President Obama recently summarized his vision for a military offensive against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria. The administration’s entire approach was packaged in four sentences:
“To confront the Islamic State terrorists, we need a sustained air campaign targeting their leadership, sources of income and supply routes, wherever they exist. We must increase our efforts to equip and capacitate non-jihadists in Syria to fight the terrorist group. And we must arm and support forces in Iraq confronting it, including responsible Iraqi partners and the Kurds. In addition, we must persuade nations in the region threatened by the Islamic State to participate in real efforts to defeat it.”
Wait, did I say that was President Obama’s summary of his policy? I meant this was an op-ed from Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), in which the far-right senator condemned “the president’s failed isolationist policies.”
Rubio has been going out of his way to position himself as a leading, hawkish voice on foreign policy, though his efforts have occasionally been awkward, as evidenced by the senator urging Obama to follow the exact same course Obama himself had already presented to the nation two days earlier.
This continued yesterday when the Florida Republican talked to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto about developments in the Middle East.
CAVUTO: If you ever became president – if you ever had the interest, Senator – would you advocate a permanent U.S. troop presence in the region? Permanent?RUBIO: Absolutely. Absolutely…. [I]f the U.S. had a presence [in Iraq], we would have more leverage over how Maliki conducted his affairs. You would have had a more stable region, but also a place where you could conduct operations against other threats in the region.
All available evidence pointed in the exact opposite direction. Kevin Drum called Rubio’s comments “crazy,” explaining, “We had troops in Iraq for a decade. During that time, which spanned two different US presidents, we had virtually no success at getting Nouri al-Maliki to form an inclusive government that didn’t gratuitously piss off Sunnis as a routine element of policy. Hell, Maliki didn’t even take advantage of the Sunni Awakening…. If that didn’t do the trick, along with a hundred thousand American troops and near-daily calls with President Bush, what possible hope is there that a small residual force would have had any leverage at all?”
I think that’s exactly right, though I’d add that Obama’s approach actually used the possibility of military intervention as leverage to help show Maliki the door. It’s not just that Rubio’s approach is mistaken, it’s also that his approach is based on assumptions that have the basic details backwards.
Making matters slightly worse, Simon Maloy did a great job yesterday noting that Rubio, eager to condemn the president for pursuing a policy the senator actually likes, has tied himself into knots.
…Rubio has pulled off the remarkable feat of flip-flopping and then flipping back again on the White House’s ISIS strategy. In less than two weeks he’s taken a dizzying array of positions on ISIS and Syria and the White House’s plan for addressing both.
Given the broader circumstances, it’s likely the conservative Floridian is looking for a new signature issue on which to base a national campaign. That was supposed to be immigration policy – Rubio was a member of the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” – but the GOP’s far-right base long ago condemned comprehensive immigration reform and its proponents.
Plan B appears to be national security and foreign policy. If the last couple of weeks are any indication, Team Rubio might need a Plan C.