WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul is blaming his own party for the rise of the Islamic State group.
The freshman senator from Kentucky said Wednesday that the GOP's foreign policy hawks "created these people."
The Islamic State group, commonly referred to as ISIS, has seized one-third of Iraq and Syria and in recent days made gains in central Iraq.
"ISIS exists and grew stronger because of the hawks in our party who gave arms indiscriminately," Paul said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." He continued: "They created these people. ISIS is all over Libya because these same hawks in my party loved — they loved Hillary Clinton's war in Libya. They just wanted more of it."
Foreign policy has emerged as a central debate in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.
Many of Paul's Republican colleagues have offered aggressive rhetoric, but few specifics when asked about IS.
Paul favors less military intervention abroad, wants a dramatic reduction in U.S. money to foreign governments and stands in opposition to the Patriot Act and the U.S. policy behind drone strikes. It all makes him something of an outlier on foreign policy and national security in the GOP field.
He stood apart from many in his party in opposing U.S. military action in Syria before the ascension of the Islamic State group.
Sensitive to being branded an isolationist in the race, he has scaled back some of his positions — no longer calling for deep cuts in the Pentagon budget, for example, and no longer proposing the elimination of foreign aid, including to Israel.
On the Islamic State, he wants coalitions of Arab troops — instead of U.S. troops — to take the lead on the ground.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday that U.S. military leadership is key to stabilizing Iraq, although with American advisers and intelligence, not combat forces.
"Most particularly the United States needs to regain its position militarily in Iraq to bring some order to the Iraqi military," he told Republicans during a call to GOP activists in Alabama.
In addition, the U.S. must also lead an international coalition to create support within Iraq to rid it of IS for the long term, Bush said. "You have to do this militarily and build on that with a political solution," he said.
Paul's comments underscore the challenge for Bush, whose brother launched the invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago.
Bush faced pointed questions two weeks ago from a college student in Nevada who said former President George W. Bush "created ISIS."
Jeb Bush blamed the Obama administration for not negotiating to keep more troops in Iraq, creating a vacuum that was ultimately filled by the Islamic State group.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Paul's comments Wednesday were "a perfect example of why Senator Paul is unsuited to be commander in chief."
"We have men and women in the military who are in the field trying to fight ISIS right now, and Senator Paul is taking the weakest, most liberal Democrat position," said Jindal, a potential rival for the GOP presidential nomination. "We should all be clear that evil and radical Islam are at fault for the rise of ISIS, and people like President Obama and Hillary Clinton exacerbate it."
In his interview earlier, Paul described Iraq as "a failed state" and criticized Republicans who condemn his foreign policy as weak.
"Everything that they have talked about in foreign policy, they have been wrong about for 20 years, and yet they have somehow the gall to keep saying and pointing fingers otherwise," Paul said.
Associated Press writer Thomas Beaumont contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa.