Rand Paul's Latest Speech Did Contain Footnotes, But That Doesn't Mean it Was Accurate


Credit: Gage Skidmore/wikimedia

Yesterday Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) gave his first major speech since the recent plagiarism scandal. Speaking at The Citadel, Paul outlined his views on the military and foreign policy in a speech that included 33 footnotes. Unfortunately, Paul did not outline much new in this speech, and it is already being criticized for its lack of accuracy.

Anyone who has been following Paul's beliefs on foreign policy would not have been surprised to hear him highlight his disapproval of foreign aid to Egypt, his constitutionalism, his opposition to intervention in Syria, as well as his anger over the administration's response to the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi last year. Although Paul did not voice any new complaints, he did say that he will soon be announcing the formation of a task force "to bring together great minds from the world of national defense, and put forward a plan to modernize our military, and strengthen our defenses," which will include an audit of the Pentagon.

While Paul may have included 33 footnotes in his speech, The Daily Beast's Josh Rogin points out that although more information was cited, the speech included factual errors relating to claims about the situations in Egypt and Syria as well the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi:

From The Daily Beast:

For example, in the following two sentences about Egypt, Paul makes at least four factual errors.

"In Egypt recently, we saw a military coup that this Administration tells us is not a military coup. In a highly unstable situation, our government continued to send F-16s, Abrams tanks and American-made tear gas," Paul said.

In fact, the State Department has repeatedly said it would not weigh in on whether the July overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was a "coup," deciding that the administration was not required to make a determination one way or the other.

Following the military takeover of the Egyptian government, the administration quietly halted all shipments of heavy weapons to Egypt, mostly adhering to a law requiring a cutoff of military aid to any country that has experienced a coup, while maintaining a position of ambiguity over whether a coup had taken place.

Rogin also points out that Paul's claims relating to the situation in Syria also contain factual errors:

"As we continue to aid and arm despotic regimes in Egypt, we are also now sending weapons to the rebels in Syria," Paul said. "According to a recent poll from Pew Research, over 70 percent of Americans are against arming the Islamic rebels in Syria, yet the Senate continues to arm these Islamic radicals. [15] [16] This is unacceptable!"

The Obama administration has sent little, if any, weapons to the Syrian rebels, something that has angered several Republican colleagues of Paul, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). The Free Syrian Army, the armed wing of the Syrian opposition has received only Meals Ready to Eat, first aid kits, and 10 pickup trucks. The CIA is reported to be vetting some arms shipments to the rebels coming from third countries such as Saudi Arabia, but the White House has repeatedly shot downState Department proposals to arm the Syrian rebels.

Paul also incorrectly quotes the Pew poll that he footnotes. The Pew Research Center wrote "overall, 70% oppose the U.S. and its allies sending arms and military supplies to anti-government groups in Syria." Paul instead used the phrase "Islamic rebels" to substitute for "anti-government groups."

Finally, Rogin points out that Paul managed to contradict himself when he talked about Benghazi:

Perhaps the most confusing part of Paul's speech is a passage about Benghazi where the Kentucky senator contradicts himself in back-to-back sentences.

"When Hillary Clinton was asked for more security, she turned the Ambassador down. [27] Under cross-examination, she admitted that she never read the cables asking for more security. [28]," Paul said.

The article Paul footnotes as proof for his first sentence explains that witnesses were "expected" to testify that Clinton was personally involved in the refusals to place more security in Benghazi in the attack; not that this was a fact. The second sentence confirms that Clinton was not personally involved in the Benghazi security request, refuting what Paul said one sentence earlier.

James Rosen at McClatchyDC has also written on the factual inaccuracies in Paul's speech at The Citadel.

Paul is widely expected to run for president. If he wants to have a shot at securing the GOP nomination he will have to make further steps to ensure that his public statements are not only free of possible plagiarism, but that they are also accurate. As Reason's Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch wrote earlier this month, "…these sloppy, undergraduate-level infractions suggest strongly that Sen. Paul is running a loose ship, one not currently ready for the prime time of winning a national election."

The lack of accuracy and the accusations of plagiarism are frustrating for those, like myself, who agree with many of Paul's positions on foreign policy (even if I might wish he would change some of the rhetoric and more fully explain the policies that would be implemented in a Paul administration). Paul is one of the United States' most prominent non-interventionists, and it would be a shame if his positions foreign policy continue to be overshadowed by the sort of errors that have been highlighted recently.