U.S. Sen. Rand Paul said Thursday that "no one's to blame for ISIS, other than ISIS," but he nonetheless argued that the idea the terrorist group rose up because of the decision to pull American troops out of Iraq is false.
Paul, who announced his candidacy for president last month, was in Davenport to sign his new book and make remarks at Modern Woodmen Park.
The Kentucky Republican also was responding to a flap that began Wednesday when he said on MSNBC that the group also known as the Islamic State "exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party, who gave arms indiscriminately, and most of those arms were snatched up by ISIS."
The comments led to a raft of criticism from Republican rivals, who said Paul didn't understand the threat by the group, which has spread through parts of Syria and Iraq and gained notoriety for its gruesome treatment of hostages, including Americans.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Paul's comments show him to be unfit to be president.
In an interview with the Quad-City Times, Paul said "no one's to blame for ISIS, other than ISIS. They're terrorists with an apparent religion and a crazy, murderous sort of ideology."
Still, he stuck by the idea that it was a decision by the U.S. and other countries to put arms into Syria that allowed ISIS to grow.
"There is a significant body of objective evidence that says that by pouring arms into the Syrian civil war, to the allies of ISIS, that created a safe haven for ISIS," he said. "And ISIS grew stronger over time."
Later, in front of the audience, Paul explicitly rejected the idea — promoted by many of his Republican rivals — that it was the Obama administration's decision to pull troops out of Iraq that led to the terrorist group's rise.
"Someone might say, 'Oh no, ISIS grew because we left Iraq.' That's not the truth," he said. "ISIS grew in Syria and invaded Iraq."
Paul was doing books signings in Davenport, Clinton and Muscatine, and he was slated later Thursday to be at a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.
Paul also made time for a stop at Ross' Restaurant in Bettendorf, where he had a root beer, he said.
In Davenport, after signing books for a long line of people, Paul touted his fight to stop the National Security Agency's bulk collection of phone records.
"My voice is still a little bit raspy. I spent about 10-and-a-half hours trying to protect your privacy this week," he said, getting applause.
Paul's fight over the program, which an appeals court has said is illegal, also has drawn criticism from rivals, who say it contributes to national security.
Chad Nunemaker of Hiawatha, a Paul supporter, said he has no concerns about Paul's ability to be commander in chief and that he is right to fight against the phone collection program and to be reticent about getting involved in foreign conflicts.
"We just arm all these rebels and different groups, and then they end up turning on us," Nunemaker said.
While Paul has taken on criticism over the past day from Republican rivals, the Democrats targeted him, too, on Thursday.
At an event before his arrival, the Iowa Democratic Party released its own book on Paul (a seven-page pamphlet, really), saying his attempts to paint himself as a different type of Republican were off base.
"Rand Paul isn't a new type of Republican. It's just every day he's something new," said Jamie Woods of Davenport, the vice chair of the Iowa Democratic Party's black caucus.