A few weeks ago, I pointed out here at the Enterprise Blog and the Washington Post that Ron Paul had come out against the operation that killed Osama bin Laden, declaring it showed a lack of “respect for the rule of law, international law.”
At last night’s Fox News debate, moderator Brett Baier confronted Paul with his own words. Paul’s response was, to put it mildly, an incomprehensible jumble.
At first Paul denied ever uttering them. Then he said he had voted to give the president the authority to kill bin Laden. Then he said the operation that did kill him showed no respect for the sovereignty of Pakistan. Then he complained that “once they waited ten years, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have done it like they did after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” (ie. working together with Pakistan)—ignoring the fact that bin Laden was hiding out right under the shadow of Pakistan’s equivalent of West Point and that U.S. officials feared bin Laden was being protected and would have been tipped off. Then he bizarrely compared the operation to the Chinese coming into the United States and killing a dissident who had been given political safe haven here. Then he said we should have done what we had in the case of Saddam Hussein (only to have Baier point out that Paul had opposed the Iraq war).
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney then stepped forward and skewered Paul. Gingrich called Paul’s answer “utterly irrational” and pointed out that “a Chinese dissident who comes here seeking freedom is not the same as a terrorist who goes to Pakistan seeking asylum.” Romney declared, “Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are. These people declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them.… (APPLAUSE) The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the head that he received. That’s the right thing for people who kill American citizens.”
You can see the video of Paul’s rambling response here (the exchange starts at 7:28):
Here is the full unedited transcript, in all its glory:
BAIER: In a recent interview, Congressman Paul, with a Des Moines radio station you said you were against the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. You said the U.S. operation that took out the terrorist responsible for killing 3,000 people on American soil, quote, showed no respect for the rule of law, international law. So to be clear, you believe international law should have constrained us from tracking down and killing the man responsible for the most brazen attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor?
PAUL: Obviously no. And that’s what — I did not say that. What I — as a matter of fact, after 9/11 I voted for the authority to go after him. And my frustration was that we didn’t go after him. It took us ten years. We had him trapped at Tora Bora and I thought we should have trapped him there. I even introduced another resolution on the principle of market reprisal to keep our eye on target rather than getting involved in nation building.
BAIER: But no respect for international law was the question about the quote that you used in Des Moines.
PAUL: Well, you know, I can’t say — his colleague was in Pakistan, and we communicated, you know, with the government of Pakistan and they turned him over. And what I suggested there was that if we have no respect for the sovereignty of another nation that it will lead to disruption of that nation.
Here we have a nation that we are becoming constantly trying to kill people who we consider our enemies. At the same time we are giving the government of Pakistan billions of dollars. Now there’s a civil war going on, the people are mad at us but yet the government is getting money from us and I think it’s a deeply flawed policy.
But to not go after him — and if I voted for the authority, obviously I think it was proper. But once they waited ten years, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have done it like they did after Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. And that would have been a more proper way. If somebody in this country, say a Chinese dissident come over here, we wouldn’t endorse the idea, well, they can come over here and bomb us and do whatever. I’m just trying to suggest that respect for other nation’s sovereignty — and look at the chaos in Pakistan now. We are at war in Pakistan, but to say that I didn’t want him killed…
BAIER: No, I just quoted from your radio.
PAUL: I’m just suggesting that there are processes that if you could follow and that you should do it. There is proper procedures rather than digging bigger holes for ourselves. That’s what we have been doing in the Middle East, digging bigger and bigger holes for ourselves and it’s so hard for us to get out of that mess. And we have a long ways to go. We are still in Iraq and that’s getting worse and we are not leaving Afghanistan and the American people are sick and tired of it. 80 percent of the American people want us out of there. I am just suggesting that we work within the rule of law. Like only going to war when you declare the law, then we wouldn’t be…
BAIER: International law. I understand. I guess U.S. intelligence officials say they had documents recovered in the compound in Abbottabad that that shows that al Qaeda was planning other attacks, perhaps bigger than 9/11. I asked you in our debate in Sioux City on the topic of Iran about this. But on this topic, GOP nominee Ron Paul would be running far to the left of President Obama on the issue of tracking down and killing terrorists who want to attack the U.S.
PAUL: I would say that if you do your best and you can’t do anything, yes, we had the authority, we voted for it, you got it from the congress, you do it. I just didn’t think they had gone through the process enough to actually, you know, capture him in a different way. I mean, think about Saddam Hussein. We did that. We captured him. We tried him. I mean the government tried him and he got hung. What’s so terrible about this? This whole idea that you can’t capture — just a minute. This whole idea you can’t capture people…
BAIER: but you voted against the war in Iraq.
PAUL: Adolf Eichmann was captured. He was given a trial. What is wrong with capturing people? Why didn’t we try to get some information from him? You know, we are accustomed to asking people questions, but all of a sudden gone, you know, that’s it. So I would say that there are different ways without trying to turn around and say, oh, for some reason this doesn’t mean he’s supporting America.