Transcript of Sen. Paul's Conversation on Syria, War Powers, and Blurring of Normal Partisan Divide

Aug 30, 2013

U.S. Senator Rand Paul spoke to WKU Public Radio Friday about the possibility of U.S. military action against Syria following the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons.

The Bowling Green Republican talked about what the Constitution says about war powers, how the Syria issue is uniting those on the left and right, and he took a not-too-subtle jab at Hillary Clinton, in what could be a preview of a possible 2016 Presidential contest.

Here is the transcript of Sen. Paul's interview with WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis:

Is a U.S. military strike against Syria inevitable?

"Maybe, maybe not. I'm trying very hard to prevent that from happening. The Constitution is very explicit. The Constitution says Congress gives the authority to declare war, not the President. The President, when he was a Senator, acknowledged this. He said no President should unilaterally go to war without Congressional authority."

"The Vice-President talked about the separation of powers when he was in the Senate, and said that if Bush were to go to war without their permission, then he would vote to impeach him. So the thing is, we should obey the law. We're a country of laws, and we should obey the law, which means Congress should come into session and debate this."

"The British Parliament recently did this, and it turns out the people's representatives aren't as excited about a new war."

Last night the President--or the administration, at least--did hold some sort of conference call with Congressional leaders, members of the Intelligence Committees. Is that good enough in terms of communication with lawmakers?

"You can't amend the Constitution with a conference call. A conference call does not replace the Constitution, and if (President Obama) thinks so, then he seriously misunderstands the Constitution."

Do you fear at all that if a chemical weapons attack did occur in Syria, that no U.S. military action will send a message to countries like Syria and Iran that it's ok to use chemical weapons in the future?

"I think one thing you should do is find out, was there a chemical attack? It seems like there's evidence that there was. Then who committed it? Once commentator recently asked the question--it's a Latin phrase- "cui bono?". Whose benefit is this? To whom does the benefit accrue if you have this attack?"

"Well, it doesn't seem to be helping (Syrian President Bahar al-Assad) any. It seems to be uniting the world against him. So, there is a possibility that maybe the rebels instigated this chemical attack."

"I would at least want to see the evidence before launching a war. But the bottom line is that the people's representatives in Congress get to vote. War is the last resort, not the first resort. War is something that--when we fight it--we should fight to win."

"There is no strategic objective here. Everything that (the White House) is pre-announcing is, 'Oh, it's just going to be a few missiles, we're really not going to get involved, we're not going to have regime change.'

"Well, if we really don't have a clear-cut objective or reason to be there, then maybe we shouldn't be there."

What role do memories of Iraq, Afghanistan play in Congressional, public sentiment toward possible action in Syria?

"Well, we've been at war for nearly 12 years now, and it wears on our military. Our young men and women are brave when they volunteer to go. But even if you ask our soldier if they're excited about getting involved in a new war--you know, I think they want to defend their country, but we have to make a decision on what is defense of our country, and what is an over-eagerness to get involved in a civil war."

"I mean, there are no good people on either side of this war. On one side there are chemical weapons, maybe used by the government. On the other side, there are Islamic rebels who have kidnapped civilians and kidnapped civilians. In fact, one Islamic rebel was seen eating the heart of one of the Syrian soldiers."

"So really, there's brutality and disgusting violence on both sides, and I don't think there is a clear friend of American in this battle."

We've become used to what's become a normal partisan divide in Washington between Democrats and Republicans, and between liberals and conservatives. Is this issue of possible U.S. military action against Syria blurring those lines a bit to where you have people on the left and right coming together in agreement?

"This morning, Congressman (John) Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville came out and said that Congress should vote. There are people on both sides of the aisle who think that the Constitution is important, that it provides restraint against unlimited power, and that we should have debate in Congress."

You've talked a lot recently about remaking and rebranding the image of the Republican Party, and reaching out to groups that normally haven't supported your party. How does the issue of military involvement in Syria fit into that equation?

"I think we're actually in the process of the parties switching places. I  think the Democrats are going to become--and have become--a party that believes more strongly in being involved in war. And there are going to be Republicans like myself who believe in a less aggressive foreign policy. I think that's going to attract moderates and independents, and people who want a more reasoned and more rational foreign policy."

"So yeah, there are people on the Democrat side--Hillary Clinton, for example, is one of the most eager Democrats for war. She's been the one beating the drums to get involved in Syria. So I think when you see that, you may actually have a different scenario that you once had, and maybe the Republican Party will be full of leaders who are for a more restrained foreign policy."