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A spokeswoman for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, another potential presidential contender, referred to statements Mr. Daniels delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, in which he appeared to favor defense cuts while defending the nation-building and regime-change policies practiced when Mr. Daniels was the top budget adviser in the Bush White House.

“Nothing, not even the first and most important mission of government, our national defense, can get a free pass,” Mr. Daniels said at CPAC. “I served in two administrations that practiced and validated the policy of peace through strength. It has served America and the world with irrefutable success.”

But, he added, “if our nation goes over a financial Niagara, we won’t have much strength and, eventually, we won’t have peace.”

People who supported spreading democracy and changing regimes, by force if necessary, failed to dominate the administration of President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, who limited U.S. action to liberating Kuwait while resisting pressure to topple Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

But President Clinton, a Democrat, pursued nation-building with U.S. military action in the Balkans and Haiti. Upon taking office, President Obama surrounded himself with proponents of spreading democracy abroad.

“Now, as president-elect he has just formed the most conservative foreign-policy team since John F. Kennedy, one well to the right of Bill Clinton,” Mr. Horowitz said in 2009, in scolding other neoconservatives for questioning Mr. Obama’s will to pursue regime change. “Where is your gratitude for that?”