Washington (AP) – GOP Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to separate himself from a growing isolationist wing of the Republican Party by pushing to make "decisive" diplomacy and foreign aid, rather than military power, the pillars of American foreign policy.
The Florida lawmaker and potential 2016 presidential hopeful said in a speech Wednesday at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington that vigorous engagement around the globe was critical to U.S. national security.
"There is no denying that a globally engaged America comes at a steep price," he said, acknowledging a war-weary public. "But the history of our still young nation shows and is full of warnings that a lack of American engagement comes with an even higher price of its own."
Diplomacy and foreign aid, he said, should "vastly outnumber" the country's use of military force abroad.
"While military might may be our most eye-catching method of involvement abroad, it is far from being our most often utilized," Rubio said. "In most cases, the decisive use of diplomacy, foreign assistance and economic power are the most effective ways to achieve our interests and stop problems before they spiral into crises."
Rubio's speech comes amid a debate in his party over the role of U.S. foreign policy and military involvement after more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Traditional hawks, such as Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have favored military intervention in foreign conflicts, including Syria. But a growing bloc of noninterventionists, led by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is pursuing a more dovish course, in keeping with libertarian beliefs.
Paul, another possible presidential contender, has suggested cutting foreign aid in half and completely excluding countries, primarily in the Muslim world, that don't share American values.
Rubio, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees, argued for a middle ground.
"The problem is these labels are obsolete. They come from the world of the past," he said. "The time has now come for a new vision for America's role abroad — one that reflects the reality of the world we live in today."
Rubio reaffirmed his support for stiffer penalties against Iran as Western powers and Tehran seek to resolve a standoff over the country's nuclear program. The senator, who has criticized an international proposal to ease the economic penalties, criticized the Obama administration for what he described as its passive foreign policy.
Rubio said the administration hesitated during conflicts in Libya and Syria that later erupted into chaos and has failed to condemn human rights abuses in Latin America and Russia.
"As instability spreads and tyrants flourish, our allies want to know whether America can still be counted on to confront these common challenges," he said.
Rubio will continue his foreign policy tour with a speech in December at London's Chatham House, an international affairs think tank.