EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Rubio Vows to Restore Intelligence Programs Restricted by Obama

With our president running off to Paris not in response to the recent terror attacks, but to deal with what he considers our greatest national security threat -- climate change -- 2016 is more than ever a foreign policy election.

Not surprisingly, however, Republican candidates are emphasizing this continued spread of radical Islamic terrorism. Few have been more focused on the issue than Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.  PJ Media's Diary of a Mad Voter sent Senator Rubio six questions in the crucial area of foreign policy, which he has been gracious enough to answer.  Among his responses below, Rubio has promised to restore overseas intelligence programs Obama has restricted.

Part of an ongoing series, these questions are not meant to be "gotchas," but an opportunity for the candidates to explore their views at length, which we feel they don't always get to do during the televised debates.  Previously, Senator Ted Cruz answered a similar series of foreign policy questions for us.  Readers can find his answers here.

PJM: Once deemed a “jayvee team” and then “contained” by President Obama, events (Paris, Sinai, Beirut) have shown ISIS very much alive, growing and dedicated to their goal of a global caliphate under Sharia. Furthermore, the attack in Mali has demonstrated the supposedly quiescent al Qaeda also remains active. Making matters worse, a new Pew Poll reveals upwards of 287 million of those polled in 11 Muslims countries viewed ISIS favorably or were “neutral” to it. Given the horrific situation, what specific concrete steps would a Rubio administration take starting day one to put an end to these and similar groups militarily and ideologically?

SENATOR RUBIO: As the Paris attacks demonstrate, our first priority must be to shore up our defenses. I would begin by working with regional partners to prevent jihadists from traveling between their homes and the battlefield. I would also boost domestic efforts to detect potential “lone wolf” attackers, and I would stop the flow of Syrian refugees to the U.S. for now—not because we don’t want to help those in need, but because it is currently impossible to verify their identities or intentions. I would also bolster the Visa Waiver Program’s security screening to ensure that those entering the country are not a threat. Most importantly, my administration would lift the limits on overseas intelligence collection put in place by President Obama and restore the intelligence programs required to keep America safe. The terrorists that attacked Paris reportedly relied on sophisticated technology to communicate, and we need every constitutionally available tool to uncover future plots. 

We will need military might as well. I would reverse defense sequestration so we have the capabilities to go on the offense. We can only protect our people at home if we defeat ISIS abroad. I would then step up airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, deploying forward air controllers to call in more frequent and effective air strikes, and embed more U.S. Special Operations Forces at the battalion level to assist those fighting on the ground. But we ultimately can’t defeat ISIS without Sunni Arabs leading the way on the ground.  I would arm Sunni tribal and Kurdish forces directly if Baghdad fails to support them. And my administration would build a coalition of Sunni Arab countries willing to send troops into Iraq and Syria to aid local forces in coordination with U.S. forces.

To aid that effort, we need to match our military means to our political ends—and undermine the political appeal of ISIS. This has to be a two-pronged effort: give Sunnis a stake in the future, and show that ISIS is a losing proposition. My administration would work with Baghdad to increase Sunni inclusion and provide for greater autonomy. It would also end our destructive détente with Iran, which only fuels Sunni resentment and leaves them with the bitter choices of rule by ISIS or rule by Tehran. And I would counter ISIS recruitment and propaganda by exposing ISIS war crimes and broadcasting U.S. victories, showing the world that ISIS is depraved and weak.

PJM: President Obama seems to have taken sides in the thousand-plus year-old civil war between Shiites and Sunnis by making the (already ignored) nuclear deal with Shiite Iran, thus also empowering Hezbollah, Assad and Russia. How does the US deal with the fanatical ayatollahs while at the same time opposing the Sunni terror groups in the first question? In other words, how do we successfully fight two enemies who are fighting each other?

SENATOR RUBIO: In his address to Congress earlier this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “when it comes to Iran and ISIS, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.” He was right. It’s easy to say that we should ally with a supposedly lesser enemy, Iran, to defeat a greater enemy, ISIS. But easy answers define Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy—and they are wrong answers. 

We must see the Middle East in all of its complexity and understand the strategic links between the rise of ISIS and the rise of Iranian influence. Our reconciliation with Iran, already flouted in countless ways by the radical Shiite clerics of Tehran, merely fuels the flames of ISIS. What incentive do the Sunnis of Syria and Iraq have to take up arms against ISIS when all that awaits them is Iranian oppression?Just as ISIS feeds off Iranian expansionism, Iranian power grows thanks to ISIS.  Iran has exploited chaos in the Middle East to gain sway over four Arab capitals and win a seat at the negotiations on Syria's future. 

Not only is fighting two enemies who fight each other possible—it’s necessary. We do not need to beg Iran for aid in the fight against ISIS, nor do we need Sunni extremists to beat back Iranian hegemony. The only way to restore stability to the region is to empower moderate Sunnis opposed to both ISIS and Iran.

