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Rand Paul: "ISIS exists...because of hawks" in the GOP

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had some harsh words Wednesday for Republicans who have blamed the rise of Islamic extremism in Iraq and Syria on American disengagement with the Middle East.

In an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Paul was asked about the criticism he's received from GOP hawks like South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and Arizona Sen. John McCain, who have argued that America's failure to arm moderate rebel groups in the Syrian civil war created space for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to grow.

"I would say it's exactly the opposite," Paul said. "ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS. These hawks also wanted to bomb [Syrian dictator Bashar] Assad, which would have made ISIS's job even easier."

Paul has embraced a less muscular American approach to global events, arguing the U.S. should be more reticent in committing its own resources to foreign conflicts - either by sending its U.S. troops to intervene or sending U.S. munitions to warring parties.

That belief has put Paul at odds with much of the rest of his party, and the debate is already shaping the GOP's 2016 presidential primary - Paul is running for president, and a host of prominent Republican hawks, like Graham, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have either declared a bid or signaled they plan to declare soon.

Another prospective candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, said Wednesday that Paul's comments Wednesday morning are "a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be Commander-in-Chief."

Jindal issued a statement about Paul and sent it out in parts on Twitter.

Jindal argued, "We should all be clear that evil and Radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it...Senator Paul's illogical argument clouds a situation that should provide pure moral clarity. Islam has a problem. ISIS is its current manifestation. And the next President's job is to have the discipline and strength to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, who is expected to announce his own presidential candidacy next week, has previously warned that Republicans risk losing the foreign policy debate if they nominate Paul for president, because he wouldn't provide a strong enough counterpoint to the current administration's policies.

"I think Senator Paul's record on this issue is quite frankly behind that of President Obama," Graham said last month. "[Paul has] the worst chance of anybody to make a case against Obama's foreign policy."

The fight against ISIS suffered a setback last week when militants captured two key cities in Iraq and Syria Paul told "CBS This Morning" on Tuesday that the U.S. should arm Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who are taking the fight to ISIS on the ground.

"I would take a lot of the equipment that's rotting in Afghanistan, and I would give it to the Kurds, not to the Shiite government. I would tell the Shiite government that you know what? If you don't include the Sunnis you're never going to win this war," Paul said. He also said he would like to see Turkish troops on the Turkish border helping with the fight.

"The thing is that people need to understand the Middle East is complicated and there are no easy answers. We need to do what we do to protect American interests," Paul added. "The ultimate victory is going to come when civilized Islam steps up and civilized Islam says that this aberration that is ISIS is intolerable."

The Kentucky senator has also taken heat from some of his rivals over his support for ending the National Security Agency's telephone data collection program, which he's criticized as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

Christie said Wednesday on Fox News that Paul is "siding with" Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked the classified programs last year and sought asylum in Russia.

"He's a criminal," the New Jersey governor said of Snowden. "He's a criminal and he's hiding in Russia and he's lecturing to us about the evils of authoritarian government while he lives under the protective umbrella of Vladimir Putin. That's who Mike Lee and Rand Paul are siding with? With Edward Snowden? Come on."