Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said the recent debate in Congress over whether to authorize military strikes in Syria was "an extraordinary thing" and praised President Barack Obama for seeking approval in the first place. But he also credited himself for the diplomacy taking place between Russia and Syria to eliminate the chemical weapons cache held by Syrian President Bashar Assad.
"The problem with foreign policy is that most people thinks the debate begins and ends when they say, 'our national security is threatened.' Well, that's the conclusion; that's not a debate," Paul said at an event sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute held at the Library of Congress. "That's the beginning of the debate."
Paul said the Syrian debate has been muddled because the Obama administration and pro-strike Republicans such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have failed to make the case Americans are threatened.
"You have to prove to me or prove to the other side that our national security is threatened," he said. "Because in Syria we're not quite clear who are the good guys and who are the bad guys or which of the bad guys are the worst of the bad guys."
Questions he's asked, during a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing and in a Republican caucus lunch with Obama, have helped delay the drumbeat for war, he said.
"If we bomb Assad, are chemical weapons more or less likely to be used? What are the chances chemical weapons get used on Tel Aviv? What are the chances that chemical weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaida or terrorists, more or less if we bomb Assad?" Paul said.
Paul also revealed that in the private GOP luncheon briefing with Obama, the president seemed to admit he would abide by the will of Congress when it came to launching military strikes in response to a chemical weapons attack allegedly perpetrated by Assad that killed more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.
"He recently had lunch with us and I asked him, 'Are you going to abide by the verdict of Congress?' The Constitution says we initiate war," Paul said. "And he kinda hemmed and he hawed and said, 'well...,' and actually to his credit, I think at the end he probably would, he just didn't want to be explicit about it."
And though the potential 2016 presidential candidate was staying true to his libertarian roots throughout his speech, he did give a nod to McCain, his sometimes rival in the Senate, who once called him a "wacko bird."
"People ask me, do you ever agree with John McCain? He's kind of an irascible and I can't use the next descriptor, but the thing is we do actually get along and I respect him," Paul said, praising McCain's military service. "And what I actually do agree with him on is the Constitution gives initiation of war to Congress, but execution it doesn't. So as many conservatives say, you don't want 535 generals."
Paul said though the administration says the reason Russia and Syria are at the negotiating table is because there was a "credible threat of force," it's just as likely they got there because he helped America drag its feet.
"The other reason could be someone like myself said we have to have a debate and we shouldn't have bombed them a month ago," he said. "If we bombed a month ago, we wouldn't be having negotiations. Are negotiations better than war? I think so."
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