Sen. Marco Rubio speaks with FNC's Chris Wallace about his position on the war in Syria, explaining where he has differed and where he has agreed with Senator Paul since 2013 when President Obama ignored his own 'red line.'
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: We need a ground force that defeats ISIS, and it should made up primarily of Arab Sunnis. That’s the only way you’re going to defeat them. They have to be defeated by Arab Sunnis themselves. So, they’re going to be the bulk of the ground force.
There will have to be American operators embedded alongside them. Special operators are combat troops. This is not a return to Iraq. We're not talking about 100,000 people or 50,000 armed soldiers.
But we are talking about a significant force with special operators and others with specific missions that will have to be embedded alongside that Sunni Arab coalition that this president and the United States must put together if we are to defeat ISIS on the ground. It's the only way to do it. They have to be defeated by a ground force and have to be made up primarily of Sunnis.
CHRIS WALLACE, FNC: You are clearly one of the foreign policy hawks in the current GOP field. But some of your opponents note that back in 2013, when Bashar al Assad, the Syrian dictator, used chemical weapons -- crossed the red line and used chemical weapons against his own people, that you voted against the use of force allowing President Obama to use force against Assad.
Why is that, sir?
RUBIO: Well, first of all, I don't support air strikes again Assad now. No one is calling for those now either.
I thought: number one, it would be counterproductive, especially the way the president was describing what the strikes should be. We shouldn’t take symbolic military action or military action to send a message. You should only take military action if you have a very clear objective and you’re providing the resources necessary to win.
The second is, I offered an alternative to airstrikes at the time. I very clearly outlined what we should be doing instead. It included increased sanctions on institutions that were propping up Assad, but it also included a more robust effort to identify non-radical Sunni elements within Syria that we could empower to topple Assad, but also to ensure that no vacuums were being created for groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra and others to take hold.
I felt that airstrikes -- and I still do -- against Assad at the time would have been counterproductive. He would have survived. He would have remained in power and it would have strengthened his hand and allowed him to send the message to the world that he had taken on the United States and still held on. In fact, it may have rallied some in the Arab world to his side as a result of such a strike.
So, those are the reasons why I thought that that should not have been the appropriate response at the time. If military response is the appropriate response, I will support it. In the case of ISIS, it is the appropriate response to have additional airstrikes.
But no one is calling on airstrikes on Assad now, and I thought it was wrong then, too.
WALLACE: And some question the fact that is in voting against authorizing force you were voting along with Rand Paul, who you now call a committed isolationist.
RUBIO: Well, but for very different reasons. Senator Paul didn’t want us not just not to conduct airstrikes. He didn't want us to do anything involving our conflict.
I argued that the red line being crossed should have meant the U.S. should have openly and actively engaged in identifying non-jihadist elements on the ground in Syria that were trying to topple Assad and empower them, to not just to topple Assad, but to be able to govern the country in its aftermath.
I thought that should have been the response even before the president laid out the red line. And I thought that once he used chemical weapons, that for sure would have triggered that sort of response. And the result is not only that Assad is still in power, but now, Russia has moved into the region and these radical jihadist groups have taken the advantage of the vacuum that was left behind.
So, it is true that we had the same vote, but for very different reasons. And, in fact, I called for us to do other things instead, and Senator Paul and others said for us not to do anything at all. And I thought that was a terrible mistake. We've seen what the result of that has been.
Rubio on the Syrian refugees:
RUBIO: No, my argument is that we can't allow anyone into this country that we can’t vet. And I believe that the vast majority of refugees that are trying to come here are people we will not be able to vet.
Does commonsense still apply? Of course, it does. A 5-year-old orphan, a 90-year-old widow, and well-known Chaldean priest, these are obviously commonsense applications, and you can clearly vet them just by commonsense. But what about someone who doesn’t fit that profile? There is no reliable database that we can rely on. There is no existing government institution in their home country that we can call up and run them against.