Rand Paul's Foreign Policy Speech Was Unexpectedly, Unbelievably Powerful — VIDEO

Looking forward to 2016? There's nothing quite like a presidential season to get things churning in Washington. Right now, a handful of ambitious folks are getting ready — through political positioning, coalition-building, rallying the troops, whatever you want to call it — to try to take the White House, and the first step on that path is to start speaking to your own party. Well, that's exactly what Kentucky Senator Rand Paul did in his big foreign policy speech Thursday, but in a way you might not expect: he issued a challenge to his own party, casting himself apart from the GOP's aggressively pro-war, neoconservative wing, and potentially opening up a schism between himself and many other likely Republican presidential candidates.

To be clear, Paul isn't an announced candidate just yet — there actually isn't a single Republican with a shot who's committed to running yet, unless you (erroneously) consider Jack Fellure a contender. But he's already engaging in all the usual, telltale signs of a nascent presidential campaign — spending a distinctly strange amount of time in Iowa and New Hampshire for a guy who represents Kentucky, and works on Capitol Hill, for example.

Basically, he seems to be getting all his ducks in a row, which is why his foreign policy remarks are so fascinating, and potentially pivotal. If Paul becomes a contender in earnest to win the Republican presidential nomination, it means the party could be facing an internal fight over war and military invention that it hasn't truly had in years.

Paul spoke Thursday night at the Center for the National Interest, which as Vox's Zach Beauchamp notes, is a think tank founded by former Republican President Richard Nixon. Speaking before a crowd of likely sympathetic ears, Paul dished out some potential sound bytes which a lot of other GOP heavyweights probably wouldn't dare.

Yes, we need a hammer ready, but not every civil war is a nail. We need a foreign policy that recognized our limits, preserves our might and a common sense conservative realism of strength and action. ... America shouldn't fight wars where the best outcome is stalemate. America shouldn't fight wars when there is no plan for victory. America shouldn't fight wars that aren't authorized by the American people.
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The reference to "not every civil war" could be seen as a shot across the bow of one of Paul's longtime GOP nemeses, Arizona Senator John McCain, who loves nothing as much as arming foreign rebellions. Paul looked bad in late September when he accused McCain of posing for a photo with ISIS militants in Syria back in May 2013, a claim which had already been debunked by the time he made it. That hasn't chilled their heated relationship, however — in the following days, Paul commented on the Senate floor that "these barnacled enablers have never met a war they didn’t like." Any guess who he was talking about?

Paul didn't come out sounding like a dovish, anti-war leftist or anything — quite the contrary, he still spoke with firmness about the historical imperative of using military force as a means to protect the country. But these parts of his speech were evidently the exceptions that illustrated his foreign policy rules.

Some anger is blowback, but some anger originates in an aberrant and intolerant distortion of religion that wages war against all infidels. We can’t be sentimental about neutralizing that threat, but we also can’t be blind to the fact that drone strikes that inadvertently kill civilians may create more jihadists than we eliminate.
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That's a seismic statement, coming from a potential Republican presidential candidate, and it's a welcome one. With President Obama at the helm of America's drone program for the last six years, the policy has been increasingly embraced by Democrats, and pro-war Republicans alike. It's awfully hard to get most elected conservatives these days to even muse about the civilian deaths and ill-will brought by U.S. drone strikes, but Paul is an outlier in this regard.

Of course, sometimes it's easier to say these kinds of things while you're just a candidate — President Obama's pre-2008 rhetoric on war and peace was, it's hard to deny, quite different from how he's conducted himself since.

As MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin sharply observes, it's possible that the ground Paul is staking out will have huge implications for the direction of the Democratic Party, as well. If both Paul and Hillary Clinton secure their respective nominations — a non-negligible possibility, at the very least — her background as a former Secretary of State, and her somewhat hawkish foreign policy views, could force the Democrats to run to the right of the GOP's presidential candidate on war and foreign policy, a state of affairs many liberals would find rather distressing.

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