Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul offered starkly different visions about the U.S. role in the world in speeches Thursday at the conservative Faith and Freedom Conference.
The two rising conservatives, both thought to be contenders for the White House in 2016, diverged on how active the U.S. should be on the world stage, with Rubio (Fla.) arguing the nation shouldn't shy away from defending its values globally.
“It is clear that American taxpayer dollars are being used to enable a war on Christianity in the Middle East and I believe that must end,” Paul said in his speech.
He went on to charge that while countries "can and should defend themselves ... I simply can’t imagine Jesus at the head of any army of soldiers, and I think as Christians we need to be wary of the doctrine of preemptive war."
"We must and should stand with our fellow Christians in the Middle East and around the world, but that does not necessarily mean war and it certainly does not mean arming sides in every conflict," he added.
Paul also said he'd continue to oppose arming rebel forces in Syria, a position that aligns him with the current status quo and Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Rubio has taken a different approach on Syria, co-authoring a bill that would offer Syrian rebels non-lethal aid, like humanitarian support and body armor.
While his own proposal for Syria never came up during the event, as he avoided specifics, Rubio did argue for a more interventionist foreign policy in his own speech.
“If America’s light is extinguished, there is no other light,” he said. “We are called not to hide our light but to shine it.”
Rubio warned that if America "lose[s] the will" to stand up for American values elsewhere, "there is nothing to replace us."
It's an early indication of where the two could clash in a presidential primary, where they're expected to face off when the 2016 race begins to ramp up.
Both were met with enthusiastic responses from the packed luncheon, as each received scattered applause throughout speeches that were laced with religious references.
Rubio also briefly commented on immigration, characterizing U.S. policy as "compassionate."
“There is no people in human history that has been more compassionate,” he said of Americans.
“At the essence of our immigration policy is compassion ... the idea that not only do we believe that people from all walks of life can succeed when given the opportunity — but we want to be the place where they succeed,” he added.
Rubio is at the center of the developing immigration reform effort, having acted as one of the eight senators who drafted the bill under consideration in the Senate.
The socially conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is hosting the conference, has expressed support for the reform proposal.
—This story was posted at 3:40 and updated at 4:55 p.m.