US Sen. Marco Rubio shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their talks in Tokyo on January 21. Rubio, seen a possible presidential candidate in 2016, has indicated he favors a more interventionist foreign policy than the Obama administration. (Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP)
WASHINGTON — Potential GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio offered a glimpse into how he would act as commander in chief, saying the US should “overtly” arm Syrian rebels.
The Florida lawmaker is reportedly mulling a run at the Republican nomination in 2016. And along the way, he and other potential candidates are staking out policy positions on a slew of national security issues and situations President Barack Obama’s successor will inherit.
Rubio continues to describe a national and foreign policy that is more in line with the hawkish interventionism of 2008 presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., than Obama’s narrower approach that requires a direct and clear US interest.
That includes on Syria’s years-long bloody — and complicated — civil war. Forces loyal to the nation’s strongman leader, Bashar al-Assad, are battling a hodgepodge of opposition forces that include pro-freedom groups, al-Qaida cells and other extremist Islamic groups.
The Obama administration has determined the Syrian conflict’s puzzle pieces are too complicated to put together — and doesn’t feature a pressing US national security interest. While Washington has provided some assistance to opposition forces, it has avoided becoming directly involved — or even seriously indirectly involved.
If Rubio wins the White House in 2016, that might change. The potential Republican candidate, in a statement issued late Wednesday, revealed an interventionist flavor to the foreign and national security policy approach he would bring to the White House Situation Room.
Rubio blasted the Obama administration, saying “we are going to be living with the consequences of the Obama administration’s failed Syria policy for decades to come.
“It is time for the administration to increase pressure on Assad instead of giving him more room to maneuver,” Rubio said, in an apparent reference to Obama’s decision last year to hold off on air strikes when Assad agreed to give up his chemical weapons.
Rubio made it clear that he, as commander in chief, would not hesitate to plunge the United States into other nations’ internal conflicts. That would represent a major departure from the Obama era, which, other than air strikes that helped drive Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi from power, has featured almost no US involvement in internal squabbles around the globe.
“There are concrete actions that we should be taking immediately rather than placing our hope in endless negotiations and counterproductive agreements with a mass murderer,” a muscular-sounding Rubio said.
Specifically, the likely GOP candidate signaled a major departure from Obama when he said the United States “should overtly provide lethal support and increase non-lethal support to carefully and properly vetted elements of the opposition, especially those who are fighting al-Qaida affiliates.”
He said the US should, in delivering arms, do “everything possible to ensure that these weapons do not fall into the hands of al-Qaida or other jihadist groups.”
One reason the Obama administration has avoided significant weapons shipments to the rebels is because it cannot be sure just who would receive the arms, and how the weapons would be used.
Rubio also would push new “severe sanctions against individuals and financial institutions that have provided or facilitated the sale or transfer of weapons, petroleum or petroleum products to Assad.”
He also said the US should “increase humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, one quarter of which are now displaced, as well as to the countries that are hosting Syrian refugees.”