James Jay Carafano, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the Heritage Foundation, said he saw Mr. Paul’s speech as part of the senator’s “conversion to being a statesman” and applauded him for trying to do more than slap a “bumper sticker” on complex foreign policy issues, such as how to deal with Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
“You can say, ‘I don’t like foreign bases.’ That sounds great in a hypothetical basis,” he said. “But foreign bases are how you project power. Your ability to get to the bad guy before he gets to you is greatly diminished.”
Mr. Paul rode into office in 2010, quickly establishing himself as a thorn in the side of Democrats and Republicans. In his maiden speech on the Senate floor, Mr. Paul said conservatives must acknowledge that “we can cut military spending” and liberals must acknowledge “we can cut domestic spending.”
He went on to offer plans to balance the federal budget within five years — in part by repealing President Obama’s health care law, cutting defense spending and eliminating several federal agencies, such as the departments of Education and Energy.
Mr. Paul has accused Mr. Obama of overstepping his constitutional authority — and his congressional colleagues of abdicating theirs — after the president unilaterally approved military involvement in Libya.
Mr. Paul has criticized foreign aid for the governments of Egypt, Pakistan and Libya, which all have at least some Islamist elements. He also questioned calls from within the Republican Party to start arming the opposition forces in Syria — warning that history shows such efforts could come back to haunt the nation.
“In the 1980s, the war caucus in Congress armed [Osama] bin Laden and the mujahedeen in their fight with the Soviet Union. In fact, it was the official position of the State Department to support radical jihad against the Soviets. We all know how well that worked out,” Mr. Paul said Wednesday.
After being appointed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last month, he grilled Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, telling her that she should have been fired for the way the Obama administration handled the Sept. 11 attacks that led to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Still, he supported the confirmation of John F. Kerry as Mrs. Clinton’s successor, saying the president has the right to pick his Cabinet.
The speech, coming on the heels of a high-profile trip to Israel and the senator’s ramped-up media presence, further fuels speculation that Mr. Paul is lining himself up for a 2016 White House bid.
In a conference call with reporters after his speech, Mr. Paul said that as a new member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he wants to share his global worldview. “Whether that becomes part of a national campaign, I think time will tell,” he said.
Mr. Paul, though, said he is confident that most Americans will support his ideas, including his calls to bar the sale of arms to the new Egyptian government under President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He also said he has a proven record of bridging the partisan divide on civil liberties and foreign policy.
“Some of these ideas can cross over and appeal to independents, to moderates and to areas where we are not doing very well — like in New England and the West Coast,” he said. “I think libertarian-Republican ideas may well have some sway.”
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