Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) strongly backed President Donald Trump’s decision earlier this week to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and Afghanistan, telling CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday morning’s “State of the Union” that American policing of Muslim lands “engenders more terrorism.”
“I’m very proud of the president. This is exactly what he promised, and I think the people agree with him,” said Paul. “I think the people actually are with [President Trump]. Washington’s against him, but this wouldn’t be the first time Washington doesn’t represent the people very well.”
Trump’s decision countered advice from former Defense Secretary General James Mattis, national security adviser John Bolton, and former U.S. envoy for the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State group (ISIS), Brett McGurk.
Both Mattis and McGurk resigned this past week.
And on Sunday morning, Trump said in a tweet that Mattis will leave before the end of 2019.
He added that Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan would lead the Pentagon, effective January 1, as acting secretary.
I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
Trump also, not incidentally, tweeted the following:
I just had a long and productive call with President @RT_Erdogan of Turkey. We discussed ISIS, our mutual involvement in Syria, & the slow & highly coordinated pullout of U.S. troops from the area. After many years they are coming home. We also discussed heavily expanded Trade.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2018
“Right now, we’re spending $50 billion a year in Afghanistan,” added Sen. Paul on Sunday morning. “We could easily find $5 billion for a wall if we weren’t spending so much money building and rebuilding Afghanistan.” Paul serves on the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations.
The senator was referring to the major budget disagreement this week that resulted in a partial government shutdown beginning Friday night over funding for the border security wall. Paul added that though he is “not a fan” of intentionally shutting down the government, he’s also opposed to “spending so much money that we’re bankrupting the country.”
“I think people believe we’ve been at war too long, in too many places, and that we do need to turn attention to problems we have at home here,” said Paul.
“We’ve spent several trillion dollars on these wars everywhere, and I think the president promised that he’d be different. It’s really one of the reasons he won,” said Paul, noting that many independent voters want their leaders to return the focus to domestic matters, rather than matters abroad.
Paul added that even Mattis had admitted there is no military solution to Syria and to Afghanistan. The “burden,” he added, should be on those who “want to stay forever in every war theater around the world” to demonstrate why we should send more military support if there is no military solution.
“Syria is an absolute mess,” said Paul, who strongly encouraged a diplomatic solution, though he admitted finding one presents a complex challenge for a number of stakeholders.
Paul expressed concerns about the notion that Russia is “toxic,” saying that “if we don’t talk to Russia, we’re never going to find a peaceful solution to the Syria mess.”
He added that Russia has been a “big player” in Syria for decades.
America’s original goal in Syria, he noted, was to defeat ISIS, and that goal has been achieved. Now, said Paul, those who “want forever war” simply “change the goalposts, changed the mission” to defend keeping the U.S. military embroiled until Iran and Russia leave.
Paul criticized the notion that leaving Afghanistan is “precipitous” — as America has been there for 17 years.
He also offered a scathing rebuke of those who “believe in forever war.” America’s original goal in Syria, he noted, was to defeat ISIS, and that goal has been achieved. Now, said Paul, those who “want forever war” simply “change the goalposts, changed the mission” to defend keeping the U.S. military embroiled until Iran and Russia leave.
“That means we’re staying forever,” said Paul, who asked rhetorically if those who support keeping troops in Syria want another war with Iran or even with Russia.
“The American people are tired of war,” he said. “Leaving our troops there is sort of like a tripwire to a much larger war. The war has every danger every day of becoming an explosive expanse of war.”
“The mainstream foreign policy problem of our country — we think we always have to be involved. Maybe when there’s two evils — [Bashar al] Assad may be an evil, Sunni extremists may be an evil — maybe we shouldn’t always have to choose a side and be involved in war.”
Paul said that when the U.S. first got involved in Syria’s war, we “added to the chaos.” He said, “It should not be the job of America to be replacing regimes around the world.”
Paul called Iraq the “biggest foreign policy disaster of the last several decades.”
President Trump correctly identified Iraq as a foreign policy mistake, he said, whereas military officials who are now encouraging continued involvement in Syria still do not recognize it as such. “Sixty-nine percent of the people who were polled in a Pew poll recently said we should get out of Afghanistan.”
“What we are doing in like seven different war theaters right now is unconstitutional, and we shouldn’t be doing it,” said Paul, who noted that the resolution passed by Congress in the wake of 9/11 did not include war in places such as Somalia, Yemen, Mali, or Syria.
“When the president declares victory over ISIS, he’s exactly right. We took back 99 percent of their land.”
“It doesn’t work to have Americans there policing Muslim lands. It just engenders more terrorism … The longer Americans stay, the more terrorism you will have.”
“The Muslims who live in these lands need to police the Muslims who live in these lands. If it’s Americans, it will always be seen by those who live there as some sort of religious crusade, and it encourages more terrorism. So the sooner we get out of that mess, the better.”
Any time before this point in history liberals would love this move. This is what they’ve wanted since Vietnam. But now, cuz Trump is doing it, all of a sudden they are war hawks. Hilarious
— COFanMan (@COFanMan) December 23, 2018
— Paul Gosar (@DrPaulGosar) December 23, 2018
He's right we cannot police the world when we need to put our tax $ into improving our own country
— M. Positive (@MPositive3) December 23, 2018
Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.