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GOP Presidential Hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio Releases Foreign Policy Plan


We'll report next on the evolving presidential campaign. In the early months of this contest, the candidates, declared and undeclared, are talking more than you might expect about foreign policy. And any candidate will have to be credible on foreign policy. Marco Rubio laid out a vision yesterday, as NPR's Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Rubio presents himself as the candidate with the most foreign-policy experience in the GOP field. Since he came to the Senate four years ago, he's served on both the Foreign Relations Committee and the Intelligence Committee. Yesterday, he laid out his foreign-policy plan at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

SENATOR MARCO RUBIO: The 21st century requires a president who will set forth a doctrine for the exercise of American influence in the world. Today, I intend to offer such a doctrine.

LIASSON: Rubio said his doctrine has three pillars, and it was hard to argue with any of them - first priority, adequately fund the military. Second, use American power to protect U.S. economic interests in international waters, airspace, cyberspace or outer space. And the third pillar...

RUBIO: As president, I will support the spread of economic and political freedom by reinforcing our alliances, resisting efforts by large powers to subjugate their smaller neighbors and advance the rights of the vulnerable, including women and religious minorities.

LIASSON: Rubio didn't say how he'd project American power or what he'd do if America's allies were the ones persecuting women and minorities, but he's not alone in avoiding the details. All the Republican candidates have been blasting President Obama and Hillary Clinton for what they say is a disastrous foreign-policy, and they all promise they'd be tougher. Former Obama Pentagon official Rosa Brooks says that's not surprising.

ROSA BROOKS: Those are the kind of things that candidates say without much specificity, and when they become president, they suddenly become a lot more cautious. I doubt we're going to see any of them getting very specific for some time to come, if ever.

LIASSON: Foreign policy is a particular problem for the Republican candidates who are governors and for the three freshmen senators, including Rubio. But it's a unique problem for Jeb Bush, who promised to be, quote, "his own man." Bush has had trouble explaining how he would differ from his brother, President George W. Bush. Here he is on Monday with Fox News's Megyn Kelly.


MEGYN KELLY: On the subject of Iraq...


KELLY: Obviously very controversial - know what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?

BUSH: I would've.

LIASSON: By Tuesday, Bush was walking that back, saying he misheard the question - thought it was about what he would have done at the time. He called in to Sean Hannity's radio show and got the chance to answer the question again.


SEAN HANNITY: So in other words, if in 20/20 hindsight, you would make a different decision.

BUSH: Yeah. I don't know what that decision would've been. That's a hypothetical.

LIASSON: Rosa Brooks is puzzled by Bush's answer. The safe bipartisan answer, she says, is to say, knowing what we know now, the Iraq War was a mistake.

BROOKS: I can't, for the life of me, figure out why he doesn't do that, particularly for a guy whose dilemma is going to be differentiating himself from George W.

LIASSON: Bush's Republican rivals had no trouble at all giving a clear answer and poking him in the process. Here's Chris Christie on CNN answering the same question that Bush punted.


GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE: I want to directly answer your question 'cause that's what I do. If we knew then what we know now and I were the president of the United States, I wouldn't have gone to war.

LIASSON: Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich agreed, and Rand Paul, who is more reluctant to intervene overseas, went even further, saying he thought the war in Iraq was a mistake at the time. On CNN, he said the evidence is what happened after the U.S. invasion and emboldened Iran and ISIS on the move.


SENATOR RAND PAUL: So I think we're a lot worse off with Hussein gone. But I think there's a consistent theme here that every candidate should be asked, and that is, is it a good idea to go into the Middle East, topple governments and hope that something better rises out of the chaos?

LIASSON: That's something the Republican candidates will have plenty of time to debate. So far, with the exception of Paul, they've concluded that Republican voters want a muscular, more interventionist foreign policy, at least one where the costs are not spelled out in great detail. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: On MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.