Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) met with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster recently and confronted him over his advocacy for increased U.S. presence in Afghanistan, according to an interview with Reason on Friday.
“I saw McMaster not too long ago, and I gave him grief about the Afghan War and said it’s a huge mistake,” Paul recounted to Reason‘s Matt Welch.
“Well, but it’s not nation building,” McMaster replied.
“How can it be anything but national building?” Paul asked McMaster. “We’re on our 16th year there, and you think you’re still fighting the last war. What you’re doing is trying to create a nation where no nation has ever existed.”
Paul went on to say that he does not blame the President for the situation, arguing, “President Trump’s instincts are still leaning against major involvement in foreign war with great land forces.” Paul noted that Trump “campaigned consistently and talked for at least a decade that the Iraq War was a mistake” and has “been saying the Afghan War has lost its purpose and is a mistake” for “five or six years”.
Instead, Paul laid the blame squarely with the “generals” surrounding Trump, specifically naming McMaster, as well as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and claiming they “wanted to put 50,000 troops in” to Afghanistan. Paul noted the President had “pushed back” on the generals’ proposals, but eventually settled on sending in just 3,000 more troops.
While Paul said “he’d still say [Trump is] circumspect about the idea of our intervention in Afghanistan”, he believes the President has surrounded himself with the “wrong people”. However, he still expressed some cynicism about the foreign policy direction of the administration, arguing that with the “generals whispering in [Trump’s] ears every day”, “more war” is likely, because “the generals don’t like to lose”.
Paul was more optimistic about the future of the party as a whole on foreign policy, noting that the neoconservatives are now “in exile” and “afraid of being publicly whipped”. He considers those in the “realist” wing of the party, which includes many pro-Trump nationalists, to be “fellow travelers”, even though he concedes that they “aren’t perfect”.
Paul also warned about the increasingly interventionist stance of the Democratic Party, which has often criticized the Trump’s administration’s attempts to repair relations with Russia. He described Hillary Clinton as the “leading advocate” of U.S. military involvement in Syria and Libya, and accused interventionists in both parties of having a “very naive worldview” with regards to spreading democracy and civil liberties in the Middle East, given the inhabitants of most Islamic countries have no “tradition of freedom”.