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Rand Paul, Rick Perry spat shows divide in GOP

This June 20, 2014 file photo shows Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. speaking in Washington.

Molly Riley/AP

Two leading Republicans who could run for president have begun an unusually personal war of words over foreign policy, highlighting a broader divide within the party over international affairs in one of the first public clashes of the Republican Party's presidential primary process.

Sen. Rand Paul on Monday lashed out at his Republican colleague Texas Gov. Rick Perry's weekend charge that Mr. Paul's "isolationist" views are dangerous. Mr. Paul, a favourite of the conservative Tea Party movement, responded by taking a swipe at Mr. Perry's fashion accessories in an article published in Politico Magazine entitled, "Rick Perry is dead wrong."

"Apparently, his new glasses haven't altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly," wrote Mr. Paul.

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Mr. Paul, of Kentucky, continued: "With 60,000 foreign children streaming across the Texas border, I am surprised Governor Perry has apparently still found time to mischaracterize and attack my foreign policy."

With conflicts escalating across the globe, foreign policy is poised to become a key issue in the race – especially as the party begins to embrace a libertarian shift on national security and foreign affairs following the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Paul has emerged as a leading voice among conservative activists who favour a dramatically smaller U.S. footprint on the international stage. Mr. Perry and other leading Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, support a more aggressive leadership role for the United States, despite polls suggesting that voters have grown war-weary after prolonged military action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Both Mr. Paul and Mr. Perry are seriously considering running for president in 2016, but the Republican-on-Republican attack is rare so soon before the party's primary process begins. While Paul has already begun to hire staff in influential early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, presidential candidates aren't likely to begin campaigning in earnest until next year.

The intra-party split caught the attention of former vice-president Dick Cheney, who offered a warning on Monday for people who might be tired of war or "don't want to be bothered."

"There is a growing, emerging threat to the United States," he said at a Washington event hosted by Politico. "And in terms of trying to deal with it on a global basis, we're the only ones who can lead that effort. Nobody else can, nobody else will."

Appearing at the same event, Liz Cheney addressed Paul's views directly: "I've got some big concerns about the extent to which Sen. Paul seems to think we can be safe if we just come home and try to build a fortress America. That's clearly not going to work."

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Mr. Paul, meanwhile, has spent much of the past year working to distinguish his views from those of his father, 2012 presidential candidate Ron Paul, who delighted libertarians by calling for the closure of U.S. military bases around the world. The younger Mr. Paul does not consider himself an isolationist, but opposes sending any more troops to Iraq.

"If refusing to send Americans to die for a country that refuses to defend itself makes one an 'isolationist,' then perhaps it's time we finally retire that pejorative," he wrote. "Today, the overwhelming majority of Americans don't want to send U.S. soldiers back into Iraq. Is Perry calling the entire country 'isolationist' too?"

Mr. Perry, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination 2012, responded in a general statement through a spokesman. "This is no time to turn from the internationalist traditions of Eisenhower and Reagan," said Perry spokesman Travis Considine. "Taking the wrong path would mean passing along a world even more dangerous and less secure than the one we live in today."

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