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Romney and Rubio disagree on Syria

Republican nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney supports directly arming the Syrian rebels, but his surrogate and possible running mate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), says not so fast. Rubio, a rising star on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could add some foreign-policy chops to a ticket that is constantly being accused of being light on experience and competence ...

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

Republican nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney supports directly arming the Syrian rebels, but his surrogate and possible running mate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), says not so fast.

Rubio, a rising star on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could add some foreign-policy chops to a ticket that is constantly being accused of being light on experience and competence in that department.

But on the major international issue of the day -- Syria -- Rubio and Romney just don't see eye to eye, because Rubio doesn't think it's a good idea to give the Syrian rebels U.S. weapons.

Republican nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney supports directly arming the Syrian rebels, but his surrogate and possible running mate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), says not so fast.

Rubio, a rising star on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could add some foreign-policy chops to a ticket that is constantly being accused of being light on experience and competence in that department.

But on the major international issue of the day — Syria — Rubio and Romney just don’t see eye to eye, because Rubio doesn’t think it’s a good idea to give the Syrian rebels U.S. weapons.

"The most important thing we can do in the short term is help them help themselves become a more effective fighting force and a more accountable one. And I think once that happens [arming the rebels]would be an option," Rubio said in a short Tuesday interview with The Cable.

"Where we could be most helpful to them is that we could be providing them with logistical support, medical support, and humanitarian support, which will allow them to become more cohesive in their fighting capabilities," Rubio said.

As it happens, that’s the current policy of the Obama administration, although the administration has also decided to look the other way while Gulf nations send arms to the Syrian rebels, and some reports say that the CIA is even helping to vet rebel groups that might be recipients of those weapons.

Rubio even echoed administration’s chief concern about the risks of sending U.S. weapons to the internal Syrian opposition, namely that there’s no telling where the weapons might go and who might get their hands on them.

"Once they become more responsible and establish a chain of command so that the weapons aren’t going to be used for ill-intended purposes and we know they have control over the supply chain, then I think we can explore arming the rebels," Rubio said.

In contrast, the Romney campaign has been clear that Romney supports the U.S. immediately and directly arming the Syrian rebels with U.S. weapons.

"[Romney has] said we should be willing to arm the moderate opposition. He’s said repeatedly he’d be willing and support arming the moderate factions within the opposition," Romney campaign senior advisor for defense and foreign policy Rich Williamson said at the Brookings Institution last week.

Neither Romney nor Rubio supports the idea of U.S. established safe zones inside Syria to protect civilians there, as Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) advocate.

The Cable reported last week that most senators can’t explain Romney’s Syria policy because they are not familiar with it, and views among GOP caucus members are all over the map.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told The Cable that he supports safe zones but not arming the rebels, and that he just doesn’t know how that jives with Romney’s views. When asked about Romney’s Syria policy, Cornyn said, "I don’t know what it is."

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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