In promoting U.S. global might, Marco Rubio takes on war-in-Iraq question

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and a 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaking during an appearance in Greenville, S.C. Rubio’s views on foreign policy have evolved from moderate to ultra-hawk.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. and a 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, speaking during an appearance in Greenville, S.C. Rubio’s views on foreign policy have evolved from moderate to ultra-hawk. BLOOMBERG NEWS

Marco Rubio, who is running for president from the right of many of his conservative competitors, on Wednesday addressed one of the key questions facing many candidates this election.

Would he have gone to war in Iraq, given what we know now? Rubio, a freshman Republican senator, said no.

After giving his first major policy speech since announcing his candidacy a month ago, Rubio was asked the question that rival and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was recently asked. Bush has said he misunderstood the question and backed away from his response, which initially was to say he would have authorized the war — even knowing what we know now.

Journalist Charlie Rose, who moderated the Council on Foreign Relations event in New York, asked Rubio directly: Looking back on the Iraq war, after finding out that there were no weapons of mass destruction, “would you — if you knew that — have been in favor” of the Iraq invasion?

Rubio said no. “Not only would I not have been in favor of it, President [George W.] Bush would not have been in favor of it. And he said so.”

The former president, the older brother of candidate Jeb Bush, wrote in his book, “Decision Points” that he sent troops into Iraq “based in large part on intelligence that proved false.”

In a 20-minute speech before the influential Council on Foreign Relations, Rubio — who is from West Miami — started by quoting John F. Kennedy, praised the actions of Ronald Reagan and blistered the tenure of Barack Obama as he outlined a three-prong foreign policy that he said would amplify American strength.

As Rubio criticized Obama, he also took an unnamed swipe at Hillary Clinton, who more likely than not would be his Democratic challenger were he to win the Republican Party nomination for president.

“We simply cannot afford to elect as our next president one of the leading agents of this administration’s foreign policy — a leader from yesterday whose tenure as secretary of state was ineffective at best and dangerously negligent at worst,” he said. “The stakes of tomorrow are too high to look to the failed leadership of yesterday.”

Clinton, a former first lady and senator, was secretary of state during Obama’s first term. She is the leading contender for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

Rubio announced his campaign a month ago and has emerged as a formidable, top-tier candidate, one whose public support is catching up to the support he long enjoyed among political insiders. The latest average by RealClearPolitics, an independent political news organization that compiles polling data, puts Rubio just behind Jeb Bush among Republicans declared or likely to do so — although nobody’s support in the huge field is above 16 percent.

Rubio’s Wednesday afternoon speech was held before heavyweights of foreign policy and political circles, and analysts said he needed to articulate a broad foreign policy vision.

He’s generally considered among the most hawkish of the Republicans seeking the presidency, with analysts saying he has displayed an aggressive enthusiasm for intervention abroad.

He has urged military action or support in Libya and Syria, for example, and supported giving authorization to the president to take the military steps necessary to destroy Islamic State terrorists in Iraq. He has also been supportive of foreign aid — something often targeted by conservative deficit hawks — and has said U.S. leadership in the world doesn’t have to be just through its military.

In the speech, Rubio laid out a foreign policy doctrine designed to ensure American strength and to adequately fund the U.S. military; articulate America’s core values worldwide; and protect the American economy in a globalized world — in part by opposing any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace or outer space.

“This includes the economic disruption caused when one country invades another, as well as the chaos caused by disruptions in chokepoints such as the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz,” Rubio said. “Russia, China, Iran or any other nation that attempts to block global commerce will know to expect a response from my administration. Gone will be the days of debating where a ship is flagged or whether it is our place to criticize territorial expansionism. In this century, businesses must have the freedom to operate around the world with confidence.”

And he emphasized his belief in a need for foreign aid.

“We must recognize that our nation is a global leader not just because it has superior arms, but because it has superior aims,” he said. “America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory.”

His opening tribute to Kennedy recounted the words the president spoke just before his assassination in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963. In that speech, Kennedy said he was confident “that our chances for security, our chances for peace, are better than they have been in the past. And the reason is because we are stronger.”

That is something, Rubio said, that Obama doesn’t understand — that “American strength is a means of preventing war, not promoting it. And that weakness, on the other hand, is the friend of danger and the enemy of peace.”

Rubio: Wouldn’t have invaded Iraq based on what is now known

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says he wouldn’t have invaded Iraq in 2003 based on what is now known about flaws in intelligence reports.

“Not only would I have not been in favor of it,” said Rubio. “President Bush would not have been in favor of it.”

Rubio made his remarks to CBS’s Charlie Rose, who interviewed the GOP presidential candidate following a major foreign policy speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Wednesday.

Rubio is the latest Republican presidential candidate to try to draw a distinction with Jeb Bush on Iraq. Bush said Tuesday that while mistakes were made in the lead-up to the Iraq war, he doesn’t know what decision he would have made if he had access to accurate intelligence.

Bush’s brother, George W. Bush, was president when the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Rubio has previously said the U.S. is better off for having gone into Iraq. Asked in March if it was a mistake to invade Iraq, Rubio said the world was safer without Saddam Hussein running the country.

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