Rubio: If I were in charge, we would have armed the Syrian rebels much sooner

Via the Washington Free Beacon, a reminder that if you’re down on Rubio for being too much like McCain on immigration, you can take comfort in the fact that he’s … a lot like McCain on foreign policy too.

I think he’s right that our chances of “success” in Syria would have been better if we’d acted sooner, but that’s like saying a five-percent chance is worth acting on because it’s better than zero percent. And to my surprise, he’s not taking the easy opportunity to say now that it’s flatly too late to intervene thanks to Obama’s dithering. He says we should continue to look for moderates there who’ll respect human rights and work with them. Is that what the public wants? According to a new Pew poll out today, fully 70 percent are opposed to arming the rebels. Note the partisan split:


I think most Republicans on balance remain hawkish, which is why Rand Paul’s going to run into problems in 2016. But if it comes down to Paul versus an opponent who’s never quite willing to rule out intervention? I don’t know. I’d prefer a candidate who’s judiciously hawkish, but if you gave me a straight-up choice right now between Paul’s foreign policy, warts and all, and McCain’s foreign policy, I know which one I’d choose. The real problem with the Rubio “early intervention” approach is this: What’s its limiting principle? How soon after an insurrection breaks out against some enemy regime should we move to identify “moderates” internally and start arming them, even if the likely successor regime is as radical as (or more radical than) the regime in power? Should we, in the name of democracy, also support insurrections against friendly regimes like the Saudis? (Our new “ally” in Egypt signaled his support for Syrian jihadis just yesterday.) It’s an odd criticism after Iraq, Libya, and now Syria to say that America’s big strategic problem is that we’re not intervening in the Arab world quickly enough. And it’s especially odd coming from a guy who’s working day and night right now on immigration in order to help rebrand his party. We’re going to rebrand as amnesty-friendly, but not as slightly less super-hawkish than Bush and Obama have been? Huh.

Then again, maybe this is Rubio’s way of saying it’s flatly too late for intervention. He doesn’t seem optimistic that there’s any real pro-American, pro-human rights constituency on the ground there. (For good reason.) He’s also quite right that the jihadis are the best-armed rebel force: According to an analyst who spoke to CNN, Al Qaeda’s adherents in Syria are now the best-equipped AQ outfit in the world. The sound reason to keep looking for and working with “moderates” there isn’t because they’ll have any real power in a post-Assad Syria but because they might have information on where to find the leaders of the jihadi militias who inevitably take power. We’re going to be droning the hell out of people in Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, etc, if the rebels take over. Might as well start building a target list now.