Sen. Rand Paul told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the situation with the Syrian Kurds is much more complex than it appears at first glance and detailed some of the history involved.
CHUCK TODD: Joining me now is Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee senate side. Senator Paul is also the author of the new book "The Case Against Socialists." Senator Paul, welcome back to Meet the Press, sir.
SEN. RAND PAUL, (R) KENTUCKY: Thanks, Chuck. Thanks for having me.
TODD: Let me start with the news of the morning. I hope you caught our report from Richard Engel and what he's seen on the ground.
I know where your views are philosophically, and I want to get to that in a minute. But are you concerned that this decision was too hasty and it sort of created a more chaotic situation than necessary?
PAUL: Well, I think one of the things about the Arab militias that Turkey is using that your reporter reported on, it's interesting that some are from the Free Syrian Army, which was our ally for seven years, which just shows how messy this is. Turkey is an ally, the Free Syrian Army was an ally for seven years, and the Kurds have been allies in Syria, so it's a very complicated, messy situation.
But I think a lot of people are not acknowledging that Turkey was coming in one way or another and 50 soldiers would simply be in the way, and be a tripwire to a much worse outcome. And so I think the president was right in moving 50 soldiers out of the way of an onslaught of tens of thousands of Turkish troops.
TODD: Why are you so convinced of that? It seems as if -- and I'm not going to get to whether it was exactly 50 and all that, but it does seem as if our soldiers being there was serving as a deterrent to Erdogan for a period of time.
PAUL: They were until they weren't. I mean, they were until the Turks decided they were coming. The Turks gave us forewarning they were coming. And the president made a judgment that I think most military commanders would agree with that you don't have 50 soldiers -- you don't go to war with 50 soldiers. 50 soldiers don't deter anything.
Once the Turks said they were coming, it would have been foolish to leave 50 soldiers in the wake of tens of thousands of people coming across the border.
this is a hundred year old war between the Turks and the Kurds. Realize the president is asking is it in our national security interest to somehow figure out how the Kurds can live with the Turks?
The other interesting thing that people don't mention is all the Kurds aren't the same. The Iraqi Kurds actually are cooperating with Turkey to turn in Kurdish Workers Party officials that they see as terrorists. So the Iraqi Kurds are actually turning over some of these Kurds that allied with the Syrians. So, realize that all the Kurds aren't the same on every side of every border.
TODD: Well, I'm glad you brought this up. When you were running for president, you actually had a proposal on how you would handle this situation at the time and I want to play it for you, because I'm curious if you still hold the same view. Take a listen.
PAUL: So I would provide armaments to the Kurds as well. In fact, I'd go one step further, I'd promise them a homeland and a state, but I would do it in conjunction with talks with Turkey. It would have to be a three-way discussion, Kurds homeland, but I would like to get the Turks involved as well.
TODD: Look, it's an interesting proposal. I think are you not alone in that. I think a lot of folks would argue that at some point the Kurds need a home. Have you shared that idea with the president?
PAUL: I haven't talked specifically about it, but the interesting thing is they kind of do have a homeland. There is a Kurdish semi-autonomous region in Iraq. So, what I was referring to was Iraq. And I still do agree with that sentiment.
But here's one of the interesting things, as we've gotten stability in Iraq and as the Kurds have a lot of self-control in governing sort of like a province, there is actually 1,800 Turkish businesses doing business in that part of Iraq that is controlled by the Kurds. It's a prosperous oil region, and there is back and forth between the Turks and the Kurds and it actually works pretty well.
But these Kurds don't actually get along with the Syrian Kurds so well. And many of the Syrian Kurds have been trying to break off part of Turkey into an independent country. It's been going on for really close to 100 years. Many of the Kurds in Syria actually were expelled or exiled from Turkey back in the 1920s, '30s, and '40s.
So there is this long history. And the question we have to ask is, and I have to ask, am I going to send the sons and daughters of America and mothers and fathers, and I'm to send them there to die to try to figure out how the Kurds and the Turks can get along? And I don't see that in our national interest. And we should vote on it. We should vote on it in congress and declare war if that's what people want.
TODD: Senator, what do you -- I get that. What about that line that says, America made a commitment to these folks. You may not have agreed with that policy decision at the time, but abandoning them could lead to a worse outcome.
And look, that's a -- these are not easy decisions, I'm not -- but what do you say to that line?
PAUL: You know, but, you know, what President Trump said was not I'm committed to making a Kurdish homeland in Syria, what he said was we're going to wipe out ISIS, which was to the benefit also of the Kurdish people who live in that region.
TODD: But if ISIS is back...
PAUL: No, well that's to be debated. But I would say is ISIS has been militarily defeated and whether they come back or not is conjecture at this point.
But what I would say is this, we have to debate in congress. We are -- my oath is to the constitution. My oath isn't as to some promise that somebody thinks we made for a Kurdish homeland. We should vote. And here's the reason why we won't vote, they don't know who to declare war on?
Are we going to declare war on Turkey? We're going to declare war on the Free Syrian Army, which was our ally for seven years. Are we going to declare war on Assad?
And really to tell you the truth, what needs to happen is we need to exert our leverage and our pressure to bring all sides together. And ultimately it's probably in the Kurds' best interests to be aligned with Assad. But as long as we continue to say Assad has to go, we're never getting to a peaceful situation.
Assad is staying. And if Assad were aligned with the Kurds and the Kurds were given some semi-autonomy in their region, it could develop the way it is in Iraq currently. In Iraq, they have a semi -autonomous region. What if the Kurds were under Syrian sovereignty but had a semi-autonomous region up there, you might find some peace with that if Syria would guarantee that they are not going to have incursions across the border into Turkey, which means everybody needs to be at the table having this discussion.
TODD: Very quickly, the president at the same time this week quietly sent more troops to Saudi Arabia and claims that the Saudis are going to pay for those troops. Are you comfortable with the U.S. military being treated almost like a mercenary force for the Saudis?
PAUL: I'm not. And in fact, I would withhold troops and arms from the Saudis until we see better behavior.
I think that our arms are uniquely belong to the American people and that we shouldn't be sending them to the Saudis until we see a change in their behavior. But it's inconsistent to say we're not going to be there for endless, senseless wars and then to have them in Saudi Arabia.
One thing that bin Laden said motivated him, it's not a justification, obviously, it was terrible and he got what he deserved, but one of the things he said that motivated him were troops in what they considered to be their holy land. And so I think having troops in Saudi Arabia becomes a magnet for all the crazy jihadists around the world to motivate them to attack again.