Exclusive — Rand Paul on Afghanistan, Yemen: Trump Should Trust ‘Instincts,’ Stop Listening to Generals ‘Who Talk in His Ear’

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told Breitbart News exclusively in an interview in his U.S. Senate office on Capitol Hill this week that he is troubled by the bad advice President Donald Trump is getting from the military generals who surround him on matters of war.

“I think the president’s instincts, his instinct as he said the other day was to end the Afghan war and not to get more involved,” Paul told Breitbart News. “His instinct all along has been that the Iraq war was a mistake, and he’s said the same thing recently about the Afghan war. I think he still believes that, but I think the problem is he’s surrounded by people who talk in his ear that are from the military who all think it is a military solution. I just think that a war for the country of Afghanistan is not winnable because Afghanistan is not really a country; it’s a bunch of different tribes and they don’t really want to be a country. They’re only a country because the West drew a circle around them and said ‘hey, you’re Afghanistan. You’re a country.’ But they never really were, historically, a country.”

Trump, of course, broke a campaign promise recently by pledging a troop surge in Afghanistan—after campaigning all last year to end the war. Paul believes that Trump should stop trusting those who are biased on the issue in his inner circle, and go back to his “instincts” that he campaigned on last year.

“I think that we can hope that the president will go back to his instincts, and hire people around him who—I think he’s getting all one-sided advice right now and he’s not hearing from people who were on the campaign with him, who heard him say thousands and thousands of times that ‘we’re going to build things at home, we’re going to take care of our people first, we’re going to take care of America first. We’re going to rebuild our roads and bridges here at home,’” Paul said. “I think that’s one of the reasons he got elected—he told people he would take care of the people at home here in America, and that America would be first before Afghanistan, first before all the money we spend overseas. I think he still believes that. It’s just a matter of, I think, his supporters need to be loud and remind him of what he said and see if we can get him to harken back to it. But in Congress we have our own responsibility to try to assert ourselves and say ‘hey, we need to be involved in this war-making power.’”

While Paul did not name National Security Adviser three-star Army Gen. H.R. McMaster, White House chief of staff retired four-star Marine Gen. John Kelly, and Defense Secretary and retired Marine Gen. James “Mad Dog” Mattis—among others—that is obviously to whom he was referring. Those officials—among others—were pushing for a troop surge. Trump’s now former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has returned to Breitbart News as Executive Chairman, and Dr. Sebastian Gorka—who has also left the White House—were among those pushing for the president to follow through on his campaign promises on Afghanistan. Instead of following through on his promise to end the war that has now spanned nearly all of three administrations, Trump re-upped on the Afghan war last month by pledging to surge U.S. forces yet again despite the more than 15 years of U.S. setbacks and lack of an end in sight.

Paul’s interview with Breitbart News came as the U.S. Senate was voting on his resolution on an authorization for the use of military force, AUMF, in Afghanistan. The Congress has not approved an AUMF for Afghanistan in more than a decade, since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration when the war began.

“I think that the majority of the Senate, the majority of the Congress, will say that they believe Congress ought to vote to authorize war,”  But really, their actions don’t express that they really truly believe that. There’s a big group of the neo-cons and the neo-liberals who believe that the president can do whatever he wants, and most presidents also believe they can do whatever they want—that Article II of the Constitution says they can do whatever they want. So, they all profess that we should have a [authorization of] use of [military] force, a new one, but they aren’t willing to vote for anything that would force that to happen. So, I think it’s easy to have the status quo—and the status quo is if people get unhappy with the war, they say ‘hey we didn’t vote for it, it’s the president doing this.’ And if it’s a Republican or a Democrat, they get to point and say ‘hey it’s their fault not our fault.’”

Paul’s resolution—which came as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—failed by a vote of 61-36 in the Senate this week. But the fact that 36 senators voted with him, he says, is progress in the right direction.

“I think showing persistent philosophical desire that we do the right thing, I think some of them even though they disagreed with me, some of them thought it was the right thing that we had the debate and the vote,” Paul said when Breitbart News asked how he got Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on this. “Then, I think it’s also, being an individual senator and being persistent and using the rules to gum the system up and then saying ‘but I’ll gladly stand aside if you allow a vote on this issue that is very important to me.’ But I think even most who disagreed with me thought I was sincere in believing that this was a constitutional question we should address.”

Paul said the pathway forward for those who don’t want endless wars, and want Congress to reassert its authority over the executive branch when it comes to war power, is to keep fighting and forcing the debate.

“There have been people, they pushed a resolution that passed in committee to sunset these authorizations of use of force in the House as well,” Paul said. “And we’ve had the vote here as well. I think we keep agitating, and pointing out that ‘look, Obama couldn’t win the war with 100,000 troops. And we’re going to do it with 15,000?’ I think that argument is a pretty powerful one.”

Paul added that it was former President Barack Obama who was the worst U.S. president in history for checks and balances on executive branch war authority.

“I would say President Obama expanded the idea of presidents acting unilaterally more than any president in history,” Paul said. “It’s kind of, I think, intriguing because the left always criticized George Bush for the Iraq war. And yet George Bush at least came to Congress and asked for permission to go to war in Iraq. President Obama didn’t ask for permission. He bombed seven different countries and didn’t ask for permission once. He thought about asking for permission once, and thought we might beat him and then didn’t ask. So, no, President Obama, I think, was bad for the country in the sense that he greatly expanded the war-making power of the president. And, we still live under that sort of idea now—it’s just continued and continued. But, it’s really Republicans and Democrats who have failed to stand up and assert themselves and say this is a correct congressional prerogative.”

Paul also told Breitbart News that “yes,” he supports a bipartisan effort in the House by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Mark Pocan (D-WI) and others to force the Trump administration to seek congressional approval on United States involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war with Yemen, which started under President Obama.

“That’s a big debate we ought to be having,” Paul said regarding the Yemen controversy. “That’s a whole new separate war, it’s not connected to any of the other wars. And I think there is a strong argument to be made that if we further the chaos in Yemen and we take one side against another, we make it to such an extent that a vacuum develops and Al Qaeda steps into that vacuum. I think there’s a chance. One, it’s not our war. We should vote on it, and there’s not a vital interest. But, two, whatever we do may do the opposite of what we want and may allow Al Qaeda to grow stronger. I think our involvement in Syria allowed a power vacuum to develop and it allowed ISIS to grow stronger—because of our presence in Syria.”

According to Amash’s office earlier this year, Congress was notified in May of the Trump administration’s efforts to sell arms to Saudi Arabia totaling as much as $110 billion to help with their war in Yemen–as war the U.S. has not a single national security interest in.

“Saudi Arabia has one of the worst human rights records and has supported many of the extremists terrorizing the people of the Middle East and the world,” Amash said in May. “These arms sales extend a reckless policy from the Obama administration and prior administrations, and they come at a time when the Saudi government is escalating a gruesome war in Yemen.”

Amash, the chairman of the House Liberty Caucus, has been working with House Progressive Caucus co-chair Pocan on exposing this, and pushing for the U.S. to stop aiding the Saudis in their war in Yemen.

“President Trump’s proposed $110-billion weapons sale sends the wrong message to Saudi Arabia,” Pocan said in May. “In addition to regularly dropping U.S. bombs on Yemeni civilians, Saudi Arabia appears to have every intention of using the U.S. weapons from this sale to enforce a blockade on Yemen that prevents food and medicine from reaching millions of people on the brink of starvation.”

Paul’s support for the effort, now, adds a huge momentum boost behind stopping the very controversial U.S. logistical backing of the Saudis in this conflict.


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