WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gave a major foreign policy address Wednesday at the Brookings Institution, the prominent liberal think tank, amid widespread speculation that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would choose him as his running mate.
Moving away somewhat from the partisan critiques of President Barack Obama's policies heard on the campaign trail during the GOP primary, Rubio criticized Democrats and Republicans alike in an apparent attempt to position himself in the foreign policy center.
"The easiest thing for me to do here today is give a speech on my disagreement with this administration on foreign policy. I have many," Rubio said, adding that he wanted to address the trend "that increasingly says it is time to focus less on the world and more on ourselves."
He argued that while until recently, the perception was that most Republicans "believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy," he had seen a shift in the foreign policy debate during his time in the Senate, and that more lawmakers were working together and reaching across the aisle.
"On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and staying out of Libya," said Rubio. "On the other hand I found myself partnering with Democrats like Bob Menendez and Bob Casey on a more forceful foreign policy."
"In fact, resolutions that I co-authored with Senator Casey condemning Assad and with Senator Menendez condemning fraudulent elections in Nicaragua where held up by Republicans," he continued. "I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left."
Rubio received a soaring introduction from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), who called him a "rising star in the next generation of America's foreign policy leaders" and praised him as "principled, patriotic and practical."
At times during his speech, Rubio appeared to be echoing points made by President Barack Obama. Speaking about efforts to solve global problems, he said, "experience has proven that American leadership is almost always indispensable to their success."
In his 2012 State of the Union address, Obama said, "America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs," adding, "and as long as I’m president, I intend to keep it that way."
Both Obama and Rubio are also influenced by Robert Kagan, the neoconservative Brookings senior fellow who is also a Romney adviser. In the speech, Rubio paraphrased the argument Kagan made in his recent book," The World America Made," against American decline.
"I know this is a time of great uncertainty. A time when many wonder if America is in decline. As Bob Kagan points out in his book, however, there have been other times when we felt less than confident about the future." After discussing the setbacks the nation faced in the 1970s, he said, "there is absolutely no reason why America cannot remain a global superpower in this new century as well."
Obama, who lauded an essay by Kagan based on the book in January, made a similar argument in his State of the Union. "The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe," he said. "Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about."
On Iran, Rubio said a diplomatic solution was preferable, adding that "if all else fails, preventing a nuclear Iran may require a military solution." It wasn't a significantly different stance than Obama's, who said in the State of the Union that he will "take no options off the table … but a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better."
In the question-and-answer session that took place after the speech, Rubio was asked whether or not his foreign policy disagreements with the current administration were fundamental.
He responded that he had always tried to keep foreign policy as "nonpartisan as possible" but said there might be a "fundamental difference of opinion … not that we should be engaged, but rather how we engage."
He cited the Libya intervention as a specific area of disagreement with the Obama administration, but his point was nuanced. He said that the intervention had "turned out fine," but clarified, "My argument was not that it didn't work out. My argument was that if the U.S. had been more engaged the job would have been done sooner." He went on to say that he was "taken aback" during a visit to Libya by the amount of pro-American graffiti he saw, and by the number of people who came up to him to thank the United States and President Obama for the intervention.
In his speech, Rubio did not mention Iraq and mentioned Afghanistan three times in only general terms. Marvin Kalb, who moderated the event, asked Rubio about his position on Afghanistan, pointing out that he had barely addressed it.
"I don't think it's going to become Canada, but I certainly think it has the opportunity to create for itself a functional nation state," he said. "But again, a lot of that will be dependent upon our commitment to helping them get there."