Marco Rubio on War & Peace
Republican Florida Senator
RUBIO: I have two thoughts. The first is my preference would be that people would refrain from writing these sorts of things until the president is out of office, because I it undermines the ability to conduct foreign policy. That being said, I don't think we can ignore what is in that book. The motivations in Afghanistan was primarily political: the president had that this is not his war. And you saw that reflected in the decision that he made at the same time that he announced the surge, he also announced an exit date and strategy, thereby emboldening Taliban to believe they can wait us out. And the result is now evident across the globe. Our allies see us as unreliable and our enemies feel emboldened. And I think that this is--confirms our worst fears that this is an administration that lacks a strategic foreign policy and in fact largely driven by politics and tactics.
RUBIO: I believe the administration has acted responsibly. I think they've done three things that are important:
RUBIO: That's correct, and Libya.
Q: Because military commanders say the biggest ISIS threat to Europe now is coming from Libya, not Syria?
Q: So if you're for putting more U.S. ground troops in Iraq and Syria, are you also ready to send U.S. ground troops on the ground in Libya?
RUBIO: Well, what I've argued from the very beginning is that in order to defeat ISIS, you must deny them operating spaces. Today that operating space has largely been based in Iraq and Syria, but I've been warning about the Libyan presence for the better part of two years. So they need to be targeted wherever they have an operating space. They can only be defeated if they are driven out and the territory is held by Sunni Arabs. But it will require a specific number of American special operators, in combination with an increase in air strikes.
RUBIO: I don't think any nation on Earth takes more pains in avoiding civilian casualties than the United States. The reality, unfortunately, is that many of these terrorist groups deliberately operate from the center of civilian areas, because they want there to be civilian casualties for propaganda use. We've seen that as well used by the enemies of Israel on repeated occasions. Obviously, we're going to take great pains to avoid civilian casualties, but at the end of the day, no one has killed more civilians and more innocents here than ISIS has. And although we'll take extraordinary steps to avoid civilian casualties, there is, of course, no guarantee, especially, given the fact, that you're operating against these individuals, who have no regard for human life.
RUBIO: This is clearly an act of war on one of our NATO allies and we should invoke Article 5 of the NATO agreement and bring everyone together to put together a coalition to confront this challenge.
Q: The question is how--Senator Lindsey Graham, says put 10,000 troops on the ground.
RUBIO: I think it's premature to say the exact numbers. I think that we need to begin to work more closely with the Sunni tribes in Iraq who do not want to work under the thumb of the central government in Iraq as well as the Kurds. The only way to ultimately defeat ISIS is for them to be defeated ideologically and militarily, by Sunnis themselves. But we are going to have to increase special operations attacks, targeting ISIS leadership and revealing that they are not invincible.
Obama's strategy to defeat ISIS is largely identical to Marco Rubio's. The senator fleshed this out at CPAC: target ISIS by using local ground forces, coupled with air support from the United States, all while U.S. officials take the lead in assembling an international coalition. That, as of this morning, is Rubio's plan. It's also exactly what Obama has been doing since August.
"Intervention is a mistake. Intervention when both sides are evil is a mistake. Intervention that destabilizes the Middle East is a mistake. And yet, here we are again, wading into a civil war," Paul said.
His doubts ran contrary to the thinking of Rubio, who advocated an aggressive response, saying the threat should have been addressed earlier. "If we do not confront and defeat ISIL now we will have to do so later, and it will take a lot longer, be a lot costlier, and be more painful," Rubio said, using an acronym for Islamic State. "If we fail to approve this, the nations of that region will say America is not truly engaged."
RUBIO: Absolutely. I think it's critical that we do that. If you're serious about defeating ISIL, you have to go after where they're headquartered. What is important to understand about their presence in Syria is that they are generating revenue in Syria, with former Assad refineries that they now control and they're generating revenue from. But all of their supplies, their command and control structure, is being operated from there. You cannot defeat ISIL unless you hit them in those parts of Syria that they now control, where the Syrian government is not even present. ISIL is a group that poses an immediate danger to the United States. And if we are serious about defeating them, then we must strike them both in Syria and in Iraq.
RUBIO: Without a doubt. I think this is an urgent counterterrorism matter. I know a lot has been talked about the future of Iraq as a country, and that is a very legitimate issue that needs to be looked at. But, for me, this is not about nation-building or imposing democracy. This is a counterterrorism risk that we need to nip in the bud. It is my view that we will either deal with ISIS now or we will deal with them later. And, later, they're going to be stronger and harder to reach.
Q: Given that this is a direct throat to U.S. national security, what should this administration be doing?
RUBIO: I certainly hope that the 300 additional special forces and trainers going in is not simply a symbolic measure. I hope it's the first step in a multistep process.
