Rand Paul's views on war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria continue to evolve. Speaking to reporters on the campaign trail Friday afternoon, the Kentucky senator didn't rule out supporting the deployment of U.S. combat troops on the ground in Iraq.
"Senator Rubio this week said that combat troops on the ground--American combat troops--could be a possibility if the current strategy doesn't work," one reporter said after a campaign event featuring Paul and New Hampshire senatorial candidate Scott Brown. "Senator Paul, would you support such a move?"
"I think some of it depends on what the events are. So events do change over time," Paul replied. "I'm a stickler for the Constitution, and the Constitution says Congress needs to determine these things." Back in June, Paul wrote in the Wall Street Journal that "we should not put any U.S. troops on the ground in Iraq, unless it is to secure or evacuate U.S. personnel and diplomatic facilities."
Paul also told reporters that it would be legal for the U.S. military to target U.S. citizens with lethal force in Iraq and Syria if they are engaged in battle--a position consistent with his past statements. But Paul declined to say if it would be legal to kill a U.S. citizen and ISIS member who is only plotting a terrorist attack in Iraq and Syria.
"If you are engaged with battle against the United States, you really do not get due process on the battlefield. If you want to fight against the United States, you’re a target. Already, I think two Americans have been killed," Paul said.
Paul has been very critical of the Obama administration's decision to kill U.S. citizen and al Qaeda operative Anwar Awlaki in Yemen with a drone strike. The issue prompted him to wage a 13-hour filibuster with the sole purpose of getting the president to say it's illegal for the government to kill Americans with a drone strike "in a cafe in San Francisco" or anywhere else on American soil.
Earlier this year, Paul objected to the nomination of a judge over the issue. Paul wrote in the New York Times that he couldn't support a nominee without "fully understanding that person’s views concerning the extrajudicial killing of American citizens."
"Under our Constitution, [Awlaki] should have been tried — in absentia, if necessary — and allowed a legal defense," Paul wrote. "The Obama administration has established a legal justification that applies to every American citizen, whether in Yemen, Germany or Canada."
I asked Paul twice if it would be legal to target a U.S. citizen in Iraq or Syria who was in a similar situation to Awlaki's, but the senator didn't directly answer the question.
"Let me jump in on that," Scott Brown interjected. "When people are in ISIS, then they’ve left their citizenship at the door."
"I agree with Senator Cruz," said Brown, a former Massachusetts senator, who had just been endorsed that day by Rand Paul. "I’m glad [Senator Cruz] filed the bill that I filed twice already to strip them of that citizenship. They should not be able to hide behind the rights and privileges guaranteed by the Constitution, especially when they’re looking to hurt and kill our citizens."
But what if these Americans are just planning attacks, not immediately fighting? "It doesn’t matter," Brown said. "They’ve left their citizenship at the door."
I asked Paul again if he could answer the question, reminding him of his 13-hour filibuster on the issue, but he was escorted out of the room by his press aides without answering the question.
This was the second press conference that Paul had abruptly ended on Friday. Earlier that morning, following a New Hampshire GOP unity breakfast in Manchester, Paul acknowledged for the first time that his views about going to war with ISIS have changed. But the senator, apparently displeased with the questions, ended the media availability after just two minutes and six seconds.
"Five years ago, if you asked me about ISIS, I would have said well you don’t need to do anything. So I mean obviously, the events do change your opinion. And your opinion of when a vital interest is being threatened is influenced by, you know, the beheading of two Americans," Paul said.