Marco Rubio, the young Florida senator widely regarded as a top vice presidential possibility for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, called for a more robust and active U.S. presence abroad in a wide-ranging address that also revealed more moderate positions than some in his party would prefer.
In particular, Rubio advocated for the United States to take a leading role in forming international coalitions and reducing its reliance on institutions like the United Nations Security Council, where countries like China and Russia can block action with a single vote.
“In those instances, where the veto power of either China or Russia impedes the world’s ability to deal with a significant threat, it is the United States that will have to organize and lead coalitions with or without Security Council resolutions,” Rubio said.
Rubio called that his chief difference with the Obama administration and elaborated on it during a question-and-answer period. "The president’s administration has somewhat often had an overreliance on institutions, global institutions, whether it’s the Security Council or it’s the United Nations, to take the lead on some of these issues,” he said.
On China, Rubio said that “the China of today” is closest with countries such as North Korea and Iran, and can’t be counted on “to defend and support global economic and political freedom or take up the cause of human rights.” On Russia, he said that the United States should “reenergize and lead a united coalition with European nations to tackle issues ranging from missile defense to the continued enlargement of NATO.” He also called for the creation of a Western Hemisphere energy coalition using shale gas to reduce European dependency on Russian energy sources.
Rubio addressed the threat of a nuclear Iran through the lens of the Syrian crisis, saying the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would be a “significant blow to Iran’s ambitions.” He proposed significant action to help the opposition forces overthrow the government, including the formation of a coalition with Turkey and the Arab League nations and providing food, medicine, communications tools, and possibly weapons to the Syrian people.
The Democratic National Committee called Rubio’s speech “heavy on deceptive attacks against the president” and “tellingly short on praise for Mitt Romney’s own foreign-policy plans. It’s no surprise why: Mitt Romney has ... failed to outline a coherent vision for America’s place in the world or concrete plans to enhance our security and strengthen our alliances.”
Rubio did, however, break with elements of his own party in several instances. He criticized but did not name some members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including some Republicans, for failing to capitalize on the possibility of a post-Assad Syria because they were afraid of the challenges it would pose. He also endorsed negotiations with Iran, though he cautioned that they must lead to action rather than more negotiations.
Like Romney and Obama, Rubio said he was open to using military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, though he suggested that outcome would be tragic. Asked whether he would support Israeli military intervention, Rubio said he was “not in a position to sit here and dictate to Israel’s leaders what they should or should not do.”
Rubio also broke with his party – and importantly, many members of his tea party base – by endorsing a robust foreign-aid budget as a means to “strengthen our influence, the effectiveness of our leadership, and the service of our interests and ideals.” He cited programs to combat AIDS in Africa and urged other forms of humanitarian intervention.
Indeed, much of Rubio’s speech displayed a preference for an overtly bipartisan – or as he put it, nonpartisan -- foreign policy. He was introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a hawkish independent from Connecticut who was once a Democrat, at a think tank that is often described as left of center. "I always try to keep foreign policy nonpartisan as much as possible,” Rubio said. The alternative, he said, “weakens our hand in the world."