In some ways, Sen. Rand Paul seems committed to distancing himself from his father. For example, after Ron Paul tweeted some controversial words about ex-Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, Rand issued his own statement calling Kyle a “hero.”
In other ways, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
For example, in just a one-month span, Sen. Paul has — not once, but twice — advanced a conspiracy theory that says that during the Reagan era, the U.S. funded Osama bin Laden.
During John Kerry’s secretary of state confirmation hearing, Paul said “We funded bin Laden” — a statement that prompted Foreign Policy magazine’s managing editor, Blake Hounshell, to fire off a tweet saying: “Rand Paul tells a complete falsehood: ‘We funded Bin Laden.’ This man is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”
But that didn’t discourage Paul. During a much anticipated foreign policy speech at the Heritage Foundation today, Paul doubled down, saying: “In the 1980’s the war caucus in Congress armed bin Laden and the mujaheddin in their fight with the Soviet Union.”
The only problem is that this is, at best, highly speculative — and, at worst, the perpetuation of an outright myth.
This also puts Paul in the same camp as Michael Moore, who said: ““WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA!”
But according to Peter Bergen, an author and journalist who — as part of a CNN crew — actually interviewed bin Laden in 1997:
The story about bin Laden and the CIA — that the CIA funded bin Laden or trained bin Laden — is simply a folk myth. There’s no evidence of this. In fact, there are very few things that bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the U.S. government agree on. They all agree that they didn’t have a relationship in the 1980s. And they wouldn’t have needed to. Bin Laden had his own money, he was anti-American and he was operating secretly and independently.
There is no doubt the U.S. funded Afghanistan’s Mujahideen. But bin Laden was a visitor — a so-called “Afghan Arab.” The notion that bin Laden received any U.S. funding is highly disputed.
So what’s the harm?
Consider this 2003 column by Richard Miniter:
It is time to lay to rest the nagging doubt held by many Americans that our government was somehow responsible for fostering bin Laden. It’s not true and it leaves the false impression that we brought the Sept. 11 attacks down on ourselves. While it is impossible to prove a negative, all available evidence suggests that bin Laden was never funded, trained or armed by the CIA.
Bin Laden himself has repeatedly denied that he received any American support. “Personally neither I nor my brothers saw any evidence of American help,” bin Laden told British journalist Robert Fisk in 1993. In 1996, Mr. Fisk interviewed bin Laden again. The arch-terrorist was equally adamant: “We were never, at any time, friends of the Americans. We knew that the Americans supported the Jews in Palestine and that they are our enemies.”
In the course of researching my book on Bill Clinton and bin Laden, I interviewed Bill Peikney, who was CIA station chief in Islamabad from 1984 to 1986, and Milt Bearden, who was CIA station chief from 1986 to 1989. These two men oversaw the disbursement for all American funds to the anti-Soviet resistance. Both flatly denied that any CIA funds ever went to bin Laden. They felt so strongly about this point that they agreed to go on the record, an unusual move by normally reticent intelligence officers. Mr. Peikney added in an e-mail to me: “I don’t even recall UBL [bin Laden] coming across my screen when I was there.”
If Paul wants to be taken seriously as a presidential contender — and shed his father’s “fringe” image — he can do a lot better than this.