Rand and Rubio’s war for the future of war

There’s a war waging within the Republican Party, and even the most casual observers are starting to notice. Its outcome will determine the foreign policy of the GOP and, if they’re lucky, the country.

The basis of the conflict is this: The GOP has been without a coherent foreign policy since President George W. Bush left the White House in 2008. In the absence of any single executive leader, Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have dominated the debate, promoting, by and large, a continuation of Mr. Bush’s hawkish freedom agenda.

Using their decades of experience, their roles in prominent committees, their rank and their access, the two filled the void, advocating for a robust American military and an assertive projection of force.

But a key aspect of Messrs. McCain and Graham’s dominance in GOP foreign policy was their prominent roles in promoting it on cable news. And here’s a secret: The folks who run cable news consider a U.S. senator’s opinion on any issue — including foreign policy — worthy of coverage. That means that if any U.S. senator decided they, too, had a point of view on foreign policy, they could join the debate. And, it just so happens, two young men had just that intent.

Enter: Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio — two men who are seeking to define the future of the GOP’s foreign policy. They are also two men who differ greatly in their views on America’s proper role in the world. And, we dare suggest, it is very likely that one of them — but only one of them — will win.

Mr. Rubio’s rise in the GOP’s foreign policy debate began in earnest in 2012 when the freshman senator gave a speech at the left-leaning Brookings Institution.

In the bipartisan, hawkish speech, he spoke of “how good a strong and engaged America has been for the world” and “that what happens all over the world is our business.”

He also said that he had “recently been relying heavily on” the work of Robert Kagan — a neoconservative who had served as an adviser to Mr. McCain’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign.

More recently, Mr. Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bulked up his office’s foreign policy expertise, hiring leading neoconservative Jamie Fly as counselor for foreign and national security affairs in January 2013. Mr. Fly came to the Senate from his role as head of the Foreign Policy Initiative (a project of, among others, Mr. Kagan and neoconservative top dog Bill Kristol) and, before that, the administration of President George W. Bush. The move was not without its critics, and symbolized another step toward a run for the presidency.

The following month, Mr. Rubio departed on a trip commonly regarded as a must for serious presidential candidates, landing in Israel on Feb. 17.

But the freshman from Florida is not the only sheriff in town.