Rand Paul: Obama's request to arm rebels in ISIS fight "a mistake"

Though he's come around some to the idea of launching a military strike against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as its militants storm the Middle East, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, argued Monday on "CBS This Morning" that heeding President Obama's request to arm Syrian rebels would be "a mistake."

"They're the weakest fighting force there," Paul said of the moderate Syrian rebels, pointing to a non-aggression pact with ISIS they reached last week. "Most of the arms we've given to the so-called moderate rebels have wound up in the hands of ISIS because ISIS simply takes it from them, or is given them, or we mistakenly actually give it to some of the radicals. So the intervention in Syria has created a safe haven for ISIS and has made our problem much more difficult."

Particularly in light of the recent ceasefire, Paul assessed, the rebels' interests lie in overthrowing Syrian President Bashar Assad. "They don't really care what ISIS does," he said.

Known for the non-interventionist foreign policy views that largely inform his libertarian reputation, Paul has previously cautioned against the U.S. getting involved with staving off ISIS's advance. But on Monday he acknowledged he's shifted in favor of supporting military action against the group, which continues to capture territory in Iraq and Syria, and recently beheaded two American journalists and one British journalist.

"I am like most Americans - I am influenced by the beheading of Americans, now the beheading of a British journalist," Paul said. " I think it's going to unite the world against ISIS."

He reiterated his oft-cited case that his footing on military action abroad has always been dictated by the Constitution. While Mr. Obama has requested funding approval from Congress, he's also said he has the authority to OK air strikes, which have already begun in Iraq and soon may spill into Syria.

"I've always said that the president is required by the Constitution to come to Congress," Paul said. "So since the beginning of my public life, I've always said Congress declares war, not the president.

"...The president used to agree with me," he went on. "It's actually the president who's changed his position. Back when he ran for office, he said that no president should unilaterally go to war without the consent and the authority of Congress. I still maintain that view and always have maintained that view."

Paul reserved some censure for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who stands to potentially face him in the 2016 presidential election. He said their decision to intervene in Syria "helped to create the situation that we now face with ISIS," though many have speculated that heavier U.S. engagement would have helped stem the Syrian civil war that fueled the al Qaeda-inspired insurgency in neighboring Iraq.

"Had we bombed Syria last year, had the president actually got what he wanted and what Hillary Clinton wanted and to bomb the heck out of Assad, my guess is ISIS would now be in Damascus," Paul said. "We may well have had ISIS in charge in Damascus now because they've been arming and creating a safe haven for them. As it is, I think ISIS is more of a threat to us now because of the arming of the Islamist rebels in Syria."

Paul's come under scrutiny lately for his apparently malleable approach to U.S. foreign policy, including his lurch away from eliminating aid to Israel. He scrambled Monday to clarify that while he remains steadfast in his dedication to reducing foreign aid "and ultimately eliminate it," he's come to terms with the reality that it can't be done overnight.

"As we begin to pare down," Paul said, "why don't we start with the countries that are burning our flag? So I would start with our enemies and the enemies of Israel."

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.