Senator Marco Rubio offered his full-throated support Wednesday for the U.S. intervention in Libya and called on President Barack Obama to be clear that regime change is the objective of America’s involvement. In an interview yesterday afternoon, Rubio said that failing to remove Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, after Obama publicly called for him to go, would have grave consequences for America’s reputation in the region and in the world.
“When an American president says the guy needs to go, you better make sure that it happens because your credibility and your stature in the world is on the line,” he said.
While Rubio is critical of some details of the Obama administration’s handling of Libya – they waited too long to act, he says, and failed to provide a clear objective for U.S. involvement – Rubio supports President Obama’s decision to intervene.
Last night, Rubio sent a letter to Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, calling for Congress to affirm Obama’s policy by authorizing the use of the military force in Libya and to make explicit the goal of regime change. “This resolution should also state that removing Moamar Qadhafi from power is in our national interest and therefore should authorize the President to accomplish this goal. To that end, the resolution should urge the President to immediately recognize the Interim Transitional National Council as the legitimate government in Libya.”
Rubio says the case for intervention is part moral and part strategic. The United States, as the most powerful country in the world, has unique moral responsibilities to promote American values and protect innocent civilians from being slaughtered by their own government. In Libya, successful American intervention not only could displace a longtime enemy in Qaddafi but could serve as an example to dictators throughout the region.
“If we believe that the rise of this new attitude among young people and others seeking a new life and a new way in the Middle East is a positive thing, and I believe that it is, then it serves our national interest to see that happen,” he says. “The last thing you want is for someone like Muammar Qaddafi to get away with crushing something like that through brutal force. Because what he does is create a blueprint for how Syria should handle this, Iran should handle this, and everyone else should handle this.”
Rubio added: “And if the Libyan people want to get rid of him, and we have a chance to influence that in a positive way without hurting ourselves, we should. And the message should be: If you’re an enemy of the United States and we have a chance to take a shot at you in a way that doesn’t hurt us, and has a chance of being successful, we’re probably going to take it. There’s a price to pay for being an enemy of the United States. It’s not a good idea to be on our bad side. And that’s an important message to send. And I think the president reached that same conclusion when he stood in front of the microphone in front of the world and said Moamar Qadhafi must go.”
Still, he says, the administration is complicating matters with phony multilateralism. “This idea that we’re turning this over to NATO is quite frankly humorous. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad because we are NATO. And that needs to be confronted and that needs to be handled. I hope he’ll define himself a little bit better in the next few days.”
Rubio’s decision to speak out on Libya and the Middle East comes at an interesting time. Many conservatives, including prominent talk radio hosts, have argued, echoing Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that U.S. intervention in Libya serves no vital national interest. Several senators made precisely that argument at a meeting on Libya Wednesday afternoon of Senate Republicans that several sources described as “contentious.” Rubio disagrees.
“What’s happening in Libya has a direct impact on what’s happening in Syria – and Syria is basically a satellite state of Iran. So the first thing I would say to you is that the best defense is a good offense. The fact that Iran is worried about Libya and worried about Syria and ultimately worried about themselves is good. If they’re tied up dealing with those things they can’t be going around the world trying to undermine us,” he says.
“The second national interest for us is that we would love to see, to the extent possible – peaceful countries run by people that are in search of prosperity are not out there attacking the United States, are not out there harboring terrorists. They want no part of that. And if the people of the region are willing to take this on and we can do anything to help them do that, we should.”