Does Rand Paul Think the Beheading of American Journalists Justifies War Against ISIS?


Jacob Sullum

On Friday, as Robby Soave noted this afternoon, Rand Paul told the Associated Press that if he were president, he "would lay out the reasoning of why ISIS is a threat to our national security and seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily." But at a Q&A session in Dallas earlier that same day, the Kentucky senator seemed deliberately noncommittal on the question of whether ISIS is in fact "a threat to our national security." Asked what the "strategy" should be with regard to ISIS, he said:

I think the strategy has to be that you have an open debate in the country over whether or not ISIS is a threat to our national security. And it's not enough just to say they are. That's usually what you hear—you hear a conclusion. People say, "Well, it's a threat to our national security." That's a conclusion. The debate has to be: Are they a threat to our national security?

Our national security doesn't have to be just stopping at our borders. It can include our embassy personnel. It can include our soldiers. It can include citizens, and people involved in business, and journalists—things like that. So I think it is a real debate.

What I would do, if you want a strategy, you have to go to the American people. You have to go to Congress. I would convene a joint session of Congress, and I would ask for permission from Congress and say, "These are the reasons why I think ISIS is a threat to us. This is why we should be involved." If [President Obama] doesn't do that, then I think he doesn't galvanize support, we look weak to the world, and in the end we don't really have a strategy.

By and large, as I will argue in my column tomorrow, Paul strikes a much more cautious note on foreign intervention than national politicians typically do. But his definition of "national security" to include the safety of Americans in other countries potentially opens the door to military action anywhere U.S. citizens live. That does not necessarily mean Paul would treat the beheading of American journalists as a casus belli, but it sounds like he might.