RUBIO: I'd be open-minded to providing assistance to the Iraqi government in terms of training and equipment to allow them to deal with the challenges. I would not underestimate the impact that these rebels al Qaeda-linked forces in in Syria are now having cross border in Iraq. I think's going to be a growing factor. Some have asked me this week if I would support another invasion of Iraq, of course not. I don't think that's a solution at this point. But I think we're going to be dealing with this for some time. But ultimately, the only way to solve this problem is for the Iraqi government to be able to solve it. They need the military and security resources in the short-term. But in the long-term, they need a stable political process, otherwise this is going to be an ongoing problem forever.
RUBIO: Well, it's an important start. I think the broader issue is, what is the strategy? And I think the strategy has to involve more coordination with the Kurds and also with Sunnis, because you're not going to defeat ISIS, a radical Sunni movement, without a robust anti-ISIS Sunni coalition. So, I do think it's important tactical step forward. It needs to be backed up with increased airstrikes and so forth.
A: The sanctions are already in place. And they would be reinstated. And that's what I would do as president. You don't need to have a Cabinet fully formed to do that. We will not use the national security waiver to hold back US sanctions against Iran, especially not as a result of this flawed deal that he's pursuing. I think that the sanctions were actually forcing Iran to the table. I think we should have asked for a lot more. It also requires us to help Iran technically, economically, develop themselves as a country and become a stronger regional power. That undermines our relationships with our Arab allies in the region and, of course, the state of Israel. I think it almost guarantees that there will now be an arms race in the Middle East.
RUBIO: Well, not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it. And he said so.
Q: So, it made sense to invade Iraq in 2003, but now you say it was a mistake?
RUBIO: That was not the same question. The question was whether it was a mistake. And my answer was it's not a mistake. I still say it was not a mistake, because the president was presented with intelligence that said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, it was governed by a man who had committed atrocities in the past with weapons of mass destruction.
RUBIO: Well, if you recall, at that time, what the president characterized basically as a symbolic military action against the Assad government, which I thought would be counterproductive. I thought the best way to topple Assad was to arm, equip, train and capacitate moderate rebel elements within Syria. I thought that was a better approach. This is different. We're talking about targeting ISIL, which is a group that poses an immediate danger to the United States. And if we are serious about defeating them, then we must strike them both in Syria and in Iraq. The previous debate was about what to do with Assad, and I thought the best way to topple Assad was not through airstrikes, but through equipping the moderate rebel elements.
RUBIO: Much of what has happened in Iraq lately has been the result of poor leadership within Iraq. Contributing to that is the fact that the US does not have long-term status in Iraq. As a result, air space [can be] used by Iranians and others to do all sorts of things. Ultimately whether it's Afghanistan or Iraq, future of those countries is in the hands of their own people. And the US can't rescue them from themselves. But I do think we have a strategic interest in what happens there. And it poses a real challenge, because if you start adding it up now, Bob, you have an ungoverned space in Iraq, ungoverned spaces in Syria, potentially ungoverned spaces if Afghanistan begins to fall back, ungoverned spaces in Africa. This is all fertile territory for al Qaeda and other radical elements to set up training camps and plot attacks against the homeland and our interests.
Over two years ago, Rubio said, he urged the U.S. to "identify non-jihadist groups in Syria and help train and equip them so that they could not only topple Assad, but also be the best organized, trained and armed group on the ground in a post-Assad Syria." But failure to act means that "we are now left with no good options."
"Military action, taken simply to save face, is not a wise use of force," Rubio said. "My advice is to either lay out a comprehensive plan using all of the tools at our disposal that stands a reasonable chance of allowing the moderate opposition to remove Assad and replace him with a stable secular government. Or, at this point, simply focus our resources on helping our allies in the region protect themselves from the threat they and we will increasingly face from an unstable Syria."
RUBIO: In foreign policy, timing matters. These were options for us a year and a half ago, before this became this chaotic. It behooved us to identify whether there were any elements there within Syria fighting against Assad that we could work with, reasonable people that wouldn't carry out human rights violations, and could be part of building a new Syria. We failed to do that. So now our options are quite limited. Now the strongest groups fighting against Assad, unfortunately, are al Qaeda-linked elements.
Q: So here, now, what would President Rubio do? Would you commit US forces to a no-fly zone?
RUBIO: If I was in charge of this issue, we never would have gotten to this point. That being said, I think we need to continue to search for elements on the ground that we can work with, so that if & when Assad falls, they will manage a future, hopefully democratic Syria, and peaceful Syria.
RUBIO: First of all, a moderate by Iranian political standards is not what we could describe as moderate here in the West, but let me just say that I hope so, because the people of Iran do not want the future that their leaders have wanted. The people of Iran want to engage with the rest of the world, and hopefully this will be a step in that direction. But I'm not all that optimistic. In order to have better relations, not just with the US but with the world, Iran needs to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions. And unfortunately, this gentleman who was just elected is a strong supporter of the nuclear program and the nuclear weaponization as well.
