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A Round of Applause for Rubio

Foreign policy thinkers praise senator’s assessment of international landscape

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio / AP
• May 15, 2015 1:00 pm

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) continues to build support among Republican hawks, earning praise from conservative foreign policy analysts for his Wednesday speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Foreign policy conservatives said they were impressed by Rubio’s ability to speak in detail on a wide range of issues while avoiding pitfalls that have tripped up some other Republicans.

"It felt as if he were taking a Ph.D. oral exam in foreign policy—and he passed easily," said Max Boot, a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations who has provided advice to Rubio and other candidates in an unofficial capacity. "He never seemed the slightest bit flustered, he always had cogent points to make, and he had a plethora of specific facts to cite in his answers about everything from Iraq to China."

"What most presidential candidates do is just kind of summarize past foreign policy crises to give a Wikipedia page [explanation] of what’s going on," said Richard Grenell, the former U.S. spokesperson for the United Nations. "Marco Rubio is actually offering solutions and he’s leading the discussion."

Rubio argued in his speech for U.S. global leadership and a foreign policy based on both national security interests and democratic ideals.

"I believe mankind remains afflicted, and that its destiny remains in our hands," said Rubio. "And I believe America will continue to advance the cause of peace and freedom in our time."

During the question-and-answer session, moderator Charlie Rose pressed Rubio on whether he supports a two-state solution in Israel—the senator said it was the "ideal outcome" but not possible at the moment—and whether he would have authorized the Iraq war if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction.

"Well not only would I not have been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it," said Rubio. "President Bush has said that he regrets that the intelligence was faulty. I don’t think that Congress would have voted in favor of authorization if they didn’t know that."

Rubio also defended the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, arguing that "terrorists who plot to kill Americans and actively are engaged in plots to attack America deserve to be in prison and taken off the battlefield."

The senator criticized President Barack Obama’s failure to give early support to the Syrian opposition, saying it would have been "critical to preventing the growth of ISIS later on."

Rubio has focused on foreign policy since joining the Senate in 2011, using his role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to advocate for hawkish policies on the Iranian nuclear program and the embargo on Cuba. His chief foreign policy adviser, Jamie Fly, was previously the director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.

Rubio’s first major foreign policy address, at the Brookings Institute in 2012, drew heavily on Robert Kagan’s arguments about the necessity of American global leadership and strongly criticized the non-interventionist wing of the Republican Party.

"I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left," Rubio told the audience at the time.

The senator took a softer tone against non-interventionists during his next major address, at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013, saying he wanted to seek a middle ground between "hawks" and "doves." At the time, U.S. intervention in Syria and NSA surveillance were unpopular with the conservative base.

"Our uses of [diplomacy, foreign assistance, and economic power] methods should vastly outnumber our uses of force," said Rubio. "But force used with clear, achievable objectives must always remain a part of our foreign policy toolbox. Because, while we always prefer peace over conflict, sometimes our enemies choose differently."

Grenell said Rubio has been building up credibility with foreign policy hawks for years.

"For political reporters who try to put [Rubio] in a box, like he’s a first term senator, and he’s young, they are surprised … they haven’t been watching the national security issues closely," said Grenell. "It’s clear that Marco Rubio is not just learning foreign policy and memorizing the leaders and the different groups. This is not an academic exercise for him."

Published under: 2016 Election, Marco Rubio