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Rand Paul vs. The Cowards

If arming Syrian rebels is such a great idea, why was everyone in D.C. so terrified of a separate vote on the issue?


If arming Syrian rebels is such a great idea, why was everyone in D.C. so terrified of a standalone vote on the issue?

Before Senators voted 78-22 to pass a continuing resolution that would fund government through Dec. 11 and avoid a government shutdown, Rand Paul asked that question – and some other uncomfortable ones – on the floor. Call him is an isolationist if you like, but it’d be nice to hear some coherent answers.

You won’t get any from prominent Republicans, who are more interested in hitting the administration for its fecklessness on ISIS. Certainly there was little genuine dissent from Democrats, who aren’t interested in debating another Middle East intervention for reasons of political expediency. “Leaders,” according to a Wall Street Journal piece from a few days ago, are unwilling to debate ISIS and Syria now “because of the risks involved in taking such a tough vote before the elections.” The real risk, right? Political careers. So what we had was a craven bipartisan plan to intervene in a sectarian war in the Middle East using a $1 trillion spending bill as cover.

After the election – as if there’s ever an after the election in America anymore – we’re supposedly going to engage in a wider conversation about what to do regarding ISIS. But if Senators needed to bundle the politically low-risk proposition of “vetting” and arming rebels, you can imagine the sort of convoluted political machinations we’re going have to experience early next year as Washington simultaneously scurries to find a way to fight a war but avoid responsibility for it.

Not everyone hides. But if a politician tells you they have certitude about how a conflict will shake out in the Middle East, it’s safe to say you have a politician who can’t be trusted. John McCain mocks Paul’s concerns about Syrian rebels. He then defends his support with one of the most ludicrous arguments imaginable: Hey, I’ve met them. They’re cool. The truth is, nearly every of shred of available evidence – both historical and contemporary – tell us that these kinds of relationships are dangerous.

From a recent piece in the New York Times:

Analysts who track the rebel movement say that the concept of the Free Syrian Army as a unified force with an effective command structure is a myth.

Whatever force the United States can muster, it will face a jihadist army that has surged in size. Todd Ebitz, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, said Thursday that the agency now believes ISIS has between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria, an increase from a previous assessment of more than 10,000 fighters.

“This new total reflects an increase in members because of stronger recruitment since June following battlefield successes and the declaration of a caliphate,” said Mr. Ebitz.

The Syrian rebels are a scattered archipelago of mostly local forces with ideologies that range from nationalist to jihadist. Their rank-and-file fighters are largely from the rural underclass, with few having clear political visions beyond a general interest in greater rights or the dream of an Islamic state.

The rebels have no cohesive cause other than survival right now. According to numerous sources, the Supreme Military Council, the organization intended to unite all allegedly moderate factions, collapsed under the weight of diverse aims. Who are we helping? Who will they fight? If your aim is to create more chaos, say so. Who knows? Maybe that’s a fine idea. But you don’t have to be a historian to understand that fueling a civil war can have serious destabilizing repercussions later on. Does anyone really feel confident that we’ve appropriately debated the implication of this in Washington?

And speaking of that: Are we even sure we want Assad to be defeated?

Paul puts it this way:

What much of the foreign policy elite fails to grasp is that intervention to topple secular dictators has been the prime source of that chaos. From Hussein to Assad to Ghaddafi we have the same history. Intervention topples the secular dictator.  Chaos ensues and radical jihadists emerge.

Pearl clutch. Yes, Assad is terrible and evil. As Paul points out, when was the last time toppling of secular dictator guided a Middle East nation towards a self-sustaining liberalism? Was it Egypt or Libya? The notion that we have the capacity to create a functional ally in the Middle East is laughable. What happens if ISIS is repulsed? Are we in it with them until Assad is expelled from power? I sure didn’t hear a coherent answer from the administration or any of the cowering Senators up for re-election on the matter.

Instead, what senators are doing right now is figuring out a way to allow Obama to use the existing Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against ISIS.

AUMF authorizes force against those who bore responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. John Kerry – who Paul called “intellectually dishonest” – tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that congressional authority passed in 2001 justifies arming moderate Syrian rebels to fight against ISIS –or maybe the Christians, or maybe the Alawites, or maybe themselves.

Remember, this is the same John Kerry, who, when it was convenient, voted for the Iraq War and when it was also convenient said, “There’s nothing — nothing — in my life in public service I regret more, nothing even close” than voting for the Iraq war. This is the president who lamented the growing scope of the War on Terror. Built his early career on the argument. Both of them now embrace – no, perpetuate – an open-ended mission creep. The question is: Do presidents get to use this power in perpetuity? Or is it only Democrat presidents?

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.