Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) took to the Senate floor Thursday to blast the Obama administration’s request to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels, while simultaneously saying he was supportive of confronting the extremist group calling itself the Islamic State (also ISIS or ISIL).
Paul said a Senate vote on a measure to arm the rebels Obama is seeking to partner with to fight ISIS should be separate from a vote on a stopgap spending bill that will keep the government funded through mid-December.
He even said arming the “feckless rebels” of the “moderate” Syrian opposition could have devastating consequences for Israel.
“There is not one of those jihadists, not one of those so-called moderate rebels that will recognise Israel,” Paul, who is considered a likely 2016 presidential candidate, said during a more-than 45-minute speech on the Senate floor. “And if they win, they will attack Israel next.”
Paul has been criticised for his shifting stance on how to confront the terrorist group and Thursday’s speech on the Senate floor was no exception.
The Democratic National Committee immediately issued a statement the remarks showed Paul decided to “throw up his hands and retreat from the global community.” In much of the same language, Sens. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.) criticised their fellow party member — though not by name — on the floor minutes later.
McCain called critics of the Free Syrian Army “uninformed” for saying they don’t have the capabilities to change the situation on the ground. Graham said the FSA’s critics were “selling the Syrian people short.”
“I worry too. I worry about doing nothing. I worry about finding an excuse not to do anything,” Graham said.
Paul also reiterated criticism of hawks on both sides of the political aisle, saying interventionists in both parties caused the current “chaos” in Syria and Iraq. Repeating a point he made during a disagreement with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Paul said hawks were “wrong” about some of the autocrats the US has confronted — Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.
But observers said it appeared Paul is continually trying to have it both ways in both supporting confronting ISIS while opposing arming partners on the ground in Syria without an alternate strategy.
“Rand Paul is just being Rand Paul. He is very much a libertarian, but is trying to appeal to a wider base to encourage support for a presidential run that seems very much inevitable,” Garrett Khoury, the director of research at The Eastern Project, told Business Insider in an email. “His speech today seems like an attempt to separate himself from his father Ron Paul’s isolationism while at the same time trying not to come off as mimicking the McCain and Graham-led neo-con wing of the party.”
Khoury described Paul’s speech as a “balancing act” and predicted it might backfire politically.
“After the murder of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, coming out in full opposition to increased American involvement in Syria (or Iraq) to fight ISIS would be a political disaster,” said Khoury. “Public sentiment has swung hard towards support for fighting ISIS in both Syria and Iraq, and Paul isn’t about to go against that. He’s playing a pretty serious balancing act that has the very real possibility of pleasing no one.”
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