BROOKLYN — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul told a group of Jewish community leaders here Monday he thinks the United States made an error ousting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in 2003.
While insisting he is not an isolationist, Paul said, "I think it was a mistake to topple Hussein. Hussein was the bulwark against Iran." He told the group assembled here at the headquarters of Torah Umesorah, the National Society for Hebrew Day Schools that now, "Iraq is a vassal state for Iran."
Paul also defended his position on foreign aid to Israel, having been accused of changing his position on this issue, most notably in a recent clash with the NBC's Savannah Guthrie on The Today Show.
"I think Israel is one of our best allies and best friends around the world, they're the only the democracy in the Middle East, and I'm very supportive of them," Paul said.
"On all this stuff that people try to gin up controversy, like on the foreign aid, I tell people my position's the same as it's always been. One day Israel should be independent, and Israel will have stronger national defense when they are completely independent because we force them to buy U.S.-made manufacturers for military equipment. But I'm also not saying it has to end now. I've also been saying what Netanyahu said though, eventually it should be, eventually Israel should be independent," he added.
Standing at the head of a conference room table on the fourth floor, Paul addressed an almost all-male crowd. Most attendees wore yarmulkes, and many had payos, the curls of hair beside their ears sported by some Orthodox Jewish men.
His remarks came just days after several of the other Republican presidential hopefuls addressed a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas — an event Paul did not attend.
The questions came from pre-approved attendees called upon by Paul's host, Rabbi Nate Segal. Some of the queries seemed designed to give Paul the chance to defend his positions as in line with the views of many Jewish Republicans. For instance one questioner asked how he could "overcome" the media-driven "lie" that he was an "anti-Semite."
"I'm not your campaign director, but you really have to do something to change that perception," the questioner said.
Segal told attendees the senator's spokesman would gladly set up meetings with Paul if they reached out.
Paul did not stick around to enjoy the brunch of frosted pastries and instant coffee laid out next to the conference room where he spoke. After taking photographs with the crowd, the senator was ushered into a black SUV. He took no questions from reporters.
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