Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina (CNN)Sen. Rand Paul on Thursday sought to counter narratives that he's a foreign policy isolationist, saying he'd do "everything it takes" to defend the United States from Islamic terrorism.
Rand Paul: You can trust me on foreign policy
In the shadow of the commanding USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier from World War II that now sits in the waters off of South Carolina, the presidential candidate also underscored his wariness of foreign entanglements, stressing he would use military action only after careful deliberation.
"As commander in chief, the world will know that our object is peace, but the world will not to mistake our desire for peace for passivity. The world should not mistake reluctance for inaction," he said at a rally near the aircraft carrier in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.
"And if war should prove unavoidable, America will fight with overwhelming force and we will not relent until victory is ours," he said.
The senator has faced scrutiny from the right over his anti-interventionist views. When he announced his White House bid on Tuesday, a right-leaning group ran ads decrying the senator for questioning back in 2007 whether Iran was a serious threat.
The stark backdrop of the aircraft carrier showed the lengths to which Paul is trying to go in order to distance himself from the views of his father Ron Paul, a three-time presidential candidate whose foreign policy is more closely aligned to isolationism.
Also this week, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said Paul is the one candidate "who is the closest to Obama in his view of foreign policy," a major blow for any candidate seeking the Republican nomination.
Paul has been playing defense on that front, pushing hard against characterizations that he's too dovish on national security. In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Paul said the ad campaign against him is a "farce" perpetuated by "neocons."
"Even in 2007, I did believe that Iran was potentially a threat," Paul said. "Now eight years later, which is a long time, I think the threat has become heightened."
Paul has been in favor of keeping sanctions against Iran and was one of the 47 senators who signed the letter to the country last month, warning that any new deal must be passed through Congress.
His views on foreign aid have also seen renewed attention this week. The senator has been an outspoken proponent of ending all U.S. foreign assistance, including to Israel.
Donna Orner, a retired nurse of Charleston, attended the rally wearing an American-Israeli flag lapel pin and wanted to know more about Paul's stance on Israel.
"When he talks about defense, that scares me a little bit, because he's not real strong on defense. So one question I want to ask him is how he stands with Israel," said Orner, who's Jewish.
Paul said Thursday that he would do "everything it takes to defend America from these haters of mankind," referring to radical Islamic terrorists.
"We need a national defense robust enough to defend against all attacks, modern enough to deter all enemies and nimble enough to defend our vital interests," he said. "But we also need a foreign policy that protects American interests and encourages stability, not chaos."
At the rally, Paul also laid out his domestic priorities, calling for a decrease in spending and reiterating his push to end the National Security Agency's metadata collection effort
Orner, the retired nurse, approached Paul after the rally.
"I asked him if we would stand with Israel, and he will," she said.
Asked if that was enough to pass her test, she said that his answer was satisfactory -- for now.
"Yeah, I think so, unless something changes drastically," she said.