Eager to set himself apart from tea party figures in his own party skeptical of U.S. interventions abroad, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, warned Wednesday that it would be a grave "mistake" if the United States disengaged from world affairs.
"We are often led to think that other nations are tired of the role America has played in global affairs," Mr. Rubio, widely seen as a potential 2016 presidential contender, said in a wide-ranging address at the American Enterprise Institute — a conservative Washington think tank known for advocating a pro-interventionist American foreign policy.
"But in fact," Mr. Rubio said, "it is the fear of a disengaged America that worries countries all over the world."
"There is no denying that a globally engaged America comes at a steep price," the freshman senator said. "But the history of our still young nation is full of warnings that a lack of American engagement comes with an even higher price of its own."
The remarks signal the latest attempt by Mr. Rubio, a Cuban-American native of Miami, to carve out a foreign policy posture that differs from that of his potential challengers for the Republican nomination — in particular fellow Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.
Mr. Cruz's supporters have been known to bristle at just about any media characterization of his foreign policy views as isolationist. But political analysts generally agree that both he and Mr. Paul are likely to stake out notably more anti-interventionist stances than Mr. Rubio, on issues ranging from military action in Syria to U.S. military drone policy.
Mr. Rubio asserted Wednesday that "the decisive use of diplomacy, foreign assistance and economic power" by Washington "should vastly outnumber our uses of force," but added that U.S. military engagement around the world should always be on the table.
"Sometimes military engagement is our best option. And sometimes it's our only option," Mr. Rubio said. "In those instances, it must be abundantly clear to both our allies and our adversaries that we will not hesitate to engage unparalleled military might on behalf of our security, the security of our allies and our interests around the world."
"Diplomacy, foreign assistance and military intervention are tools at our disposal," he said. "But foreign policy cannot be simply about tactics. It must be strategic, with a clear set of goals that guide us in deciding how to apply our influence."
While the Republican Party has long had a hawkish interventionist wing led by Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mr. Paul has emerged as a leading voice for a more libertarian foreign policy skeptical of both military action abroad and U.S. foreign aid programs.
The Kentucky Republican has suggested cutting foreign aid in half and completely excluding countries, primarily in the Muslim world, that don't share American values.
Mr. Rubio, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, argued for a middle ground Wednesday.
"The problem is these labels are obsolete," he said. "They come from the world of the past."
He also used the speech to reaffirm his support for stiffer penalties against Iran as Western powers and Tehran seek to resolve a standoff over the country's nuclear program.
Mr. Rubio, who has criticized an international proposal to ease the economic penalties, criticized the Obama administration for what he described as its passive foreign policy.
He said the administration had hesitated during conflicts in Libya and Syria that later erupted into chaos, and failed to condemn human rights abuses in Latin America and Russia.
The Associated Press reported that Mr. Rubio will engage in another foreign policy speech next month at London's Chatham House, an international affairs think tank.
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