By Kyle Balluck - 06/22/14 11:05 AM EDT
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Sunday that Islamic militants capturing large swaths of territory in Iraq have the potential to be more dangerous than al Qaeda.
“They want to establish an Islamic caliphate in sections of both Syria and Iraq and other places, potentially Jordan is next at some point,” he said. “And then they want to launch attacks in the exterior, external operations, including targeting our homeland. This is an extremely serious national security risk for the country if they were to establish that safe haven of operation.”
Rubio said al Qaeda was able to carry out the 9/11 attacks because it had a safe operating space in Taliban. History is trying to repeat itself, he added.
“ISIS is trying to establish the exact same thing in the Iraq-Syria region that they are increasingly controlling. And then from there, from this caliphate that they are setting up, they will continue to recruit, and train, and plot, and plan, and eventually carry out external operations in Europe, and potentially even here in the United States. So this is a very serious national security risk for the immediate and long-term future of our country,” he said.
Rubio described the growth of ISIS as an “urgent counterterrorism matter.”
“It is my view that we will either deal with ISIS now or we will deal with them later,” the senator said. “And later they are going to be stronger and harder to reach.”
Rubio also said he hopes President Obama’s announcement that he’s sending 300 advisers to Iraq is more than a symbolic measure, saying it should be just the first step in a multi-step process.
“I think that we need to figure out a way to cut off those supply lines from Iraq -- from Syria into Iraq. We may potentially even have to target their command and control structure that they have established, including in portions of Syria,” he said. “In the meantime, I think this also calls for us to continue to empower those moderate rebel forces in Syria who are engaged in conflict against ISIS, not just Assad. And I think we need to provide more assistance for Jordan, both in security and in their border, because I think this poses a risk to Jordan down the road and one we should take very seriously.”
Rubio dismissed concerns of his Senate colleague, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that the U.S. would become Iran's air force if it launches airstrikes in Iraq.
“The truth of the matter is that if we do nothing, Iran is still going to be involved. And in fact, if you think about it, imagine if Iran goes in there, becomes involved, and somehow helps the Iraqis turn back ISIS. You can rest assured that the a future Iraqi government will be completely, one hundred percent under the influence and in the pocket of Iran.”
Rubio also said the question of whether Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should step down is a tough one.
“The question is what replaces him,” Rubio said. “I certainly don't think he's been a good prime minister. I certainly believe that many of the problems that Iraq now faces are a direct result of failure of his leadership.
"And I think that's -- the time may very well be arriving when he should step aside and allow someone else who can help unify the country to take hold there. I think if you start to extrapolate this out further -- and you alluded to it in one of your earlier questions -- imagine for a moment if we were able to push ISIS back, doing the combination of air power and with what the Iraqis do on the ground. You still need a government that can govern and can bring the country together. I don't believe Maliki can do that,” he added.