WASHINGTON — A highly skeptical Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday sharply criticized President Barack Obama’s bid to launch military strikes against Syria, saying the mission’s purpose remained murky and uncertain.
“I don’t see sending my son or anyone else’s son to die for what many are saying is a stalemate with no good outcome,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters.
Paul also questioned whether Obama has the authority to launch military action without congressional consent. Paul made his case in an animated exchange Tuesday with Secretary of State John Kerry, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard testimony on the Obama administration’s decision to take military action against Syria.
Paul is seen as one of the Senate’s most outspoken questioners of the mission, as well as a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate. He’s been outspoken in his questioning of the administration’s authority to take military action against Syria.
After a series of hearings and briefings this week, which continue Wednesday, Congress is expected to debate and vote next week on the president’s request for military action. Paul conceded the Senate is likely to approve the measure, though he said he was talking to “like-minded senators” about how to proceed.
“Our best chances for ultimate victory is in the House,” Paul said, where Republicans have a 233-200 majority.
Though Obama is seeking approval, administration officials have not ruled out striking Syria regardless of what Congress says.
Paul was appalled.
“I want to be proud of the president, but every time I’m just about there, then I get worried that really, he doesn’t mean it, that he’s going to sort of obey the Constitution if he wins,” Paul said. “Make me proud today, Secretary Kerry. Stand up for us and say, you’re going to obey the Constitution if we vote you down, which is unlikely.”
Kerry said that Obama already has the authority to launch a strike, and anyway, he’s not seeking to wage a war. Paul noted that the Constitution doesn’t distinguish between big and small wars. “Ask the people on the ships launching the missiles whether they’re involved with war or not,” he said.
Kerry was flanked by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“You’ve got three people here who’ve been to war,” said Kerry, a Vietnam veteran. “There’s not one of us who doesn’t understand what going to war means and we don’t want to go to war. We don’t believe we are going to war in the classic sense of taking American troops and America to war. The president is asking for the authority to do a limited action that will degrade the capacity of a tyrant who has been using chemical weapons to kill his own people.”
Paul also challenged the administration on the consequences of a strike. What happens to Israel, he asked, if Syria retaliates?
“Most reports I hear say we’re not even probably going to directly bomb chemical weapons because of what might happen to the surrounding population. So my guess is he still will have the ability,” the senator said. “I think it’s equally likely he does it again or doesn’t do it again.”
Kerry was getting irritated. “I can make it crystal clear to you Israel will be less safe unless the U.S. takes this action,” he said tersely.
Iran and Hezbollah are two of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s biggest allies, Kerry explained, and they’re the biggest enemies of Israel.
Assad must be stopped now, Kerry said. “If the United States doesn’t hold him accountable,” the secretary explained, “it’s a guarantee Assad will do it again.”