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Marco Rubio calls for U.S. to be more engaged in foreign policy

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Wednesday at the Brookings Institution outlined his approach to foreign policy, a speech that carries more weight now that he's on Mitt Romney's apparent shortlist for vice president.

It also gave people a broader vision of the Florida senator -- one that's more than a Cuban-American politician who has the political skills to sell Hispanic voters on the Republican Party.

Rubio said the easiest thing he could do during his address would be to criticize his differences with President Barack Obama's foreign policy. But he still took a hard whack, saying the Obama administration must commit more firmly to a world leadership role. He was especially critical of what he called an overreliance on the part of the administration on global institutions such as the United Nations to engage in places such as Libya. Syria, he said,  is "waiting for American leadership."

"I disagree with the way in which the current administration has chosen to engage," Rubio said, in prepared remarks. "For while there are few global problems we can solve by ourselves, there are virtually no global problems that can be solved without us. In confronting the challenges of our time, there are more nations than ever capable of contributing, but there is still only one nation capable of leading."

In introducing him, Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., called Rubio's foreign policy "principled, patriotic and practical" and suggested it emerged from a bipartisan tradition in the U.S. Senate.

The moment of bipartisanship, though, was Rubio saying he also disagrees with the voices in his own party who say the U.S. should not engage at all in the world. Just look no further than the Kony 2012 film, Rubio said, which introduced millions of people to the human rights abuses of Joseph Kony in Africa, via an American invention: YouTube.

"I disagree because all around us we see the human face of America's influence in the world. It actually begins with not just our government, but our people," he said in prepared remarks. "Millions of people have been the catalyst of democratic change in their own countries. But they never would have been able to connect with each other if an American had not invented Twitter."

Democrats fought back hard. DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse called Rubio's speech "revisionist history," and said it should be viewed skeptically "coming from a man who’s using the opportunity of this speech to audition for a another job."

Woodhouse ticked off a list of Obama administration accomplishments, including bringing home troops from Iraq, killing Osama Bin Laden and decimating al-Qaeda leadership, imposing sanctions on Iran and providing Israel with what Woodhouse called "the largest security assistance package in history."

"Under President Obama’s leadership, we have successfully confronted our enemies and strengthened our alliances to effectively meet the challenges we face overseas," Woodhouse said.

Rubio's speech was a fine-tuned version of the one he's been giving since last fall when he began ramping up his speaking engagements with an address at the Reagan Library in California, and a separate speech on foreign policy at North Carolina’s Jesse Helms Center.

Now, though, people are paying more attention. Rubio joined Romney on the campaign trail this week in Pennsylvania for a town hall that had the appearance of a tryout for the vice presidential job.

Rubio also has substantially more foreign policy under his belt. He visited Libya in September, he visited Haiti this winter and he attended the Summit of the Americas in Colombia earlier this month. He's also been a vocal critic of Obama's engagement with Latin America and Cuba, going as far as to object to the top State Department official for the region until the administration talked to him about his concerns.