Senator Rand Paul on Obama and Afghanistan

Senator Rand Paul on Obama and Afghanistan

By The Situation Room - June 21, 2011

BLITZER: U.S. military missions in transition right now. President Obama preparing to reveal the scope of the initial troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in a major speech tomorrow night. Members of Congress are at odds right now over the future of U.S. involvement not only in Afghanistan, but in Libya as well.

Let's discuss with Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. He's a member of the Tea Party Caucus up on Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: On the troop withdrawal, we don't know the exact numbers of what the president has in mind. You know there's 100,000 U.S. troops there now, but 30,000 maybe will be out -- that's probably the largest number -- by the end of 2012, 70,000 could be remaining.

Is that good enough for you?

PAUL: Well, I think with the death of Bin Laden and with most of al Qaeda wiped out in Afghanistan, and largely in Pakistan as well, I think we now have the opportunity to let the Afghans start taking over their country again. I mean, even their own president is incredibly critical of the United States and our presence there.

So I think really, the only way they will ever step up and start patrolling their own streets, start leading missions, and start taking care of their own country is when we start removing troops. The president promised this in his campaign, and I hope the president will abide by his promises.

BLITZER: Well, what kind of numbers would you like to see? Because right now the president is committed to keeping troops in Afghanistan through the end of 2014, although he wants to start removing some at least in July next month.

PAUL: Well, ultimately, the decisions on exact troop numbers I think are the president's to make, so I don't think they're Congress' decisions to make. But I do think that a much smaller force. In fact, I think an elite force on a base there could keep the peace and keep terrorists from reorganizing, I would think, with less than 10,000 troops you could keep the country very stable. You couldn't patrol all the street, but really, after 10 years, should the African soldiers not be patrolling their own streets?

And the longer we patrol the streets for them, they won't do it. They will only do it when we quit patrolling the streets, and they'll have to step up.

BLITZER: Well, that's a specific number. How long do you think realistically it should take to remove 90,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan?

PAUL: Well, that's something -- and that's one reason the president gets to make the decisions, is he does have to work with our generals to do it in a safe fashion. But I think the ultimate policy of how big our presence should be there should be much smaller. And once he sets those parameters and works with the generals, then we have to decide how quickly we can draw them down.

But I don't believe the Afghans will ever step up. I've talked to our soldiers who have been wounded there. When they get out of the Humvee, they're the ones leading the mission. The Afghan soldiers are running for the back, if they're there at all. The Afghan soldiers have sometimes been stealing the things from our wounded soldiers when they're out of commission.

The Afghan soldiers need to step up. It's their country, and the longer we do it for them, the less likely they are to stand up and do it themselves.

BLITZER: You think realistically it could happen within a year, to remove 90 percent of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

PAUL: I don't know the exact number, the timeline. And I do think that really setting an exact is not really appropriate. But the president stood up and said he was for drawing down Afghanistan, and since he's come into power he's actually doubled the force in Afghanistan.

So I think really drawing down the troops, the president needs to stick by his campaign promises.

BLITZER: Senator Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator McCain, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, they've co-sponsored a resolution that would authorize, that would approve the U.S. military mission, together with NATO, in Libya.

Are you on board with that?

PAUL: Well, it's sort of a proposition that's a day late and a dollar short. The Constitution implied and said, basically, that foreign policy would be a shared responsibility between Congress and the president. The initiation of war was given to Congress, a declaration of war.

This was debated, discussed. The Federalist Papers talk about it.

Our founders wanted that power to be in the legislature, and we've abdicated that power, and then we passed the War Powers Act in the '70s because we didn't want another war like Vietnam to go on without really the approval of Congress. And so we passed the War Powers Act, and the president is in direct defiance of that.

And I think it's really a mistake just to say, oh, well, it's not really war because they're not shooting back at us. I think when you start to get into these convoluted definitions of what war is, and you say, oh, we're bombing us and they're not bombing us, and that's not war, that really -- I think the president loses his credibility by engaging in such sophistry.

BLITZER: So is the Kerry/McCain legislation too late for you? It's after the 90 days that was envisaged in the War Powers Act, but will you support it?

PAUL: Well, there are two separate arguments.

One is, should Congress authorize force? And that's very important, so I'm a big fan and very much in favor of having the debate and having the vote on use of authorization. So, one, it's Congress' obligation to have that vote, whether we should go to war or not.

And then, two, there's a second question and a very important debate -- is Libya in our national security interest, and can we afford to be in a third war? On that particular contention, I don't think Libya is in our national security interest and I don't think we can afford to be in a third war.

BLITZER: So you'll vote against that resolution?

PAUL: Yes. I will have a resolution that will replace it. In my resolution, I will say that the president is in violation of the War Powers Act and he should obey the War Powers Act and disengage.

BLITZER: Do you have any co-sponsors?

PAUL: We haven't sent it around for co-sponsors. We had a similar letter that we sent to the president, and we had -- I believe seven or eight people signed on to that.

We're hoping to get both Republicans and Democrats to vote in this fashion. A lot of people up here do believe that Congress should have something to say about going to war, but they become afraid of voting if they're Democrats, I think often are afraid of voting in favor of Congress' authority, because they think oh, well, it's a Democrat president.

And I tell them over and over again, if this were a Republican president, I would vote exactly the same way, because I believe in the Constitution whether we have a Republican president or a Democrat president. But many people up here see it as a personal attack on the president.

And I have no personal animus towards the president. I like him, but I think he's just in violation of his campaign promises and the Constitution.

BLITZER: You'll get some bipartisan support of this resolution, I'm sure, Senator.

PAUL: I hope to.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

PAUL: Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.


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