Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Friday pledged to “correct the record” on his foreign policy positions, which he said has been mischaracterized by others in recent weeks.
“There’ve been some discussions out there trying to characterize what my position is. People need to ask me what my foreign policy is before they state that,” he told The Hill in an interview before his address at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
Paul called national defense “the most important thing that the federal government does.”
“But that doesn’t mean we give a blank check to the military. I am for auditing the Pentagon. I am for spending money wisely. I also don’t see things in terms of, we have X dollars to spend on defense. We start with a strategic vision and go from there,” he said.
The failure of President Obama’s foreign policy and a potential path forward for Republicans has become a central theme for speakers at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), with the crisis in the Ukraine making headlines this week.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a potential opponent of Paul’s in the 2016 GOP presidential primary, in particular came out with a more aggressive foreign policy vision during his address on Thursday. Paul, in contrast, has traditionally cautioned against military engagement in international conflicts, and most recently said he sees military engagement with Russia over its actions in the Ukraine would be “unwise.”
But he said that he doesn’t believe his position on Russia is out of step with the GOP.
“Virtually every voice in the Republican and Democratic Party is basically in agreement that there isn’t a military option here. That doesn’t mean there's not outrage and there shouldn’t be a penalty for Putin for invading another country,” he said, proposing instead of military action excluding him from trade agreements or meetings of the Group of Eight.
He said it’s clear Putin is already suffering from U.S. sanctions. In an earlier interview on Friday with Philadelphia radio personality Chris Stigall, Paul said Putin invades the Ukraine, over which miles of oil pipeline passes, at his own risk.
“Pipelines are incredibly vulnerable to sabotage and people say, why would they do it? Well, if the Russians decide to dominate Ukraine I can promise you there’ll be civil war. And if Ukraine becomes Syria, I think it’ll be a disaster for Russia,” he said.
In that interview, he also quoted Ronald Reagan as saying in one of his inaugural addresses “do not mistake our reluctance for war, for a lack of resolve.”
“I think that really summarizes in many ways what America needs is a very strong national defense, second to none. But also the American way is a reluctance for war and I think that the Americans want both a strong national defense but not someone who’s eager or rash to go to war,” he said.
But those points won’t appear in his his Friday address at CPAC, which he said “will be different than many of the other speeches that you’ll hear.”
“I’m not big on the red meat so much,” he said. “I like to talk about things that I really believe strongly in.”
He said, for instance, he won’t speak much about ObamaCare because opposition to it is so widespread as to be a given. Instead, he plans to talk in his speech about more broad ideas and values with a decidedly libertarian flavor, including the Bill of Rights, the Fourth Amendment, indefinite detention and minority rights.
“We’ll try to excite folks [with] how we can stand for these Bill of Rights type of issues that I think are in some ways sort of the backdrop for our values,” he said.
Paul’s speech will be one of the most closely-watched on Friday, as his stock in the 2016 primary field has risen in recent weeks as the party reconsiders its options in the wake of the scandal that has crippled New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R ). Media chatter characterizing him as the party’s new frontrunner has intensified.
“I don’t really know what the truth of that is,” he said of the speculation.
He said he comes to CPAC “because it infuses me with energy” because of the significant portion of young attendees, not to gear up for a presidential race.
But he does in fact appear to be gearing up. He is reportedly encouraging an effort in Kentucky to clarify a state law to allow him to run for both reelection to his Senate seat and for president in 2016, if he decides. He said that effort doesn’t mean he’s made his final decision.
“But that is part of the consideration process,” he said. “It’s part of our calculations.”