Rand Paul on Ending the War on Terror

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 12 2013 9:51 AM

Rand Paul Talks About How (Hard It Would Be) to End the War on Terror

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U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Early this morning, Sen. Rand Paul met with a small group of reporters this morning in the D.C. offices of the National Review. The roundtable had been scheduled before Paul became "the man of the week," in the words of NR's Robert Costa—before his filibuster of now-CIA director John Brennan. Paul said that "five or six" Democrats who didn't join the filibuster had since expressed some support for his line of questioning, about whether Americans could be targeted for killing on American soil as part of the war on terror. The Thursday-morning quarterback criticism from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham didn't bug him.

"I spoke for 13 hours and didn't really mention names," he said. "They spoke for 20 minutes and used my name quite a bit." When pushed to get more real about Graham, he demurred: "I prefer to make it about ideas. He believes America is part of a battlefield, and therefore the laws of war apply." This was an idea backed by "the Wall Street Journal and a couple people" and who else?

A smart national security reporter and friend encouraged me to ask about one practical response to this. Why not repeal or tweak the 2001 Authorization of Force that effectively began the Global War on Terror? Is it time to revisit that?

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"Actually, yes," said Paul. "All of this stems from a very expansive understanding of the use of the Authorization of Force in 2001. I think most of the people who voted on that, when they did, thought we were voting to go to war with the people who attacked us on 9/11. They didn't realize it was a war without geographic limits and without end. And that's the problem with saying, oh, we're just going to give up—while we're involved in war—we're going to give up some of our liberties here at home. This is a war that has no end and it's hard to stop."

Paul reminded the room that he'd tried, and failed, to end the Iraq War legislatively. "I'm going to try to do that again, if I can get the votes, to deauthorize the Iraq War, because we should have to vote again," he said. "I'm not saying there's never another time when we go back into any of these countries, Afghanistan included. If they regroup, and we think they're theatening to attack us again, we might have to go in, or we might have to use the Air Force. There should be a debate again in Congress. It's not so much Afghanistan that's a problem. There's 20 other countries we're involved in now, all under that Authorization of Force, which I think is too loose of an understanding."

But could it be repealed? "I think it would have absolutely no chance of going anywhere if I were to introduce it right now," said Paul. There was progress, even in his party, in getting more people to question the GWOT. "I talk to congressmen who you would say reflexively support the interventions who now say we should come home."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.