Fearing that President Barack Obama may be planning a limited strike on Syria to "save face," Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul urged the White House to stand down until the commander-in-chief consults both houses of Congress.
"I would ask Congress to come together and we would debate whether it's in our national security interest to be involved," the Republican told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday.
"I think it's horrific when civilians are killed. But civilians have been killed on both sides of this war," said Paul, who is widely considered to be a potential presidential candidate in 2016. "Horrific things have happened. There have been images of Islamic rebels eating the hearts of their opponents, so really I don’t think there’s a lot of good on both sides of this war."
The administration continued to make the case for a limited strike on the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday following the Aug. 21 attack, in which Assad's forces are accused of unleashing chemical weapons against civilians. The attack resulted in the deaths of 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, according to U.S. officials.
Secretary of State John Kerry characterized the aftermath of the deadly attack as the "indiscriminate inconceivable horror of chemical weapons" and he dubbed Assad a "thug and a murderer" on Friday. He told reporters that Syria had the largest chemical weapons program in the "entire Middle East."
But Paul cautioned that the U.S. was "misled" by intelligence prior to committing the country to a lengthy war in Iraq.
“Even at the various high levels of government the intelligence was massaged I believe to try to instigate and get us into the war in Iraq,” he explained. “I don’t want that to happen again. We should have a deliberate evaluation of the information before we go to war.”
Paul said he had not seen enough evidence to know for sure whether Assad — or the rebels he is fighting — were responsible for the chemical attack.
“I would ask the question what is the strategic objective? Is it simply so say ‘shame on you for launching and using chemical weapons?’ I would like to know who used the chemical weapons,” Paul explained. “In all likelihood it probably was the Syrian government. But it really isn’t to their advantage. It’s actually more to the advantage of the rebels to have launched this attack because the whole world now is uniting against Assad.”
Even a limited attack may result in unanticipated consequences and runs the risk of escalation, he said.
"It may well incite the Russians to become more involved, the Iranians to become more involved. It may well incite gas attacks on Tel Aviv or Israel,” Paul said. “What happens then? Will Israel feel restrained this time the way they did in the Gulf War? Or will Israel respond in not just a proportional fashion, but an overwhelming fashion, to now obliterate as much of Iran’s military capacity if Iran gets involved?"
He also questioned President Obama’s objective if it is not to remove Assad from power as the administration has insisted.
"He said there was a red line with chemical weapons. And he feels incumbent to act. But the thing is just to act to save face is not a strategic objective," Paul asserted. "He's already preannounced that if he does attack he’s going to do it in a very limited fashion and he's not going to be for regime change. To me, this sort of sounds like we’re not going to win. He's for a stalemate."
Paul questioned whether the U.S. stands to benefit from intervening in the now more than two-year-old civil war that has pitted government-controlled forces against a rebel movement believed to include some elements with ties to al-Qaida.
"I think there should be a clear-cut strategic objective that helps the United States and we should know that whoever wins the war — whoever, we're supporting — will be a friend to the United States," Paul added.
"I'm not certain that either side — or any of the multiple sides of this war — will ultimately be a friend to the United States."
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