Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul may have reluctantly joined GOP hawks in backing military action against the Islamic State, but he made clear in a barnburner speech Thursday that he does not support arming Syrian rebels as part of the effort.
“These barnacled enablers have never met a war they didn’t like,” Paul said on the Senate floor, referring to unnamed critics who have argued in favor of arming moderate rebels as a counterweight to ISIS.
The senator warned that pending legislation authorizing the White House arm and train moderate Syrian rebels would weaken dictator Bashar al-Assad’s ability to fight ISIS. The House recently passed its own bill granting such authority, although with significant dissent from members of both parties, 156 of whom voted against it. Paul added that the distinction between “moderate” rebels and radical Islamic groups was vague and that non-ISIS rebel groups were still hostile to Israel.
"Mark my words, if these people get a chance they will attack Israel next,” he said.
In recent days, Paul has feuded with Sen. John McCain over the issue of Syrian rebels and, in an interview with The Daily Beast, even cited a debunked rumor that McCain had met with ISIS militants on a trip to Syria. The false claim earned a stinging rebuke from The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, but it didn’t tone down Paul’s passion on Thursday.
"When does a track record of being consistently wrong stop you from being a so-called expert when the next crisis comes up?” Paul asked in his speech, again without naming his target. “We should remember that they were wrong, there were no WMDs, that Hussein, Qaddafi, and Assad were not a threat to us. Doesn’t make them good, but they were not a threat to us."
McCain, in a separate speech, urged his colleagues to back the measure arming rebels.
"There are moderates in Syria today who will fight and are fighting and unfortunately they're being attacked both from ISIS and from Bashar al-Assad," McCain said.
Paul also criticized the White House for not seeking congressional authorization to use military force against ISIS, and Congress for leaving to campaign before the elections without calling for a vote on the issue.
"Mr. President, what you're doing is illegal and unconstitutional," he said.
In a statement, Democratic National Committee Press Secretary Michael Czin criticized Paul for his alleged inconsistency on the ISIS debate.
“His proposal is to simply bemoan that the world is a complex place, throw up his hands and retreat from the global community,” Czin said. “It’s intellectually dishonest for Rand Paul to attack others for their specific proposals while Paul changes his position seemingly by the hour.”