That suggestion, proposed in a Middle East-oriented talk Senator Rubio gave at a Washington think tank Wednesday, was about as far as the rising Republican foreign-policy authority strayed from Obama administration policy as he discussed his views on issues ranging from Iran to Israel and the Palestinians.
Rubio recently published an article entitled “Refusal to Lead” in Foreign Policy magazine, in which he criticized President Obama for neglecting America’s leadership role in international issues from Syria to North Korea’s nuclear challenge to the global promotion of democracy and human rights.
But in his talk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy Wednesday, the man who is on most pundits' presidential short list for 2016 said little that sounded substantively different from the Obama administration.
When he described it as increasingly important to “speak to the American people” about world affairs because “we no longer live in a national economy, we live in a global economy,” Rubio sounded like he could have been quoting John Kerry’s first speech earlier this month as secretary of State.
Rubio said he agreed with the president that negotiations with Iran must be given a chance, but that the Islamic Republic must never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon. He agreed that the US should not send weapons into a Syria “already awash in arms.” And he said he supports the administration’s efforts to further the Palestinians’ “governance” expertise and economic development.
Just back from a trip to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank, Rubio said he talked to Israelis concerned about what Mr. Obama’s intends to do when he visits Israel in March. He said he told them “that it’s my sense the president is coming more to listen than to dictate” on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace. And he said he believed that, at this point, with Iran and other regional security issues topping Israel as a priority, that such a stance is the right one for the president.
On Syria, Rubio demonstrated a command of the complexities of the civil war and laid out a plan of action that sounded closer to where the White House appears to be headed than to some of his more hawkish Republican colleagues. He suggested providing more nonlethal supplies to the rebels.
“I’m uncomfortable if we’re doing anything to escalate violence,” he said.
Rubio said the problem in Syria is not so much the opposition’s access to weapons as it is the fact that “the best-armed [rebels] are the most radical ones, the most anti-American ones.” To help level the rebel playing field, one step would be to provide “responsible groups” not with weapons, but with the ammunition they need for the weapons they have, he said.
On Iran, Rubio said he would like to see a “breakthrough” in the negotiations the US and other world powers have under way with Tehran on its nuclear program. But he doesn’t hold out much hope, saying he believes that “the negotiations are nothing but a ploy to buy time” for the Iranian regime to make progress toward building a nuclear weapon.
And Rubio said he is convinced Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s goal is to build a bomb. Iran’s supreme leader has absorbed the lesson of other leaders: Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi had a weapons program but gave it up and ultimately lost power, while North Korea brandishes a minor nuclear-weapons capability to fend off international pressure.
“The Iranians have concluded, ‘We don’t want to be Qaddafi, we want to be North Korea, we want that level of security,’ ” Rubio said.
Yet while he did not fault the Obama administration for at least attempting to find a diplomatic solution with Iran, Rubio did single out as a “mistake” what he said was Obama’s failure to support Iran’s green movement during elections in 2009.
Noting that Iran will hold presidential elections in June, Rubio said, “I hope we don’t repeat that mistake.” Globally, the US needs to be “louder” on human rights issues, he said.