Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) offered a somewhat confusing explanation of his Iraq policy in an appearance on Fox News’ “Outnumbered” on Thursday.
Rubio seemed to express support for US troops being present in Iraq, but he maintained this did not represent the controversial “nation-building” philosophy that led to a protracted American military presence in that country following the US invasion in 2003.
However, while insisting he doesn’t advocate “nation-building,” Rubio seemed to define his policy as exactly that.
“It’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation,” Rubio said of his vision for Iraq.
Watch a video of Rubio’s remark below.
The exchange began when a host asked Rubio whether he agrees with other Republican presidential candidates who have criticised the extended presence of US military troops in that country.
He began by explaining that America “can’t build a democracy” in Iraq, but could help the country with practical matters like infrastructure that might help them “govern” long term. The host responded by saying he seemed to be expressing support for “nation-building.”
This query provoked Rubio’s claim that he’s not calling for “nation-building” in Iraq and is instead talking about “assisting them in building their nation.”
His campaign did not immediately respond to an email from Business Insider asking them to clarify how that is any different from “nation-building.”
After making his seemingly contradictory statement about “nation-building,” the senator went on to explain why he believes the US has a “vested interest” in helping Iraqis govern their country.
“The alternative to not doing that is the chaos we have now,” he said.
He argued that President Barack Obama’s administration supported former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has been criticised for trying to consolidate power in the country among his fellow Shias while leaving out Sunni Muslims. Rubio said this behaviour by al-Maliki facilitated the rise of the jihadist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq.
“What happened in Iraq under this administration is they rallied around Maliki. Maliki was a Shia leader who used his power to go after Sunnis,” Rubio explained. “That created the environment that was conducive for ISIS to come back in and cause all these problems.”
The US-led war in that country proved extremely unpopular and questions about the government’s handling of Iraq have come up on the campaign trail for both the Republicans and Democrats who are aiming to win the White House in 2016. These questions have been fuelled by the fact ISIS gained a foothold in Iraq following US troop withdrawal. Last year, the US military launched operations aimed at wiping the group out.
Rubio’s comments on “nation-building” are the third instance where he has seemingly stumbled while discussing Iraq. As CNN has noted, Rubio, who has made foreign policy expertise a cornerstone of his campaign, has been “vague” about whether he’d support committing ground troops to fight ISIS. And last month, in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, Rubio said he would not have supported the decision to invade Iraq, which was an apparent reversal from multiple prior comments he made in support of the war.
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