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Rand Paul calls for restraint in U.S. military engagement

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) outlines his foreign policy stance at a dinner hosted by the Center for the National Interest on Oct. 23, 2014 in New York City.

CBS News

NEW YORK -- Echoing previous warnings against intervention abroad, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is urging the United States to be cautious about using military force and pressed instead for diplomatic settlements.

"Americans want strength and leadership, but it doesn't mean that we see war as the only solution," Paul said Thursday during a dinner hosted by the Center for the National Interest in New York City.

The comments are widely considered to be the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate's first comprehensive outline of his foreign policy views.

"Yes, we need a hammer ready, but not every civil war is a nail," Paul said. "There is a time to eliminate our enemies but there is also a time to cultivate allies."

Paul described the use of force as "an indispensible part of defending our country" but insisted it should be a last resort and only initiated through Congress.

He called Libya an example of "the wrong way to do things," criticizing President Obama and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for engaging in war without "[anticipating] the consequences."

"Today, Libya is a jihadist wonderland, a sanctuary and a safe haven for terror groups across North Africa," Paul said.

On the U.S. strategy to combat ISIS, Paul voiced his support for airstrikes against the terrorist group but rejected supplying Syrian rebel groups with weapons, which he says wind up in enemy hands.

"The ultimate sad irony is that we're forced to fight against the very weapons we send the Syrian rebels," he said. "ISIS is stronger because of our weapons."

Paul also used his speech to push back against critics within his own party who have called his views "isolationist."

"The war on terror is not over, and America cannot disengage from the world," Paul said.

He called his approach to foreign policy "common sense conservative realism," and a "return to traditional Republican values."

Paul is considering a bid for the presidency, but recent reports, including one Thursday based on an interview aboard his flight to New York for the event, say he will not make a decision until next spring.