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Rubio: America looks weak on Libya — and Russia and China are enjoying it

Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lashed out at the Obama administration’s Libya policy on Thursday, saying that the United States looked weak and naïve in hoping that the U.N. Security Council would act to protect the Libyan people. "The United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act," he said ...

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Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lashed out at the Obama administration’s Libya policy on Thursday, saying that the United States looked weak and naïve in hoping that the U.N. Security Council would act to protect the Libyan people.

"The United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, highlighting that Britain, France, the Arab League, and the Libyan opposition are all calling on the United States to support stronger measures to stop Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi‘s assault on rebels and civilians.

"The president has specifically said that Qaddafi must go but has done nothing since then except for having general debates about it for a week and a half or two," Rubio said. "Congressional leadership has strongly called for a no-fly zone and nothing has happened."

The stance of Rubio, the committee’s newest Republican, it exactly opposite of the committee’s top Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said at the same hearing that a no fly zone was not a good idea and would require a Congressional declaration of war.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns emphasized that the United States was pushing for stronger action at the Security Council, with new resolution coming as early as today. He said the United States was "leading the effort," along with France and Britain, to get authorization for a number of military actions — short of boots on the ground.

But Rubio was extremely skeptical that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would endorse military intervention in Libya.

"To say that we’re pressing the United Nations and that’s energetic action is to basically say… that the United States may feel strongly about something but we’re not doing anything that the Chinese and Russians don’t agree to," said Libya.

Burns said the measures would be more effective with international support.

"But Russia and China don’t care about this stuff, they’re never going to get involved in these things, and they don’t care if Muammar Qaddafi is trying to massacre people," Rubio said. "So if Russia doesn’t care and China doesn’t care and we care but won’t do anything about it, who’s it up to, the French?"

Burns said he didn’t share Rubio’s assessment that the U.N. Security Council won’t be able to come up with a new resolution.

"When is that resolution going to happen, after the bloodbath?" Rubio shot back.

Burns predicted a resolution could come as early as today.

But Rubio wasn’t done. He asked Burns how China and Russia would respond if America shows it doesn’t "have the guts" to act on behalf of opposition groups. He also asked Burns about the U.S. message to Libyan opposition fighters, who are clamoring for U.S. support while the United Nations deliberates.

"Our message to them is, ‘you guys go ahead and do this stuff and if we ever get the Russians and the Chinese to come around, we may or may not join you?’" Rubio wondered.

Rubio then pressed Burns to describe the administration’s backup plan, in the event that the United Nations can’t agree on a resolution.

"We have lots of ideas about what we might do, we just don’t assume it’s going to fail," Burns said.

"Are there any ideas you can share with us?" Rubio demanded.

"We’ll continue to step up economic pressure and sanctions," Burns suggested.

Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) lashed out at the Obama administration’s Libya policy on Thursday, saying that the United States looked weak and naïve in hoping that the U.N. Security Council would act to protect the Libyan people.

"The United States, quite frankly, looks weak in this endeavor, it looks unwilling to act," he said at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday, highlighting that Britain, France, the Arab League, and the Libyan opposition are all calling on the United States to support stronger measures to stop Libyan leader Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi‘s assault on rebels and civilians.

"The president has specifically said that Qaddafi must go but has done nothing since then except for having general debates about it for a week and a half or two," Rubio said. "Congressional leadership has strongly called for a no-fly zone and nothing has happened."

The stance of Rubio, the committee’s newest Republican, it exactly opposite of the committee’s top Republican Richard Lugar (R-IN), who said at the same hearing that a no fly zone was not a good idea and would require a Congressional declaration of war.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns emphasized that the United States was pushing for stronger action at the Security Council, with new resolution coming as early as today. He said the United States was "leading the effort," along with France and Britain, to get authorization for a number of military actions — short of boots on the ground.

But Rubio was extremely skeptical that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council would endorse military intervention in Libya.

"To say that we’re pressing the United Nations and that’s energetic action is to basically say… that the United States may feel strongly about something but we’re not doing anything that the Chinese and Russians don’t agree to," said Libya.

Burns said the measures would be more effective with international support.

"But Russia and China don’t care about this stuff, they’re never going to get involved in these things, and they don’t care if Muammar Qaddafi is trying to massacre people," Rubio said. "So if Russia doesn’t care and China doesn’t care and we care but won’t do anything about it, who’s it up to, the French?"

Burns said he didn’t share Rubio’s assessment that the U.N. Security Council won’t be able to come up with a new resolution.

"When is that resolution going to happen, after the bloodbath?" Rubio shot back.

Burns predicted a resolution could come as early as today.

But Rubio wasn’t done. He asked Burns how China and Russia would respond if America shows it doesn’t "have the guts" to act on behalf of opposition groups. He also asked Burns about the U.S. message to Libyan opposition fighters, who are clamoring for U.S. support while the United Nations deliberates.

"Our message to them is, ‘you guys go ahead and do this stuff and if we ever get the Russians and the Chinese to come around, we may or may not join you?’" Rubio wondered.

Rubio then pressed Burns to describe the administration’s backup plan, in the event that the United Nations can’t agree on a resolution.

"We have lots of ideas about what we might do, we just don’t assume it’s going to fail," Burns said.

"Are there any ideas you can share with us?" Rubio demanded.

"We’ll continue to step up economic pressure and sanctions," Burns suggested.

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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