Sen. Marco Rubio: ‘America cannot avoid its role as a global leader’

Sen. Marco Rubio did not hold back criticism — of the president, Congress or a potential 2016 presidential rival — in a foreign policy speech Wednesday that called for aggressive U.S. engagement in the world’s hot spots.

“America cannot avoid its role as a global leader,” the Florida Republican said in a speech at the Willard hotel.

He criticized defense budget cuts enacted by Congress and said it was a “mistake” for President Barack Obama to rule out combat troops to fight ISIS.

“When (Obama) delivered his first inaugural address, instead of reassuring our allies, he spoke directly to America’s enemies, indicating willingness — even eagerness — to change our nation’s posture toward them. He said, 'We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.’ Yet after taking office, he didn’t wait for our enemies to change their posture before changing ours,” Rubio said.

“Even as they clenched their fists tighter and tighter — continuing to threaten, target, even kill Americans — this administration was busy stripping parts from the engine of American strength.”

Congress has played a role, of course, with across-the-board budget cuts. Rubio talked about greatly ramping up defense spending and proposed savings through unspecified changes to Social Security and Medicare.

Rubio invoked rising public support for the fight against ISIS and took a not-so-subtle shot at Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who has been a leading voice to be more measured in the use of the military but has recently pushed back on the isolationist label.

“Too many leaders in both parties, including our president and some who aspire to be president, have shown they would rather wait for poll numbers to change than to demonstrate the leadership necessary to shape them,” Rubio said. “Instead of outlining the costs of inaction to our people months ago, when they should have, they were content to take the political path of least resistance. They advocated leaving our allies to fend for themselves. They proposed and defended massive reductions to defense spending. And they tried to convince Americans the world would be fine without our leadership, or worse, that America would be fine regardless of the chaos the world devolved into All the while, those who oppose America have grown bolder than ever ...”

The speech was scheduled before the situation with ISIS grabbed national attention but it has given Rubio a platform to project strength at a worrisome time. In a speech a year ago, he said he was neither a hawk nor a dove but on Wednesday he made abundantly clear where he stands.