Sen. Rand Paul tells Newsmax that "every bad outcome" could be made worse if the United States proceeds with attacking the Bashar Assad regime in Syria.
One of those poor outcomes could be that chemical weapons fall into the hands of al-Qaida or other terrorist groups, the Kentucky Republican warns.
And he asserts that America should pursue a policy of "strategic ambiguity" regarding Iran and keep all options, including military force, on the table.
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Sen. Paul, the son of former Rep. and presidential candidate Ron Paul, was first elected in 2010. He is a member of the Committee on Foreign Relations.
Paul is said to be considering a run for the GOP nomination for president in the 2016 election.
President Assad says he will give up his chemical weapons only if the United States stops arming Syrian rebels. In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV on Thursday, Paul was asked if that is a fair request for Assad to be making at this time.
"I don't know that there is any kind of fair request to come from a guy who just gassed his people," Paul says. "But my hope is that some kind of diplomatic solution can come of this, that there is a way for the chemical weapons store to come under international control. That would be a huge step in the right direction."
But Paul says he isn't sure if Assad is sincere in his agreement to give up his chemical weapons.
As for the possibility of an American strike on Syria, Paul says: "If we do decide to go the military route, I have serious doubts it will have any influence or positive action.
"In fact, if we destabilize Assad through a bombing campaign, the chemical weapons could in all likelihood get under the control of al-Qaida, al-Nusra or other extreme elements of the Islamic rebel force.
"So I do worry about that. I worry that there's half a million refugees in Jordan right now. I worry that if we bomb Assad there'll be more refugees, in fact a great increase in the number of refugees fleeing into Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. I also worry that if we attack Assad, he's more likely to act irrationally and either bomb Turkey or Israel or Jordan. Just about every bad outcome you could imagine could be made worse by bombing Assad."
But Paul says it is "not an unreasonable argument" for President Obama to claim that the Syrians would never have agreed to give up their chemical weapons without the threat of American military force.
"On the other side of that argument, though, the Russians have already been at the negotiating table for over a year," he adds.
"The reports were that they had already come to an agreement that there would be a transitional government without Assad. So there has been some willingness on the part of the Russians to negotiate.
"Also, and I can't tell you whether they're going to be sincere, whether these will be valid negotiations, but I can tell you that to get to a better position in the Middle East than where we are, where Assad is gone, where the chemical weapons are stable, where we're not getting nuclear weapons in Iran, Russia could be a big part of that.
"If Russia wanted to be a big player in the world and wanted to use their power within the world structure for good, they have a great ability to do it because we've restricted our trade to Syria. We've restricted our trade to Iran. But Russia still trades with them. So if Russia were to say, hey guys, if this does not get to a level where you quit developing uranium or enriching uranium, we're going to quit trading with you, then perhaps they could bring Iran back into the civilized world."
Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote an opinion piece that appeared in Thursday's New York Times, arguing that an attack on Syria would only spark more terrorism and violence and warning that Obama's address on Tuesday night about America's "exceptionalism" was simply "dangerous."
Paul comments: "I'm not so sure it's helpful to poke a finger at America and to jab at us, because even though it's just rhetoric, it doesn't help to calm the situation. It seems like he's rather enjoying prodding us and enflaming the situation.
"If you want to get to a diplomatic solution, you don't go to your counterpart across the table and call them names. What you would do is either be quiet or try to say conciliatory words. So it makes some of us who really want a diplomatic solution question their sincerity if they're going to go around beating their chest."
Recent polls show Americans are overwhelmingly against U.S. military action in Syria, and some observers maintain that Sen. Paul and others are pushing America toward a new age of isolationism.
Paul takes issue with that: "They misunderstand where I'm coming from. I would call myself a foreign policy realist. I believe that we do have American interests in the Middle East. I believe stability is in our best interest. I believe that Israel, Jordan, Turkey, are all longstanding allies and that we do have an interest in their not being attacked or being overrun by other countries.
"So no, I don't think there's any part of what I'm talking about that is about isolating the world. Sometimes when you react unilaterally, you're isolating yourself. I would say my belief is that we do engage the world, we trade with the world, we have diplomacy with the world, and we try to find solutions where war is the last resort. But I don't think that in any way, shape, or form is isolating us."
Turning to Iran, Paul was asked if the United States or Israel should have the right to use force if the Islamic Republic continues to develop its nuclear program.
"All options have to be on the table," he tells Newsmax. "With regard to hypothetical situations, it is better to be somewhat ambiguous. There's a doctrine that people refer to as strategic ambiguity. The reason why you're ambiguous is you don't pre-announce what you're going to do.
"It's kind of like in this Syrian situation, the president has pre-announced that it's going to be an unbelievably small war. Well, if you're on the other side of this you say heck, I'll just withstand that if it's going to be unbelievably small.
"So you don't really announce in advance what you're going to do or what you would do in specific situations other than to let Iran know that all options would be on the table, and that if they want to be part of the world's community and they want to not live in fear of major war, they should try to cooperate with the world community."
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