- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A day after campaigning with Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, sought to bolster his foreign policy resume with a vigorous defense of a muscular American foreign policy Wednesday, criticizing what he said was the increasingly prominent isolationist strain in his own party.

Mr. Rubio, widely touted as a leading contender to become Mr. Romney’s running mate, also told a packed room Wednesday at the Brookings Institution that both the Obama administration and some of his fellow Republicans failed to appreciate the full scope of America’s power to shape the global landscape.

Introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Democrat turned independent from Connecticut, the freshman lawmaker noted that he had found himself co-sponsoring foreign policy resolutions with Democratic colleagues such as New Jersey’s Robert Menendez and Pennsylvania’s Robert P. Casey Jr. and often facing opposition from his Republican colleagues.

“I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left,” Mr. Rubio said.

But Mr. Rubio also took issue with the Obama administration’s handling of foreign affairs, saying the White House too often relied passively on international coalitions to deal with crises that arise, rather than actively trying to shape those coalitions.

“I disagree with the way in which the current administration has chosen to engage,” Mr. Rubio said. “For while there are few global problems we can solve by ourselves, there are virtually no global problems that can be solved without us.”

After his election in 2010, Mr. Rubio became a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Select Committee on Intelligence and quickly aligned himself with Senate Republican hawks such as John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Mr. Rubio said that while he hoped negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program succeeded, “we should also be preparing our allies, and the world, for the reality that, unfortunately, if all else fails, preventing a nuclear Iran may tragically require a military solution.”

Mr. Rubio, who strongly backed the NATO mission in Libya despite the opposition of other conservative Republicans, also argued that the U.S. should be doing more to help rebels in Syria overthrow President Bashar Assad, whose yearlong violent crackdown on dissenters has claimed more than 11,000 lives.

“Forming and leading a coalition with Turkey and the Arab League nations to assist the opposition, by creating a safe haven and equipping the opposition with food, medicine, communications tools and potentially weapons, will not only weaken Iran,” he said. “It will ultimately increase our ability to influence the political environment of a post-Assad Syria.”

While the bulk of Mr. Rubio’s speech focused on the Middle East, he also called for a “re-energized U.S.-European coalition,” a firm commitment to defense agreements in East Asia and “a strong energy partnership with Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and a post-Chavez Venezuela.”

Mr. Rubio also railed against rising Republican opposition to foreign aid, which he called “a very cost-effective way not only to export our values, but to advance our security and economic interests.”

The comment puts him potentially at odds with Mr. Romney, who has vowed dramatic reductions in the foreign aid budget as part of his deficit-reduction approach.

Mr. Rubio made the speech as speculation intensifies that he may become Mr. Romney’s running mate. Mr. Romney formally kicked off the search for a running mate last week, when he picked longtime adviser Beth Myers to head his search.

Mr. Rubio’s Cuban-American background, tea party support and roots in the swing state of Florida are all seen as major electoral assets. Some Republican insiders, however, fear that the 40-year-old freshman senator may not be ready to be vice president.

The betting market Intrade has Mr. Rubio as the most likely Romney running mate — ahead of other contenders such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Mr. Rubio has repeatedly shot down reports of his interest in the vice presidency, going so far as to say that he would turn down the offer if given.

But in a recent gaffe that some called a Freudian slip, Mr. Rubio spoke of what he could accomplish “if I do a good job as vice president.” Mr. Rubio quickly corrected himself, saying that if he performed well in his current job over the coming years, “I’ll have a chance to do all sorts of things.”

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