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Rand Paul: ‘We still have chaos’ in Iraq

Sen. Rand Paul. (Jim Cole/AP)
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Iraq is in disarray and the threat posed by Islamist militants there has placed the United States at greater risk than before, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said in an interview set to broadcast Sunday morning.

Paul said the question of whether the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was justified is an "important" one and not merely "hypothetical," offering the latest input on an issue that has been difficult for the Republican presidential field to navigate in recent days.

"I think when [Saddam] Hussein was toppled, we got chaos," Paul told NBC's "Meet the Press," according to a transcript provided by the network. "We still have chaos in — in Iraq. I think it emboldened Iran. I think — we now have the rise of radical Islam in Ira, as well."

Paul, who is running for president, was asked whether his position on Iraq puts him at odds with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a White House rival who has said that "the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn't run Iraq."

Paul's response: "I don't think that's exactly how I put it."

He continued: "We are more at risk for attack from people who are training, organizing and fighting in Iraq than we were before." Paul called the Islamic State militant group, which controls many areas in Iraq and Syria, "more of an aberration than even Hussein was."

In particular, questions about Iraq have tripped up Jeb Bush, a likely presidential contender. He gave different answers last week to the question of whether the invasion ordered by his brother was justified given that we now know that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.

Bush eventually stated that he would not have gone into Iraq. Paul said Democratic presidential front-runner and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton should face similar scrutiny.

"They should ask her, 'Was it a good idea to invade Libya? Did that make us less safe? Did it make it more chaotic?," said Paul, adding, "I think the war in Iraq is a good question and still a current question, but so is the question of, 'Should we have gone into Libya?'"

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a potential presidential candidate, vouched for George W. Bush's decision-making on Iraq at the time of the invasion in an interview on CBS's "Face The Nation."

"I did stand up and defend the president, President Bush, that I did say I think any president, regardless of party, probably would've made a similar decision to what President Bush did at the time, with the information he had available," said Walker.

Paul also reiterated his criticism of the National Security Agency's sweeping surveillance programs and his problems with the Patriot Act. Key provisions in the act are set to expire June 1.

Asked whether he would do away with the NSA as president, Paul responded that he would not. Instead, he said, he would direct the agency to intensify its efforts to combat threats to the nation.

"I would have the NSA target their activities, more and more, towards our enemies," the senator said. "I think if you're not spending so much time and money collecting the information of innocent Americans, maybe we could've spent more time knowing that one of the Tsarnaev boys, one of the Boston bombers, had gone back to Chechnya."