POLITICS

Boosting foreign policy cred, Marco Rubio predicted Russian airstrikes weeks ago

Sen. Marco Rubio during the Values Voter Summit on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Washington.

Sen. Marco Rubio during the Values Voter Summit on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Washington.  (ap)

Marco Rubio the prophet?

A political prophet, perhaps.

The Florida senator is generating buzz anew for his foreign policy chops for having essentially predicted what Russian President Vladimir Putin is suspected of doing in Syria to prop up that nation’s strongman Bashar al-Assad.

Evidence has been mounting, the Washington Post noted, that Russian airstrikes in Syria since Wednesday are hitting rebels backed by the United States.

Putin had justified the airstrikes as an attack on Islamic State militants, but many intelligence officials in the U.S. are leery of that assertion.

In the second GOP presidential debate, Rubio, who has distinguished himself among the candidates as the most knowledgeable about foreign policy, essentially warned that Putin, in a strong desire to rekindle Russia as a world force, would exploit the power void in the Middle East by getting involved in Syria.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” Rubio said at the debate. “Here’s what you’re going to see in the next few weeks: the Russians will begin to fly combat missions in that region, not just targeting ISIS, but…to prop up Assad. He will also, then, turn to other countries in the region and say, ‘America is no longer a reliable ally, Egypt. America is no longer a reliable ally, Saudi Arabia. Begin to rely on us.’”

“What he is doing is he is trying to replace us as the single most important power broker in the Middle East, and this president is allowing it.”

On Thursday, Putin, who has traded barbs with Rubio in recent days, defended the airstrikes as being targeted at Islamic State militants, but Russian authorities also acknowledge that the missions have struck more than the militants. They have said they are aiming to target militants in general, whether they’re with Islamic State or another group, such as al-Qaida.

Russia has been one of Assad's strongest allies since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011. The civil war has killed more than 250,000 people and wounded a million, according to U.N. figures.

The areas that were hit in the airstrikes in central Syria are not under the control of the Islamic State group.

Reports say dozens of people were killed and wounded in the air raids on Homs while the Observatory said 27, including six children, were killed. The Observatory said towns of Rastan, Talbiseh and Zaafaraneh were hit.

In Paris, the Russian ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov, said the Russian attacks also targeted an al-Qaeda-linked group, Jabhat al-Nusra, or al-Nusra Front.

Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, echoed that the joint hit list for Russia and the Syrian government included Jabhat al-Nusra, which is believed to have some coordination with the Islamic State but is still seen mostly as a rival.

“We are confronting armed terrorist groups in Syria, regardless of how they identify themselves, whether it is Jabhat al-Nusra, the ISIL or others,” he said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State.

Rubio, a foreign policy hawk, recently called Putin a gangster.

"Russia is governed today by a gangster,” Rubio said at a campaign speech in South Carolina.

"He’s basically an organized crime figure who controls the government and a large territory. There’s no other way to describe Vladimir Putin."

Putin scoffed at Rubio's swipe at him.

"How can I be a gangster if I worked for the KGB?” Putin asked in an interview with 60 Minutes. "Come on, that does not correspond to reality.”

Putin also added that the Russian people like and respect him. 

"Most people trust me if they vote for me in the election.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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