KING: The ten Republican presidential candidates squared off in South Carolina this week. And although he's languishing in the polls, Texas Congressman Ron Paul managed to grab a big share of the attention.
He joins us now live from Houston.
Congressman Paul, thanks for joining us. Let's show our viewers right away the moment in that debate which captured so much attention and became such a flashpoint. You were speaking, and the former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, jumped in. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for ten years.
GIULIANI: That is an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, Congressman Paul, the mayor asked you to withdraw that statement, and you did not. I want to walk through that. You firmly believe, sir, that because of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, including the first Persian Gulf war, that we invited, is that -- would that be the word you would use, we invited the 9/11 attacks?
PAUL: Well, it's not so much like it's a subjective belief. It's just an evaluation of the facts. If you study the people who understand the Middle East, like Michael Scheuer and others, and look at the 9/11 Commission report, that's the evidence they provide that was one of the excuses.
One of the strongest statements for the position I hold comes from no other than Paul Wolfowitz, who said right after we invaded Iraq that this was a major, major event because we could take our troops out of Saudi Arabia, recognizing that was the motivation for recruiting for Al Qaida and their motivation for their hatred toward us. So there's a lot of evidence.
I don't think we should deal with the subjective. I think we should deal with the objective position of whether or not those who really understand the Middle East support what I had said.
KING: Well, let me ask you more broadly about your views on foreign policy then. Obviously, you believe the United States should have a limited role in the world, especially in terms of projecting military force. So, if Kim Jong Il rolled south into South Korea today, should the United States intervene?
PAUL: Well, it depends on what the Congress says. We certainly shouldn't do what we did in -- under the Truman administration, go in under our U.N. resolution. You go to the Congress and find out if it's a threat to our national security. I personally would think right now that it isn't a threat to our national security.
I want to make a point, though, that if we weren't over there, I think Korea would be unified like South Vietnam or Vietnam is unified. They have railroads now opened up between the two. They want to share information.
KING: Let me jump in. I don't want to solve the problems of the Korean peninsula today. I do want to get your views on foreign policy. Let me give you another example. If China took back Taiwan today, you say go to the Congress, or does the president not have the authority as commander in chief?
PAUL: Absolutely he does not have the authority. Where does he get it? You can't go to war without Congressional approval. And that's not a threat to our national security. That's something internal affairs. Why should we send hundreds of thousands of Americans to die in a civil war?
I mean, are we over in Russia right now over Chechnya? I mean, it wouldn't make any sense. Did we go to war over Hong Kong?
We should follow the Constitution and the advice of the founders. Don't go looking for dragons to slay. I mean, why should we go and provoke and look for trouble? We should talk to people, negotiate, be diplomatic and trade with people.
We do much better trading with Vietnam than we did with fighting with them, and we lost 60,000 men there. It makes so much common sense and is so appealing to the majority of Americans. Let me tell you, I really believe that.
KING: You have received some criticism. Some say you are the person who doesn't belong in a Republican debate. You were a past libertarian candidate for president, of course. You have views that are out of what many would think of the mainstream, at least in today's Republican Party.
I want to read you some of the criticism that came out after this last debate and ask you to respond to the politics of it. These are some comments made of your performance. Here's Roger Simon writing in The Politico: "In terms of the presidency, nobody cares what Ron Paul says, perhaps not even Ron Paul."
Gloria Borger writing in U.S. News and World Report: "Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who gives new meaning to the question asked by Ross Perot's former running mate, Admiral James Stockdale: 'Who am I? Why am I here?' " And in The Daily News of New York, an editorial: "Ron Paul, whose performance Tuesday proved him the Sanjaya of the political arena."
What do you make of the critics who say, why is this guy in a Republican debate? If he wants to run, run as the Libertarian.
PAUL: Well, I would ask you why you pick out three when I could find you probably 1,000 that contradict exactly what you say. I would say that I'm more Republican than they are. The Republican tradition is always to win on the peace position.
Democrats have always won or, you know, got us into war. We got out of Korea with Eisenhower. We got out of Vietnam with, eventually, with Nixon. We ran on a peace program in the year 2000. No world policemen, no nation-building, humble foreign policy.
Peace is a positive message, not a negative message. You don't win by -- politically, you don't win. There's a strong tradition of non-intervention in the Republican Party. That is the American position. That is the constitutional position. That is the very strong advice from the founders.
So when they attack me and say, silence Ron Paul, they're saying silence the constitution, silence the advisers, the founders of the country, silence our platform, close down the big tent, make it narrow. And as long as you agree with a foreign policy that is failing, then it's OK to be a Republican. I don't buy into that, and neither do the American people.
KING: Let me jump into what comes next. You're about 1 percent in the polls, and many say, whether they agree or disagree with your views, there are many who say at some point you need to have fewer candidates on the stage for these debates to be meaningful.
The chairman of the Michigan Republican Party says he's going to try to get you -- and perhaps others, but you specifically -- pushed out of future debates. He said of you: "I think he would have felt more comfortable on the stage with the Democrats in what he said last night and I think he is a distraction in the Republican primary, does not represent the base of the party, does not represent the party."
That's Saul Anuzis, the chairman of the Republican Party in the state of Michigan, who says, among other things, he thinks you don't deserve a spot on the stage. Will you continue to be in the Republican debates and at some point, forget your name for a second, forget your candidacy, should they be winnowed down to fewer candidates?
PAUL: Well, why do you pick that statement that has been discredited and removed? The chairman of the Michigan party now has withdrawn that. He has given up on that.
Why don't you let the people decide? Why do you want to eliminate democracy? Why stomp out the grassroots candidate and only reward those with $100 million that get money from the special interests? That's not very democratic.
I support the Republican platform better than any other candidate, I am convinced of. Take out the platform. They're for less government. They're for personal liberty.
We ran on our program in 2000 for a humble foreign policy. How can anybody say I'm not Republican? I'm the most conservative member of the Congress. I vote for the least amount of spending and the least amount of taxes, and they say I'm not Republican enough?
I mean, why don't you challenge that side rather than challenging me and feed into the frenzy that say get rid of the reporter, get rid of the person delivering the information rather than dealing with the information. Non-intervention is a real political victory. We cannot win as Republicans next year if we just continue to dig our heels in, send more men and women over there to die on a policy that has failed.
That is the issue. Republicans are scared to death to face up to the truth. And my job is to make them face up to it and show them that the majority of Americans are with me, not with the current foreign policy that we're following.
KING: Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, Republican candidate for president. Low in the polls but certainly shaking and stirring things up in the Republican race. Congressman, thanks for joining us today on "Late Edition."