Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) backtracked on his recent comments that hawkish Republicans were responsible for creating the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.
Last week, Paul said the Islamic State "exists and grows stronger" because of Republican hawks who were too eager to arm Syrian rebels. Pressed on those comments by Fox News Host Sean Hannity on Monday, Paul took some of the blame off Republicans.
"I think ultimately I could have maybe stated it a little bit better," said Paul, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president. "The ultimate people who are responsible for terrorism are obviously the terrorists. So ISIS is responsible for the mayhem, the murders, the brutality, the beheadings, that's ISIS."
Paul linked the rise of ISIS to the policies of President Barack Obama, but stopped short of saying his party was not responsible at all.
"This was the policy of President Obama, it was the policy of Hillary Clinton and it was also the policy of some in my party who wanted to arm the Islamic rebels," he said. "And I warned at the time that the great irony is that you arm these people, one day we'll have to go back and fight against these weapons ourselves."
Paul, who is seeking the Republican nomination for president, faced criticism from conservatives for the comments.
"Rand Paul does not belong in the Republican party when he carries that message," Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell last week. "You can have honest differences over what should be done in Iraq, what should be done in Syria, but to say that it was Republicans or Republican policies or Lindsey Graham or John McCain, that caused the growth of ISIS. That's totally untrue ... For him to so misread ISIS to me shows that he's totally unqualified to be commander-in-chief."
On Monday, Paul said the rise of ISIS was an "unintended consequence" of arming Syrian rebels.
"I would say that we can have a valid discussion over whether or not ISIS has grown stronger by pouring arms into the Islamic rebels in the Syrian civil war," Paul said. "It is objective truth that ISIS grew stronger the more weapons that went into the Syrian civil war. So I think it was an unintended consequence that ISIS grew stronger because of weaponizing these Islamic rebels in Syria."