Eyeing 2016 rivals, Rubio says US can't 'look inward' on foreign policy

Greg Nash

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) on Wednesday said America's enemies have been “emboldened” by President Obama's “uncertain foreign policy.” 

In a speech aimed squarely at his possible presidential rivals in 2016, Rubio said Obama has damaged U.S. credibility in the Middle East and around the world.

But he said critics of U.S. involvement overseas — which include potential 2016 rival Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) — are also dead wrong.

ADVERTISEMENT
“From his first days in office, President Obama has seemed unsure of the role that American power and principles should play around the world. He has failed to understand that in foreign policy, the timing and decisiveness of our actions matter almost as much as how we engage,” Rubio told the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

“As instability spreads and tyrants flourish, our allies want to know whether America can still be counted on to confront these common challenges,” he said. “Whether we will continue to be a beacon to the rest of the world.”

The speech comes as Rubio's star has dimmed in recent months because of his work on immigration reform. Conservatives have denounced the sweeping immigration bill that Rubio helped craft in the "Gang of Eight," and he has fallen in polling of possible 2016 candidates.

The conservative base also has concerns with U.S. foreign aid and intervention abroad, but Rubio, a hawkish member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remains a steadfast supporter of U.S engagement abroad.

“When we have listened to voices urging us to look inward, we have failed to meet threats growing abroad until it was almost too late,” he said. “And now, we are on the verge of repeating that mistake once again.”

He said Obama's reluctance to intervene in Syria demonstrates that America cannot avoid negative fallout by staying on the sidelines. 

“We are left with the high likelihood of the worst possible outcome: a divided Syria, with a pro-Iran murderous dictator in control of part of the country, and radical jihadists in control of much of the rest,” he said. “Our closest allies in the region are now openly questioning the value of our friendship.”

He faulted Obama for appearing “overly eager to negotiate a deal with Iran,” for allowing Libya to become a “safe haven for terrorists and a source of instability in the region” and for his broader “disengagement” from the Middle East in favor of the so-called “pivot to Asia.”

“Our foreign policy cannot be one that picks and chooses which regions to pay attention to and which to ignore,” Rubio said. “In fact, our standing as a world power depends on our ability to engage globally anywhere and at anytime our interests are at stake.”

Rubio went on to criticize what he called Washington's artificial division of foreign policy leaders into two camps — isolationist “doves” and war-hungry “hawks.”

“The time has now come for a new vision for America's role abroad — one that reflects the reality of the world we live in today,” he said. 

“I ask you: If America stops leading, who will fill the vacuum we leave behind? Is there a candidate nation for this role that can offer the security and benevolence that America can? Is there any other nation we can trust to spread the values of liberty and peace and democracy? There is not.”

Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: jpecquet@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @TheHillGlobal and @JPecquetTheHill