In one of the most aggressive attacks of the burgeoning 2016 primaries yet, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal branded Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) “unsuited to be commander-in-chief” over Paul's comments blaming his party’s hawk wing for inadvertently contributing to the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
"This is a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be commander-in-chief,” Jindal said in a statement. “We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position.”
According to Jindal, “it has become impossible to imagine a President Paul defeating radical Islam and it's time for the rest of us to say it.”
Jindal launched an exploratory committee earlier this month to weigh a presidential bid, but he made the remarks Wednesday in an official statement through the governor’s office. A spokesman for Paul's presidential campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“It's one thing for Senator Paul to take an outlandish position as a senator at Washington cocktail parties, but being commander-in-chief is an entirely different job,” Jindal continued. “We should all be clear that evil and radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it.”
Jindal's language was unusually rough, but Paul has long known similar attacks were on the way once he got into the race. Paul has clashed with GOP party leaders over foreign policy throughout his tenure in the Senate, most recently over his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War, which he blames for creating a power vacuum that enabled ISIS to gain a foothold in the country.
The comments Jindal cited came Wednesday morning on msnbc's "Morning Joe," when Paul also criticized calls from Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who is set to announce a presidential bid of his own next week, to arm moderate Syrian rebels as a counterweight to the Islamic State and expand efforts to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Paul argued weapons transfers end up in ISIS hands and that Assad was still useful as a foil against ISIS despite his human rights abuses.
“ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately,” Paul said. “And most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb Assad, which would have made ISIS's job even easier. They created these people.”
He extended his critique to Libya, where ISIS fighters have targeted Christians, arguing that the Obama administration’s decision to aid rebels seeking the ouster of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi created a dangerous power vacuum similar to the one in Iraq.
“ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved -- they loved Hillary Clinton's war in Libya,” Paul said. “They just wanted more of it. But Libya is a failed state and it's a disaster. Iraq really is a failed state or a vassal state now of Iran. So everything that they have talked about in foreign policy, they have been wrong about for 20 years, and yet they have somehow the gall to keep saying and pointing fingers otherwise.”
None of these comments were particularly new from Paul, who has issued similar criticisms this month and responded to the rise of ISIS back in 2014 by ratcheting up attacks on the Iraq War and its supporters in the press.
Doug Stafford, a senior adviser to Paul's campaign, responded to Jindal's remarks with a snarling statement of his own to NBC News.
“It's ironic Gov. Jindal would level such a charge when he flip-flops on crucial issues like Common Core and national security, and he has cratered his own state's economy and budget," Stafford said. "Just last week, Gov. Jindal spoke out in support of Sen. Paul and announced he now opposes the NSA’s illegal and unnecessary domestic bulk data collection, after previously cheerleading for it."
Stafford offered no apologies for Paul's position or rhetoric on ISIS.
"As we have seen for the past few weeks, Senator Paul is the only Republican running it seems who is willing to learn from our mistakes in the Middle East in order to keep us safer and stronger," he said. "The American people are looking for a candidate who can express a coherent viewpoint, something Gov. Jindal and many other candidates have been unable to do thus far.”
After initial misgivings, Paul did come out last year in support of the American air campaign to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As the lone dove in the Republican foreign policy field, however, his foreign policy and national security views were always going to draw heavy criticism from his rivals once the campaign got under way in earnest. It seems that time has come ahead of schedule. In addition to Jindal's statement, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took a shot at Paul on Wednesday over his opposition to the NSA's bulk collection of phone records under the PATRIOT Act, a practice Paul is currently fighting to stop in the Senate.
For Jindal, a high-profile skirmish with Paul offers a chance to raise his profile with a Republican electorate that has yet to pay much attention to his presidential ambitions. If he doesn’t make a move with primary voters soon, he could miss the cutoff for the first debate in August, which will only accept the top 10 GOP contenders in national polls. As of today, he’s on the outside looking in with 1.3% support in a RealClearPolitics average of recent polls.