During a Sirius XM town hall meeting hosted by Stephen K. Bannon of Breitbart News, Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul was asked the question that has defined much of his political career: how can Americans be effectively protected from terrorist threats like ISIS, without unduly compromising individual liberty?
“I think about that every day,” said Paul. “You know, we have a young man in a neighboring town who lost both legs and an arm in the war in Afghanistan, and I think about it every day. How do we do it? How do I respect his honor and his service to his country?”
“And when I think about that, I think: Wouldn’t it be a disservice to him, if he was off sacrificing his body, and when he came home that we had given up on the Bill of Rights while he was gone?” Paul continued. “So I think we should be consistent with the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
The Senator laid out his vision of national defense consistent with America’s founding documents: “When we go to war, Congress declares war, and we go all in.”
Paul said he didn’t think the battle against the Islamic State was the sort of conflict the U.S. should go “all in” on.
It’s funny how the neoconservatives that want to go back and send troops to fight ISIS right now, they say, ‘Oh, yeah, we need to send ten thousand.’ I’m closer to, it’s either zero or five hundred thousand – in the sense that, zero is kind of where I am right now, in the sense that I think the people who live there are gonna have to fight the war. We tried fighting the war for them, and it didn’t work so well. We toppled Hussein, and I think we’re more at risk now because of the Iraq War.
Paul warned against the dangers of beginning with small commitments to formidable campaigns, followed by inexorable escalation: “What I would say with regard to ISIS is, sending ten thousand is sort of going partially into it, and that’s sort of the idea of, ‘oh, we’re just going to put in a little,’ but then we’ll put more, and more, and more.”
“When the surge happened, and we defeated some of those same areas again – those unruly Sunni areas in Iraq – we had 130,000,” he recalled. “The surge was fifty on top of 130,000. So when Lindsey Graham says, ‘oh, we’re going to defeat ISIS with 10,000, that’s using underwhelming force. When Obama says he’s going to put fifty in there – that’s ridiculous. So we have people way underselling what it would actually take.”
Paul said he thought the “ultimate victory” over “this aberration, this radical form of Islam that is represented by ISIS currently” would have to come from fellow Sunni Muslims.
“The Kurds can be part of the solution. The Turks can be part of the solution. The Baghdad government is predominantly Shiite, but they need to be part of the solution. The ultimate solution, though, is some kind of cease-fire in Syria, so they have no safe haven to go,” said Paul, referring to the Islamic State’s stronghold of Raqqa and its surrounding territory in Syria. He said that with a cease-fire among all other warring parties in Syria, it would be possible to surround and eliminate the Islamic State.
Paul saw the resistance of other Republicans to achieving a solution in Syria, because they were determined to “bomb Assad,” as problematic, because “if you bomb both sides of a war, I’m not sure what kind of chaos comes out of that.”
Bannon followed up by noting that successful wartime Presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln and FDR, are “pretty cold-blooded guys about what it takes for a Commander-in-Chief to win a war.” He asked if Paul, a medical doctor of humble character accustomed to serving the needs of patients, would be “tough enough and cold enough to be Commander-in-Chief in a time of war.”
Paul recalled a similar question about whether candidates would be cold-blooded enough to kill women and children came up at one of the debates, and he thought the answer should be “no,” because civilians should never be an intentional target of U.S. war policy.
Having said that, he conceded that “to fight world war is a messy, bloody business,” but he expressed discomfort with operations such as the World War II firebombing of Dresden, noting “there are people, to this day, who think that wasn’t the best thing to do.” Paul said it was very hard for him to imagine targeting civilians or a city as Commander-in-Chief.
“The primary thing we have to understand about war is that Congress declares war, war should be the last resort,” he said. “We need to be strong enough to repel and deter attack, but we shouldn’t be eager for war.”
He criticized the current Congress for letting President Obama “do whatever he wants” in war. In fact, he blamed Congress more than Obama for what he sees as military overreach, saying they would have been equally derelict in restraining a Republican president. He said congressional Republicans didn’t want to vote on a declaration of war, or authorization for the use of military force, against ISIS because “there might be some limits, and they don’t want any limits.”
“If you’re going to vote for an open-ended war, where we really don’t define the enemy very well, or even where they are, then you’re voting to bind generation after generation to war, and I think that’s wrong as well,” the Senator asserted.
He said there have to be “checks and balances” for executive war-making powers, noting the Founders thought it was vital to take the power to declare war away from the President, “because they didn’t want a king.”
“Many Republicans say ‘oh, we don’t want a king’ when it comes to regulations, but they do want a king when it comes to war,” Paul charged.