After yesterday's open hearing on the case for airstrikes in Syria, Sen. Rand Paul gave a group of reporters 18 minutes to quiz him on his preferred course of action. His fear, stated simply: Anything we do is likely to make the region messier, so why do anything?
"Is it more or less likely if the region will be more or less stable if we have this attack?" he asked, after I asked him whether he worried about the country losing clout if Congress prevented an airstrike. "Same thing for Israel—is it more or less likely that Israel will be attacked? I think there are valid arguments for saying the region will be more unstable if we get a superpower involved in a civil war, more unstable for Israel if we get a superpower involved and the Syrians feel like they have to show Israel something, or Iran gets involved. Russia feels like they're losing face and they need to get more involved." Nobody knew, he said. "It's all conjecture."
What did we know? For starters, we knew that there were no "different restrictions on the president, in the Constitution, [regarding] whether it's a little war." The idea that strikes on Syria would be limited to just that—strikes, no larger war—was folly. "A lot of people made the mistake of saying that because it's a small war, or because we're only using certain types of missiles, we're not going to call it a war. … Vietnam was that way, Iraq was that way to a certain extent." And how would it end? "I think it's almost inevitable there'll be a second war if Assad falls."
Paul repeated an argument he's deployed on a series of TV shows. Assad, for all his faults, is not prosecuting Christians. "The one thing you might say if you wanted to say something good [about him] is that there was some civility there for a generation or more," said Paul. Compare that with Egypt after the temporary fall of its military-backed dictatorship. "We may well be degrading Assad and allowing radical Islamists to take over the country."
A Kentucky reporter tried to bring Paul down from theory by saying that Syrian-Americans in his state were worried about the fates of their distant relatives. What would Paul say to them?
"I wish I had a good answer," he said. "I've talked to a lot of Syrian Christians who are now in the United States. Some of them still have family over there. Their biggest concern is Islamic rebels taking over—what will happen to Christians? They were allowed to have their own religion. You see what happens when the radical Islamists take over, the Muslim Brotherhood raging through Coptic neighborhoods in Egypt. If I had a way to wave a magic wand, I would, but it's chaos over there."
He didn't need a wand, anyway; his position was popular. "I was in Kentucky for a month," he said, "and I went to 40 cities. I didn't meet one person who was for going into Syria. When I told them I was opposed to it, I got standing ovations." Did this mean that Paul was ready to filibuster a resolution? "I can't imagine that we won't require 60 votes off this. Whether there's an actual standing filibuster, I need to check my shoes and hold my water."