Sen. Rand Paul On Yemen And U.S. Foreign Interventions
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
An airstrike this week highlighted the human cost of the war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is supporting the government against a rebel group. And Saudi bombs struck a wedding, killing over 20 people.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
That strike is very much on the mind of Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He is a critic of U.S. support for the Saudis and of other U.S. military operations overseas. He's raising questions about President Trump's foreign policy and national security staff. And for Senator Paul, that airstrike crystallizes his concerns.
RAND PAUL: I think what Americans need to understand - who worry about terrorism - is that when a wedding party is bombed and innocent people are killed - that their relatives will never forget this. And a hundred years from now, people from that village will be saying, do you remember when the Saudis came with American bombs and bombed a wedding party and killed our ancestor?
INSKEEP: Of course there are mistakes in any war, and I can hear an American official pushing back that Saudi Arabia is a longtime U.S. ally and has a right to try to stabilize a country right on its borders. What bothers you about the United States not actually pulling the trigger but helping them in that effort?
PAUL: I would say that people ought to remember that Saudi Arabia has funded radical madrassas, teaching hatred of America throughout the world, and that Saudi Arabia also supplied arms to ISIS in the Syrian civil war. I don't think they're friends. I think they're, at most, frenemies. And I think what they're doing in Yemen is unconscionable. Yemen requires 80 percent of their food to be imported, and the Saudis have been blocking that. Twenty-two million people live on the edge of starvation in Yemen. Almost a million people have cholera. It's the largest cholera outbreak in modern history. So I don't have a lot of kind words for the Saudis.
INSKEEP: You know, part of the U.S. justification for supporting the Saudis and their efforts in Yemen is the Saudis are fighting on one side in a civil war - supporting one side in a civil war. The other side has been supported by Iran, although Iran denies that. And the new secretary of state just confirmed, Mike Pompeo, is seen as very much a hardliner on Iran. How much did his views on Iran factor into the concerns you raised about Mike Pompeo in the days before his confirmation?
PAUL: I think the most informative event of the last several decades in the Middle East has been the Iraq War and your position on it. So when I asked Director Pompeo about the Iraq War, he says, oh, that was past history - you know, that he was just a farmer in Kansas or in business in Kansas. And I really thought that was an inadequate answer. And I pressed him in private on that answer because we still have people advocating for regime change in Syria. It hasn't worked. It's actually led to more chaos, instability and more of a breeding ground for terrorism.
INSKEEP: How are you feeling in general about the president's new national security team? There's Pompeo, who you ultimately voted for. There's John Bolton, the national security adviser. There's Gina Haspel who's not yet confirmed as CIA director but has been nominated. What's your view of that team and how they will look at the world?
PAUL: I tend to agree with Trump's instincts, that we've been at war in too many places for too long. I fear that many of the people that have surrounded him are people who are actually more from the neoconservative point of view that I believe to be naive - that we're going to recreate the world in our image. And that if we can just topple the last strongman in the Middle East, they'll be replaced by Thomas Jefferson. And I frankly think Thomas Jefferson doesn't live in the Middle East. I'm afraid you get rid of one strongman, you get another. And so I wish there were better people surrounding him. My hope is that Pompeo will not represent my initial impression - that it will be closer to what I have come to believe, that he does actually share the president's view on foreign policy. But only time will tell.
INSKEEP: Could you have sent a stronger signal about the administration had you cast a vote against Mike Pompeo? It would've been noted, particularly in the committee where it was so close.
PAUL: Yeah. The Democrats had already decided they were voting him out with or without me. They had decided to advance him with a negative recommendation. Had I joined them in advancing him with a negative recommendation, it wouldn't have prevented him from becoming secretary of state. I think, as it is, I drew a great deal of attention to the idea that we're at war in too many places and have been for too long. And that when Director Pompeo or any other official says there's no military solution in Afghanistan, everyone should follow up - the media, myself - everyone should ask the next question - is, why are we sending more troops there if there is no military solution? And I think I was instrumental in bringing that to the forefront.
INSKEEP: Senator Paul, it's been a pleasure talking with you. Thanks very much.
PAUL: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.