Rubio has not been shy in pushing for that sort of muscular foreign policy approach. In hearings, he has been an outspoken voice for intervention in Libya ever since the anti-government protesters first began clashing with dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi's forces over the winter. He supported a push for a resolution to authorize the use of American military force.
On the unrest in Syria, where the Obama administration has moved cautiously in pressuring strongman Bashar al-Assad, Rubio teamed with Lieberman to introduce a resolution calling for tougher sanctions on the Assad regime.
Tonight, I join the American people in honoring, remembering and thanking the brave men and women who fulfilled their duty and have helped bring a truly responsible end to combat operations in Iraq, where the Iraqi people now govern and protect their sovereign nation.
We should thank our troops who, under the leadership of Generals David Petraeus and Ray Odierno, brought Iraq back from the brink. We should also acknowledge President Bush and Members of Congress from both parties who did what was right in 2007 by supporting the troop surge that has made Iraq a safer and more stable nation. Their wisdom, political courage and faith in our troops have helped make this important milestone possible.
Faith2Action.org is "the nation's largest network of pro-family groups." They provide election resources for each state, including Voter Guides and Congressional Scorecards excerpted here. The Faith2Action survey summarizes candidate stances on the following topic: 'Set a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan '
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Arguments for and against bill: (New York Times, May 8, 2013): Seeking to escalate pressure on Iran, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would deny the Iranian government access to its foreign exchange reserves, estimated to be worth as much as $100 billion. The legislation would be the first major new sanction confronting Iran since its inconclusive round of negotiations last month on its disputed nuclear program.
Sponsors of the legislation contend that Iran is not bargaining in good faith while it continues to enrich uranium. Part of the reason, they say, is that Iran has been able to work around the worst effects of the sanctions by tapping its foreign currency reserves overseas, which are largely beyond the reach of current restrictions. "Closing the foreign currency loophole in our sanctions policy is critical in our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability," the sponsors said.
Critics said the new legislation risked further alienating Iranians who suspect that the sanctions' true purpose is not to pressure Iran in the nuclear negotiations, but to cause an economic implosion that would lead to regime change. "When we've cemented a sanctions escalation path, we're creating a trajectory toward actual confrontation," said the founder of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington group that opposes sanctions. Some Iranian leaders, he said, see the sanctions "as a train that can only go in one direction and has no brakes."
Excerpts from Letter from 85 Senators to President Obama We all hope that nuclear negotiations succeed in preventing Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability. For diplomacy to succeed, however, we must couple our willingness to negotiate with a united and unmistakable message to the Iranian regime. We urge you to insist on the realization of these core principles with Iran:
Opposing argument: (Cato Institute, "Enforcing Iran Nuke Deal," Jan. 25, 2017): More than anything else, the Iran nuclear deal must be kept because the alternative is a return to ever-heightening tensions and clamoring by hawks in both countries. From 2003 to 2014, years of unrelenting U.S. sanctions and confrontation, Iran went from 164 centrifuges to 19,000. The hostile approach generates a more expansive, less transparent Iranian nuclear program and increases the chances for another disastrous U.S. war in the Middle East. Let's hope the Trump administration chooses not to go that route.
Excerpts from Letter from 14 Senators to Secretary of State Tillerson: A February 7 Amnesty International report asserts that up to 13,000 people have been methodically executed at the Saydnaya Prison as part of a calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution authorized at the highest levels of the Syrian government.
Assad's actions--including the confirmed use of chemical weapons—provide sufficient documentation exists to charge Bashar al-Assad with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Russia, [despite its support of the Assad regime], must join the international community in seeking to hold Assad accountable, stop enabling the slaughter of the Syrian people, and undertake efforts to remove Iran-affiliated fighters from Syria.
Opposing argument: (ACLU blog, "Protect Syrian Civilians," 4/4/2017): Following the April 4 chemical attack, the president launched cruise missiles. There is no doubt that that the use of chemical weapons against civilians in northern Syria was illegal and immoral. However, the ACLU objected to President Trump unilaterally launching strikes without advance congressional authorization. The Constitution is clear that only Congress can declare war and authorize the use of our armed forces, absent an emergency need to stop a sudden attack.
Opposing argument: (Heritage Foundation, "Terrorism Report"): [The US should] support measures to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable to the Syrian people. Assad must answer for his crimes, and the Syrian people should be given discretion as to how this process is conducted. Their options could include trial in a domestic court, inviting the International Criminal Court into Syria, or establishing a truth and reconciliation commission. Such a measure might also help to reduce the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.
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