Everything Marco Rubio Said About Russia and Syria at the GOP Debate Is Coming True

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) was prophetic at CNN's GOP presidential debate Sept. 16, predicting that Russia would continue to exploit a vacuum in the Middle East and "prop up" Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to demonstrate to the region it was the most important power broker there.

The Obama administration was admittedly caught by surprise this week when Russia announced an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iran, Syria and Iraq to battle the Islamic State, another example of Vladimir Putin expanding his influence in the region after he deployed warplanes and tanks to help Assad earlier this month. Over the weekend, Russia announced it would step up its military support to prevent the collapse of Assad, which Putin believes would be destabilizing.

This, Rubio said at the time, is Putin's vision for repositioning Russia "as a geopolitical force."

"It's pretty straightforward," Rubio said at the debate. "[Putin] wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force … He's trying to destroy NATO. And this is what this is a part of. He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East. Here's what you're going to see in the next few weeks: the Russians will begin to fly combat missions in that region, not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad. He will also, then, turn to other countries in the region and say, ‘America is no longer a reliable ally, Egypt. America is no longer a reliable ally, Saudi Arabia. Begin to rely on us.'

"What he is doing is he is trying to replace us as the single most important power broker in the Middle East, and this president is allowing it."

Such overtures from Russia on fighting IS and expansion of influence into Syria and Iraq are "exactly what the Arab world hoped to obtain from a foreign power", the Wall Street Journal reports:

Russia’s influence in the Middle East has grown steadily since the fall of the Soviet Union largely because of its alliance with Iran. As Iran severed ties with the U.S. and reduced alliances with Western countries, it looked toward Russia for economic trade and military assistance. The two nations also shared the common interest of reducing the U.S.’s influence in the region.

Now Iraq and Syria appear to be following Iran’s trend in turning to Russia, as opposed to the U.S., as a new patron. Russia’s swift and forceful foray into Syria and Iraq while voicing clear commitment to fight Islamic State at whatever cost is exactly what the Arab world hoped to obtain from a foreign power.

The Russian leader has been bulking up forces and bases in Syria in moves U.S. officials say are designed to safeguard Mr. Assad and his regime. Over the weekend, Iraq revealed that it had signed an agreement to share intelligence with Russia, Iran and Syria, and an Iraqi defense official said on Monday that the country would welcome Russian surveillance flights over Iraq.

Full exchange:

JAKE TAPPER: Senator Rubio, you've taken a very different approach to the – the question of Russia. You've called Vladimir Putin a, quote, "gangster." Why would President Rubio's approach be more effective than President Trump's?

MARCO RUBIO: Well, first of all, I have an understanding of exactly what it is Russia and Putin are doing, and it's pretty straightforward. He wants to reposition Russia, once again, as a geopolitical force. He himself said that the destruction of the Soviet Union – the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, and now he's trying to reverse that. He's trying to destroy NATO. And this is what this is a part of. He is exploiting a vacuum that this administration has left in the Middle East.

Here's what you're going to see in the next few weeks: the Russians will begin to fly – fly combat missions in that region, not just targeting ISIS, but in order to prop up Assad. He will also, then, turn to other countries in the region and say, "America is no longer a reliable ally, Egypt. America is no longer a reliable ally, Saudi Arabia. Begin to rely on us." What he is doing is he is trying to replace us as the single most important power broker in the Middle East, and this president is allowing it. That is what is happening in the Middle East. That's what's happening with Russia, and–

TAPPER: Thank you, Senator Rubio.

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