NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — In tackling conservative criticisms that his stance on foreign policy isn't strong enough, potential 2016 presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., assured an adoring crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that national defense is indeed the top priority of the federal government.
Although Paul was treated with a chant of "President Paul!" by the conference crowd as he spoke, his potential presidential candidacy will likely be attacked by some neoconservaitves who'll be quick to point out his once non-interventionist stance on U.S. foreign policy.
"When I look at government, I think the very most important thing we do on a federal level is defend our country. Without question, national defense is a constitutional function and is the most important function we have," Paul asserted. "When I look at spending and what we should spend money on — this or that or national defense — for me, the priority is always national defense."
"Without question, we must be strong. Without question, we must defend ourselves," Paul added. "I imagine America with a national defense unparalleled, undefeatable and unencumbered by nation building."
As the Islamic State seized about one-third of Iraq and Syria last year, Paul began to shed his non-interventionist stance when he called on President Barack Obama to seek war authority from Congress in order to combat the terrorist group which poses, as some would say, an "apocalyptic" threat to the United States and its national interests.
"Our freedom is threatened from outside our borders. We must protect ourselves from jihadists without losing who we are as a people in the process," Paul said. "In the Middle East a dangerous and barbaric cult has arisen. ISIS has become a threat to our embassy in Baghdad and our consulate in Erbil."
Paul blamed the rise of ISIS on the fact that the U.S. supplied weapons to help Islamic rebels in the Syrian civil war who are now fighting for the Islamic State with American weapons.
"ISIS grew in a safe haven, really, by arming Islamic rebels in the Syrian civil war. When I voted against arming Islamic rebels in Syria, I warned that these arms might end up in the hands of jihadists and then one day we might be forced to go back to fight against our own weapons. Within a year, that prediction came true," Paul explained. "Without question, we must now defend ourselves from this barbarous aborhation. But it troubles me that we must now fight against our own weapons."
Even though Paul supports the U.S. doing whatever it needs to militarily to protect Americans and the country's interests overseas, he asserted that doesn't mean the U.S. should get in the habit of building up nations in unstable regions.
"As conservatives, we should not succumb to the notion that a government inept at home will somehow become successful abroad; the government that can't even deliver the mail will somehow be able to create nations abroad," Paul quipped. "I envision a national defense that promotes, as Reagan put it, 'peace through strength.'"
Paul also heavily chastised former secretary of state and potential 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for her role in further destabilizing Libya by providing Islamic rebels with American weapons.
"Hillary's war in Libya is a perfect example. Hillary's war made us less safe. Libya is less stable and radical jihad has run amuck. They swim in our swimming pool. Hillary's war in Libya allowed thousands of surface-to-air-missiles to fall into the hands of radical Islamists," Paul said. "As Hillary was declaring victory in Libya, Ambassador Stevens was pleading for more security. When I asked Secretary Clinton if she read Ambassador Stevens' pleas for help, she answered, 'no,' as if she had more important things to do."
Paul opined that Clinton, who is widely regarded as the Democratic frontrunner in 2016, should never be allowed to run for president because of her role in Libya.
"I believe Hillary Clinton's abdication of responsibility and her refusal to provide an adequate defense for Benghazi, her dereliction of duty, should forever preclude her from hire office," Paul stated.