During a Richard Stengel—hosted discussion and Q&A at the Council on Foreign Relations this afternoon, Florida Senator Marco Rubio was explaining at one point how Iran’s motive for pursuing nuclear weapons is different than that of other countries. “Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons because of each other,” he said, in front of a largely male, sport-coated, and bespectacled audience. “South Korea has nuclear weapons for regime survival.”
Presumably Rubio meant to refer to North Korea, which is the Korea that has nukes. It was a slip-up which passed by seemingly unnoticed, perhaps because everyone was busy wondering why Rubio, a possible Romney running mate and presumed 2016 candidate for president, was sounding a lot like President Obama.
During the hour-long session, Rubio extolled the virtues of foreign aid (even to Pakistan), noting the leverage it gives the United States overseas and the negligible impact it would have on the national budget if it was cut. He essentially agreed with the current administration’s approach to Iran — try diplomacy and sanctions first, and keep military options on the table as a last resort. He said he wasn’t worried about the Islamization of Egypt, expressing confidence that the leaders there would come to understand how much they depend on the United States for the health of their economy. He boldly proclaimed that he isn’t “anti-U.N.” At one point, ForeignPolicy.com columnist Jim Traub was moved to ask Rubio whether there was really much of a difference between his foreign policy and Obama’s. Rubio didn’t directly address the question.
The absence of any trace of demagoguery or saber rattling in Rubio’s foreign policy positions left the attendees we spoke to impressed by the freshman senator’s seriousness and his grasp of international issues — although perhaps not enough to convince them of his readiness for the GOP ticket.
“I was very impressed,” Arturo Porzecanski, a “distinguished economist-in-residence” at American University, told us. “I think he represents one of several very young, very promising Republicans in Congress who give me hope for the future of the leadership of this country.” Asked about Rubio’s preparedness for the national stage, however, Porzecanski said that he thinks the Floridian “rightly feels that his job is not done in the Senate.”
Likewise, Jeffrey Bunzel, a managing director of Credit Suisse, told us that he thought Rubio was “very well-versed on foreign policy issues” and expressed “a strong sense of a kind of traditional bipartisan approach to foreign policy … which I thought was refreshing.” Bunzel demurred, though, when we asked him if Rubio was ready to be vice-president. “I don’t have a strong view about that,” he said.