Rand Paul will have a major foreign policy moment Thursday night: unveiling exactly where he stands between the hawks and the isolationists in his own party.
Paul advisers say the speech, which will be delivered at the Center for the National Interest in New York, is the senator's opportunity to embrace a moderate Republican foreign policy. As the Republican senator from Kentucky eyes a potential presidential run in 2016, he must prove to the party's establishment and voters that he's not as withdrawn from the world as his father, former Rep. Ron Paul, nor is he shifting his positions drastically out of political necessity.
The ongoing U.S. response to the Islamic State has pushed Paul to clarify his stance on foreign policy, especially as he prepares to potentially run against more hawkish contenders like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida or Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Thursday night is Paul's chance to explain more broadly why arming Syrian rebels in the Middle East could perpetuate conflict and why, if he were president, he would go to Congress before conducting airstrikes against ISIS.
"There is a space between being a neocon and an isolationist," says Lorne Craner, a former official who worked under President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush, and who now advises Paul on foreign policy. "That space may have been unoccupied since Bush 41 left office, but Senator Paul would like that tradition in the Republican foreign policy space to be revived."