Thursday, September 17, 2015
Marco Rubio presses foreign policy creds at Republican debate
Sen. Marco Rubio has staked much of his presidential campaign on being the Republican candidate with the most foreign policy know-how.
He used that experience to full advantage during Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate, delivering a performance that many pundits said helped him stand out on the crowded stage.
When he wasn’t blasting China for cyber attacks and for building artificial islands in the South China Sea— “the most important shipping lane in the world” — he was assailing Russian President Vladimir Putin for “threatening to destroy and divide NATO.”
When he wasn’t slamming President Obama for not doing enough to find — and back— moderate Syrians against their president, Bashar al-Assad, he was bashing the administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.
“We have a president that is more respectful to the ayatollah in Iran than he is to the prime minister of Israel,” the Florida senator zinged during the three-hour, CNN-sponsored debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif.
Rubio aimed some of his hardest jabs at frontrunner Donald Trump, who said he’s assembling a team of experts in his effort to learn more about international issues.
Prodded by moderator Jake Tapper to state clearly whether he has “the knowledge to be the president that Mr. Trump does not have,” Rubio was blunt.
“You should ask him questions in detail about the foreign policy issues our president will confront, because you had better be able to lead our country on the first day,” Rubio said. “Not six months from now, not a year from now. On the first day in office, our president could very well confront a national security crisis. You can’t predict it. Sometimes you cannot control it.”
Whether Rubio’s performance will boost his poll number is hard to say.
Observers similarly applauded his showing at the first GOP debate last month in Cleveland, but Rubio continues to languish in the low-to mid- single digits in national polls.
Kori Schake, a senior defense and foreign policy adviser to the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, was impressed not only with Rubio’s command of the issues at Wednesday’s debate, but with his comments on how he would project more than military might as president.
Rubio said one of his first acts would be to visit key allies — Israel, South Korea and Japan — to let them know “we stand with them.” He also talked about flying to China and Russia to meet with leaders there as well as with dissidents who “aspire to freedom and liberty.”
The son of Cuban immigrants also said he hopes to one day land Air Force One “in a free Cuba, where its people can choose its leaders and its own destiny.”
“He was the only one of the candidates who talked about American values as an essential component of American power,” said Schake, a fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “Nobody (else) said ‘America’s power in the world is more than our military, it’s about the attraction of our beliefs.’ I thought he was really good on that.”
Schake doesn’t think the presidential election will turn on foreign policy. But she said voters want to be sure a particular candidate is competent on international issues before assessing that candidate on domestic and social matters.
The economy tends to dominate presidential elections, with global affairs often a middle-tier concern. A Gallup Poll in May ranked the economy, how Washington operates, health care policy, terrorism and income distribution as more important than foreign policy.
But Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, says international concerns likely will weigh heavily in the GOP primary.
“The economy is improving under President Barack Obama, making it a less attractive political target,” Haass wrote recently. “Global turbulence, by contrast, has given the Republicans more room to attack Obama and the Democrats.”
Schake faulted Rubio and the 10 other GOP candidates on stage Wednesday for not offering solutions to thorny foreign issues.
“He was better in description than in prescription,” she said of Rubio. “What are we going to do about these problems and how do we persuade Americans that your approach is enough to solve the problem but doesn’t over-commit us?”