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Chris Christie throws his lot in with Republican hawks

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie outlined a muscular vision of American defense policy on Monday, placing himself squarely on the hawkish wing of the Republican Party as he weighs a 2016 presidential bid.

In a speech in New Hampshire, Christie called for an expanded military and increased defense spending, urging lawmakers to repeal the 2011 "sequestration" budget cuts that have leashed Pentagon spending for the last several years.

He bemoaned the current state of global politics, accusing President Obama of emboldening America's enemies and snubbing her allies. As evidence, he pointed to Chinese assertiveness in maritime disputes along the Pacific Rim, Russian aggression against Ukraine, the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, and the rise of Islamic extremism across the near-East.

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"American power is in retreat, and we've backed away from the principles that made us a source of strength and stability," he said. "No one understands any longer whom America stands with or against. No one understands exactly what we stand for and what we are willing to sacrifice to stand up for it."

He also offered a robust defense of government surveillance programs, rebutting civil libertarians who fear that privacy rights are being eroded.

"When Edward Snowden revealed our intelligence secrets to the world in 2013, civil liberties extremists seized that moment to advance their own narrow agenda. They want you to think that there's a government spook listening in every time you pick up the phone or Skype with your grandkids. They want you to think of our intelligence community as the bad guys, straight out of the Bourne Identity or a Hollywood thriller. And they want you to think that if we weakened our capabilities, the rest of the world would love us more," he said. "Let me be clear - all these fears are exaggerated and ridiculous. When it comes to fighting terrorism, our government is not the enemy."

The debate over the government's post-9/11 surveillance architecture has simmered for years, and it intensified after Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, disclosed several far-reaching and highly classified intelligence programs in 2013.

Now, the issue is once again taking center stage in Congress, as lawmakers debate whether to extend the government's surveillance authority - and whether that authority should be more circumscribed than it is today.

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The government previously relied on several provisions in the Patriot Act, first passed in 2001, to permit its extensive spying programs. But those provisions expire June 1, and a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the Patriot Act does not license such far-reaching surveillance authority. That ruling effectively scrapped government's legal justification for the programs, shifting the onus onto Congress to pass a new justification.

If lawmakers are unable to come to an agreement before June 1, the government could be forced to suspend some surveillance activities that many intelligence analysts believe are crucial to protecting American interests.

In his speech on Monday, Christie called on lawmakers to pass "a clean extension of the Patriot Act."

"This is a big debate in Congress right now, and different courts have expressed their views on the program too," he said. "But right now, that debate is dominated by the intellectual purists worried about theoretical abuses that haven't occurred - instead of the real threats that we've already seen."

Christie, who's said he will make a decision on his presidential bid by the end of next month, has sounded a hawkish note on foreign policy issues before, but Monday's speech marked the most comprehensive take on international politics he's offered to date.

If he joins the Republican field, he'll find himself competing with some kindred spirits on defense policy, like former Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. But he'll also be up against figures like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who have embraced a more skeptical view of government surveillance and foreign intervention.