PJM: You have called Vladimir Putin a “gangster.”  Do you feel the same way about the Chinese leadership and is there some way to work with China - given how enmeshed we are with them economically - in the wake of their takeover of the South China Sea? Do you agree with Donald Trump that they are guilty of swindling us through currency manipulation?

SENATOR RUBIO: The Chinese stock market decline in August, and its effect on the global economy, was a sobering reminder of how our economy has changed. In the 21st century, what happens across the world can affect Americans as much as what happens in our own states and towns. This is especially true of China, which has become an economic powerhouse and leading trade partner. 

China presents both opportunities and challenges. Trade with its growing middle class has opened American businesses to hundreds of millions of new customers. But its protectionist economic and trade policies increasingly endanger our economy. And its cyber attacks and aggression in the South China Sea pose a rising threat to our national security.  Meanwhile, President Xi's increasingly repressive policies at home are depriving the Chinese people of their God-given potential.

U.S. policy toward China must preserve the opportunities while confronting the challenges. In fact, we cannot preserve the opportunities without confronting the challenges. If we continue to appease Beijing and ignore its escalations, it will only push further—making it more difficult and costly to defend our interests. A strong United States—militarily, economically and morally—is the only path to lasting peace and partnership between our two countries.

PJM: You have been an opponent of the constraints put upon the NSA due to the revelations of Edward Snowden, whom you deemed a “traitor.”  Recent events tend to support your concerns, but some of your opponents – notably Senators Paul and Cruz – seem to think you are playing fast and loose with our essential liberties. Exactly how and where would you draw the line in maximizing our intelligence gathering capabilities without compromising the basic values of our republic?

SENATOR RUBIO: Today our nation faces a greater threat of terrorist attack than any time since Sept. 11, 2001. Because of the dedicated work of the U.S. military and law enforcement personnel, Americans have been largely kept safe for almost 14 years. A major contributor to this success has been the development and use of counterterrorism tools such as those authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and Patriot Act.

There is not a single documented case of abuse of these programs which were put in place after 9/11 to keep Americans safe.  Internet search providers, email accounts, credit card companies and membership discount cards used at the grocery store all collect far more personal information on Americans than the bulk metadata program.

These programs should be overseen by the courts and and any violations should be prosecuted and the Federal employee involved fired.  But as the terrorist attacks in Paris have shown us, we face an unprecedented challenge in securing our country.  When an attack eventually occurs, Americans will want to know why their elected leaders limited our government's ability to prevent death and destruction.

PJM:  All Republican candidates – with the possible exception of Senator Paul – have spoken of rebuilding our military in response to the rise of radical Islam, Iran, Russia and China. Very few, however, have discussed how they would do this.  Would you specify the priorities of how you would rebuild and suggest how that might be paid for?

SENATOR RUBIO: In many ways, defense policy is foreign policy. It is the basis for all we do abroad. By maintaining the strength to defeat aggression, we deter aggression — and that gives time and space for the tools of soft power to work.

I am running for president because America faces new threats in this century, and we need new leadership and new ideas to tackle all of these challenges. In today’s world, we cannot pick and choose the threats we meet. In world fractured by Barack Obama’s foreign policy, the United States must restore order in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. A threat in any one of these regions could endanger our security. 

To meet this challenge of our time, I have outlined by far the most detailed defense plan of any presidential candidate, Republican or Democrat. I encourage readers to review the entire plan here at marcorubio.com. My plan will size our forces for all the contingencies they may face.

I will begin by adopting the recommendation of the bipartisan National Defense Panel and return to the budget baseline proposed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in 2012. A budget of this size is essential if we want a modern national defense. I will then modernize our forces on land, sea, and in the air, equipping them with the upper hand and the technological edge. Beyond that, my administration would invest in innovation to ensure we are ready to meet the challenges of the coming decades in battlefields like cyberspace and outerspace. 

PJM: In a November 20 poll, 60% of Likely U. S. Voters believe the United States is at war with radical Islamic terrorism.  Just 24% disagree.  Yet even after the Paris massacre, Hillary Clinton refuses to name “radical Islam” as the enemy. Why do you think she does this? And why do you think it’s important to use the right terminology?

SENATOR RUBIO: I would begin the battle against ISIS by naming the enemy: radical Islamist jihadism. Hillary Clinton recently suggested that identifying our adversary “gives these criminals more standing than they deserve.” “In the end, it didn’t matter what kind of terrorist we called bin Laden,” she recently said, “it mattered that we killed bin Laden.” 

 As she often does, Hillary Clinton has chosen political correctness over political reality. For fear of offending some, she sweeps the complexities of the Middle East under the rug to argue that all terrorist groups are the same—guilty of the oversimplifying that she often accuses Republicans of doing. This isn’t an abstract debate over rhetoric; Clinton’s words have meaning.  

 Although Hezbollah, ISIS, al Qaeda, and Hamas all hate American values and target the West, there are major distinctions among them. To succeed in this struggle, we need to understand, for example, why ISIS is outrecruiting al Qaeda, or that Hezbollah is a Shiite terror group aligned with Iran. Naming the enemy is crucial to understanding the threat and devising a sound strategy.