Rubio Goes Toe-to-Toe with Putin Over Syria

As previously noted, the Republican presidential debate took a sharp turn from its traditional focus on domestic issues to an emphasis on foreign policy in the past few days. As world leaders gathered in New York for the UN General Assembly and amid recent Russian air strikes in Syria, Republican presidential candidates outlined specific policy proposals as to how to restore U.S. leadership on a national security issue left hanging for several years.

On Friday, Ohio Governor John Kasich suggested certain areas of Syria to be designated as sanctuaries from violence for civilians and made no-fly zones.

“Russia’s recent military build-up and intervention in Syria are neither intended to defeat ISIS nor to relieve the suffering of Syrian refugees. Mr. Putin’s real goals are quite different: to take military action to rescue Assad’s criminal government from its death and to strengthen Russia’s strategic position in the Eastern Mediterranean. This is unacceptable and must stop, Kasich said in a statement.

“To prevent further escalation and suffering by civilians and refugees, the U.S. and its regional and West European allies need to establish sanctuary areas in Syria that are protected by ‘no-fly zones,'” the Republican presidential hopeful suggested.

He also called on the United States, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and the Arab League to “deploy a regional coalition of ground troops to defeat al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria and Iraq.”

Florida Senator Marco Rubio also addressed the issue but in greater detail as to how to deal with Russia’s aggression and its geopolitical rivalry. In excerpts released ahead of remarks at the Americans for Peace, Prosperity and Security (APPS) National Security Forum in Cedar Rapids Friday afternoon, Rubio pledged to increase pressure on Russia by imposing harsh sanctions and increase efforts to counter Russian propaganda to its citizens.

“As soon as I take office, I will move quickly to increase pressure on Moscow. I will impose a new round of sanctions on The Kremlin’s senior leadership and other Russian entities, including Gazprom, and will work with Europe to exclude Russia from the SWIFT interbank payment system,” Rubio is set to pledge. “I will impose visa bans and asset freezes against high-level Russian officials, and move to isolate Russia diplomatically by ceasing efforts to engage Moscow on issues not essential to resolving the crisis in Ukraine.”

“Under my administration, there will be no pleading for meetings with Vladimir Putin. He will be treated as the gangster and thug that he is,” Rubio is expected to say.

According to Rubio, Russia’s recent military activity in Syria is an effort “to prop up Bashar al-Assad” by target other moderate insurgent opponents of the Assad regime and not a mission to defeat the Islamic State. “Putin is involved for the purpose of keeping Assad, or someone like Assad, in power; keeping Syria as a client state for Russia; and distracting from his actions in Ukraine,” he said.

Rubio’s rival for the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush raised the possibility of imposing sanctions against Russia as something that “ought to be on the table.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also chimed in, breaking away from the administration, by calling for the creation of a no-fly zone inside Syria. “I personally would be advocating now for a no-fly zone and humanitarian corridors to try to stop the carnage on the ground and from the air, to try to provide some way to take stock of what’s happening, to try to stem the flow of refugees,” Clinton said in an interview with NBC affiliate WHDH in Boston on Thursday.

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump is so far the only candidate who has said he’s ok with Russia’s military campaign in Syria. In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Trump said he tends to believe Russia’s goal is to go after ISIS and that the U.S. shouldn’t strive to be the “policemen of the world.”

“I hear they are hitting both,” he said. “If Russia wants to go in and if Russia want to fight — in particular ISIS, and they do, and one of the reasons they do is because they don’t want ISIS coming into their country, and that’s going to be the next step. So that’s why they’re there. I think they will be fighting ISIS.”

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