Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, potential rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, both cast votes Wednesday against a resolution to authorize U.S. military strikes in Syria.
But Rubio immediately sought to distance himself from a growing non-interventionist movement in the GOP that counts the libertarian-leaning Paul among its leaders.
Paul has argued that the civil war in Syria has “no clear national security connection to the United States.”
But Rubio contended otherwise in a statement shortly after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 to send the Syria resolution to the full Senate.
“What is happening in Syria is a vital national security concern for the United States,” said Rubio. He said Syria is important to Iran and its ambitions to dominate the region and to supply Hezbollah with arms. Rubio called Syrian President Bashar Assad a “dangerous anti-American dictator.”
While criticizing Assad and his use of chemical weapons, Rubio said: “I remain unconvinced that the use of force proposed here will work. The only thing that will prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future is for the Syrian people to remove him from power.”
Rubio since 2011 has urged the U.S. to impose sanctions against the Assad government and to support elements working toward Assad’s removal.
“Had we forcefully engaged in empowering moderate rebels earlier in this conflict, today we would have more and better options before us,” Rubio said. “But instead, unfortunately, the president, with the support of some voices in my party, chose to let others lead instead and now we are dealing with the consequences of that inaction.”
Despite opposing the Syria resolution, Rubio said the U.S. cannot retreat from global involvement.
“There is a movement afoot in both parties to disengage the United States from issues throughout the world. And it is true that we cannot solve every crisis on this planet. But if we follow the advice of those who seek to disengage us from global issues, in the long run we will pay a terrible price,” Rubio said.
Echoing the American exceptionalism theme of his 2010 Senate candidacy, Rubio said: “We must recognize that the world is a safer place when America is the strongest country in the world. When America doesn’t lead, chaos follows. And eventually that chaos forces us to deal with these problems in the most expensive and in the most dangerous ways imaginable.”