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Right Turn
Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 05/11/2011

Interview with Sen. Marco Rubio: Leading from the front (part 2)

As I reported in part 1 of my interview with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the outspoken freshman is leading the debate and his party on critical foreign policy issues, including Syria. His staff indicated to me yesterday that he would be introducing a resolution on Syria. He expounded on that in a CBS Early Show interview this morning:

In yesterday’s interview I also asked Rubio about the new Hamas-Fatah unity government. He said succinctly, “The stated goal of Hamas is the destruction of the Jewish state. I find it difficult to understand how you negotiate then. The only thing you are discussing is the rate of your own destruction, how long it will take.” He speaks in stark, unequivocal terms in contrast to the administration, which seems allergic to drawing lines. “Israel is our ally,” he says. “Any negotiation has to prioritize Israel’s security.” He finds it “hard to imagine” how we could continue to fund a Palestinian entity in which Hamas is a party. As for the administration, which has been criticized for being more confrontational with Israel than its predecessors, Rubio is diplomatic but unmistakably concerned with the Obama administration’s approach. “I would like to see their commitment to Israel’s security.” He then lists his other hopes for a bolder pro-Israel policy. He says the United States should be clear that we oppose “in any shape or form” a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. He emphasizes, “We should do everything in our power” at the United Nations and with the European Union to block efforts to support a unilateral declaration of statehood.

He talks about Israel with emotional intensity and with the sort of clarity that has been utterly absent in this administration. The only subject on which is seems as passionate is Cuba. As an immigrant of Cubans fleeing oppression, he clearly has internalized a view of tyranny and a deep affection for dissidents living under totalitarian regimes. I ask him whether, in the wake of the conviction and imprisonment of American Alan Gross, the administration should rethink its decision to relax sanctions. He says bluntly, “We should never have authorized [relaxation of sanctions].” Dismissive of the administration’s seeming lack of comprehension of the nature of the Castro regime, he says, “How many interactions with tyrants will it take?” He spells out what seemingly has eluded the State Department. “Alan Gross is a pawn. They’ll release him to get public relations points,” he explains, just as “they detain people for the purpose of deterring dissidents.” He likewise finds it “an absurdity” to think Cuba is intent on real economic reform. A recent meeting of the Cuban Communist Party, he recalls, looked like something out of “Jurassic Park” — aging tyrants, uninterested and incapable of progress.

Toward the end of the interview we turn to the future of the Republican Party. Rubio has been emphatic that he won’t be on the 2012 ticket, but no one would deny he is a rising star in the GOP and one day is very likely to be on a presidential ticket. I ask him about last week’s Republican debate in which more than half the candidates advocated slashing defense and adopting a more isolationist foreign policy. Is he concerned about the direction of the party? He says bluntly, “That’s the wrong direction for America. There has never been a time when we could waste money on defense or foreign aid. We need to make sure the money is wisely spent. . . . On the other hand, to withdraw or retreat from the world will create a vacuum that will be filled by actors” not nearly as desirable or capable as the United States. He says isolationism and defense-cutting are shortsighted. “Disengaging from the world will end up costing us more,” he says. He is concerned that “21st-century American conservatism does not become the politics of neo-isolationism, of retreat. In the last century the U.S. has been a force for good. If you talk to people around the world, they’ll tell you the same thing.”

Republicans have high hopes for Rubio as a future leader. In part, that expectation is based on the realization that no conservative since Ronald Reagan has better articulated the connection between American values and a forward-leaning foreign policy. Republicans, as Rubio points out, run the risk of becoming narrow-minded and inward-looking. If Rubio, through his actions and words, can stymie that impulse he will be well on his way to ascending to the leadership of his party — and perhaps of the country.

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 05/11/2011

Categories:  Conservative movement, foreign policy, Senate GOP

 
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