US Sen. Rand Paul is pushing back against the notion that the Islamic State is a direct threat to the US at the moment. (Mandel Ngan / AFP)
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WASHINGTON — Potential US presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul says warnings that a violent extremist group would target America if it seizes power in Iraq is merely “conjecture.”
US President Barack Obama and his top aides, joined by experts and lawmakers of all political stripes, have repeatedly called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) a “threat.”
“ISIL poses a threat to the Iraqi people, to the region, and to US interests,” Obama said during a June 19 White House briefing.
But Paul sees it differently. During a brief interview Tuesday, the Kentucky Republican stayed true to the isolationist worldview that many experts have assigned to him. To be sure, the tea party darling has long pushed for a less ambitious US foreign policy that features fewer military missions.
When asked by CongressWatch if he views ISIL and the deteriorating situation in Iraq as a direct threat to the United States, Paul was characteristically candid in sticking to his worldview.
“The vast amount of Americans disagree with that assessment,” Paul said when asked if ISIL poses a direct threat to the US.
According to several polls, Paul is right that a majority of Americans oppose inserting US ground troops into Iraq. But a majority of Americans also support providing some assistance, such as using American intelligence assets.
A recent Public Policy Polling survey found 74 percent of Americans oppose sending US ground forces back to Iraq. But 56 percent of those polled support helping Iraq by using US intelligence capabilities, while 52 percent want Washington to lead an international effort to stabilize the country. (The PPP poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.)
“I think that would be conjecture,” Paul said when asked about the view of ISIL put forth by Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We know that there’s a civil war going on there. And we know that they want to claim a big chunk of Iraq — as much as they can get. But, I mean, anything else is complete conjecture.
“Are they a potential threat to the US? Sometime,” Paul said. “Maybe even at the present. But ... is there a US interest in sending US troops into Iraq? Absolutely no.”
Paul, when asked to lay out a strategy for how he would handle the situation in Iraq or ISIL, said he would not send funds to rebel forces in Syria. He calls those troops ISIL’s “allies.”
“They come out of Syria,” he said. “We’re fighting with them in the Syrian war, and then fighting against them in Iraq. Try explaining that to the American people.”
McCain, the senior Senate Armed Services Committee member, earlier Tuesday aligned himself with Obama on the question of whether ISIL is a threat when he told reporters “our intelligence estimates [say ISIL] is a direct threat to the United States of America.”
James Jeffrey, former US ambassador to Iraq from 2010-12, said during a July 3 C-SPAN appearance that America should use military force against the group.
“It is very hard to explain to Iraqis why we are not doing anything militarily on the ground in Iraq against ISIL. I cannot explain that, either,” said Jeffrey, now a visiting fellow at the Washington Institute on Eastern Policy. “I think it’s important ... for us to use some military force to stop these people from moving forward.” ■