Marco Rubio has no shortage of problems with the way President Obama has conducted his foreign policy.
The Florida senator and GOP presidential candidate says the Obama administration left “chaos” behind in the Middle East after withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2011. In an interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Rubio says that Russia has gained leverage from the perception that the United States abandoned the region.
Rubio says the United States has failed to be a reliable ally to countries in the region battling ISIS. Therefore, he says, “If left with a choice between Russia and nothing, they’re going to choose Russia.”
The U.S. has led an air campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, backed by Western and Arab allies. But efforts to mount a ground force to battle the extremists, or hold territory cleared by airstrikes, have flagged.
Rubio has also pledged to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran, if elected, on his first day in office. He does not believe Iran will stick to the deal, despite assurances by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in an NPR interview this weekend that his country has a “religious obligation” to do so.
Rouhani said statements by Rubio and other GOP presidential candidates that they would like to terminate the deal fuel skepticism in Iran that the U.S. will keep its promises.
Rubio predicts that Iran will eventually claim technicalities to “erode the deal’s restrictions on them.” Rubio adds, “They’ll challenge them, they’ll gamble that the West and the United States has so much invested in the success of this deal that we will tolerate those violations.”
The nuclear deal was secured on Capitol Hill despite strong opposition from Rubio and other Republicans, who control both the House and Senate.
In the wake of House Speaker John Boehner’s surprise resignation, which Rubio announced to cheers at a conference of social conservatives in Washington on Friday, Rubio says of the frustration with the GOP establishment, “It’s very real.”
“We know people are upset that they elected a Republican-majority Senate, have a Republican-majority House, and yet they seem incapable of getting anything done,” Rubio says.
Conservatives in Congress are likely facing another disappointment this week, as the GOP leadership appears capable of keeping the government funded past a Sept. 30 deadline, without stripping federal money for Planned Parenthood.
Rubio says the Republican establishment gave up in the fight against Planned Parenthood, which was sparked by a series of sting videos against the organization that provides a range of health services, including abortions. “They didn’t think they could win the public debate, and so they never even tried,” he tells NPR.
Attacking the party establishment appears to be smart politics in a campaign season when political outsiders have captured the energy in the presidential race.
Rubio has been in politics since he won a seat on the West Miami City Commission in 1998. He then rose through the ranks of Florida’s state Legislature, eventually taking the mantle of speaker in the state House of Representatives, before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 with the backing of the Tea Party.
Rubio has picked up steam recently in the presidential race, both in polls and by inheriting key campaign resources from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who dropped out of the race last week.
Perhaps there’s no clearer sign that Rubio is performing better than the fact that he’s come under attack by Donald Trump. In a pair of cable TV interviews last week, Trump called Rubio a “kid” and mocked him for getting “sweaty” during the last GOP debate, where several candidates complained of the heat on stage.
Since then, the two candidates have been engaged in a tit-for-tat. Rubio responded by saying that Trump is “touchy and insecure” in an interview with Kentucky Sports Radio on Thursday.
At the Values Voter Summit in Washington on Friday, Trump called Rubio a “clown” — drawing sustained boos from the crowd of social conservatives.
In response, Rubio tells NPR, “I’m not interested in the back and forth.” He then went on to further his criticism of Trump, referring to his presence in the race as a “freak show.”
“[Trump] is a very sensitive person. He doesn’t like to be criticized. He responds to criticism very poorly,” Rubio says. “His poll numbers have taken a beating, and he was embarrassed on national television at the debate by Carly Fiorina and others.”
“But this election is not going to be about Donald Trump,” Rubio adds. “He thinks it is, but it’s not about him. It has to be about the issues confronting our country. And my sense of it is that every time issues become prominent, he will say something outrageous or do something outrageous so that he doesn’t have to talk about the issues.”