By Justin Sink - 05/30/13 05:47 PM EDT
Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulConservative group presses GOP to vote against spending bill Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales MORE (R-Ky.) on Thursday said providing U.S. aid to rebels in Syria would be "complicated and dangerous" and warned intervening on behalf of rebel groups could ultimately backfire.
"It is unclear what national security interests we have in the civil war in Syria," Paul, who is weighing a run for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, wrote for CNN. "It is very clear that any attempt to aid the Syrian rebels would be complicated and dangerous, precisely because we don't know who these people are."
Other top Republicans have urged the Obama administration to more aggressively support the rebel forces in Syria, proposing the establishment of a no-fly zone or providing arms to those in opposition of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Those calls have intensified after initial intelligence reports suggested the Assad regime had used chemical weapons, crossing the so-called "red line" established by the White House.
"No one wants to see Syria become a bastion of extremism. But like other American interventions in the past, U.S. involvement could actually help the extremists," Paul said.
The Kentucky lawmaker said the intervention could benefit fundamentalists who would later target Christian minorities in the country that have been traditionally shielded by the Assad regime.
"Empowering Islamic extremists to achieve questionable short-term goals does not serve America's long-term security or interests," Paul said. "Nor does it serve the interests of nearly 2 million Christians in Syria who fear they could suffer the same fate as Iraqi Christians who were abused and expelled from that country as radical Islamic forces gained influence and power."
Paul's comments highlight the division within the GOP over intervention in Syria. Earlier this week, Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Debate night is here | Senate sets vote on 9/11 veto override | Kerry, McCain spar over Syria Kerry fires back at McCain: I'm not 'delusional' House to vote on ObamaCare mandate exemption Tuesday MORE (R-Ariz.) visited rebel groups in a secret visit to the country.
“Their message was, to be frank with you: They do not understand,” McCain told CNN. “They do not understand why we won’t help them.”