Congress. The Resolution should be repealed." Pres. Trump quote tweeted Bolton and added: "Smart analysis, I fully agree!"
What supporters are saying: Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) was one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of the resolution, stating on the House floor: "Killing Soleimani was the right decision, but engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision." Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced legislation that would block funding for offensive military force against Iran without congressional authorization. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) is also seeking to repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which has been used repeatedly to justify war in the Middle East in the wake of 9/11. Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the AUMF in 2001, criticizing it as a "blank check."
Legislative outcome: H Con Res 83 Passed House 224-194-13 on 1/9/20; S J Res 68 passed Senate 55-45-0 on 2/13/20. Vetoed 5/6; Senate veto override failed 5/7/20.
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Senate races 2019-20:
AK: Sullivan(R,incumbent) vs.Gross(I)
AL: Jones(D,incumbent) vs.Sessions(R) vs.Moore(R) vs.Mooney(R) vs.
AR: Cotton(R,incumbent) vs.
AZ: McSally(R,incumbent) vs.Kelly(D)
CO: Gardner(R,incumbent) vs.Hickenlooper(D) vs.
DE: Coons(D,incumbent) vs.Scarane(D)
GA-2: Isakson(R,resigned) Loeffler(R,appointed) vs.Lieberman(D) vs.Collins(R) vs.Carter(D)
GA-6: Perdue(R,incumbent) vs.Tomlinson(D) vs.Ossoff(D) vs.Terry(D)
IA: Ernst(R,incumbent) vs.Graham(D) vs.Mauro(D) vs.Greenfield(D)
ID: Risch(R,incumbent) vs.Harris(D) vs.Jordan(D)
IL: Durbin(D,incumbent) vs.Curran(R) vs.
KS: Roberts(R,retiring) vs.
KY: McConnell(R,incumbent) vs.McGrath(D) vs.Morgan(R) vs.Cox(D) vs.Tobin(D) vs.Booker(D)
LA: Cassidy(R,incumbent) vs.Pierce(D)
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ME: Collins(R,incumbent) vs.Sweet(D) vs.Gideon(D) vs.
MI: Peters(D,incumbent) vs.James(R)
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NE: Sasse(R,incumbent) vs.Janicek(R)
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Senate Votes (analysis)