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Marco Rubio’s deafening silence on Syria


**Update: Rubio issued a statement hours after this blog was posted.

From threatened oyster habitats to the problems with Obamacare, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has commented on the headlines of the day recently.

Except one: Syria.

Though a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio hasn’t issued any statements about this most-important of topics now that President Obama is weighing military action after what appear to be chemical-weapons use in Syria.

Should Obama strike Syria? How? And does the president need Congressional authorization to do so? Rubio (or his office) isn’t ready to say. It's a notable silence because not only is Rubio voluble, he has made an effort to showcase his chops on foreign policy.

We've asked for two days for a statement, but nothing. Rubio's Reclaim America PAC, though, just sent out a message from Rubio about the need to help Ken Cuccinelli, a Virginia candidate for governor.

Meantime, other Florida congressional members are weighing in on Syria policy.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House’s Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, said in a just-released statement that Obama needs congressional authorization for a strike on Syria. Ros-Lehtinen sounds willing to vote for “multi-lateral airstrikes” as long as the United States exercises “extreme caution when weighing our options in Syria. Putting boots on the ground is not an option.. At this point there’s no easy decision. We’re stuck with the least worst option.”

The last time Rubio appears to have commented about Syria was in June when he told ABC’s Jonathan Karl that Obama erred in not aggressively courting non-terrorist “elements” in Syria, thereby allowing the situation to spin out of control.

“Well, let me just say that in politics or in foreign policy, timing matters. So these were options that were there for us a year and a half ago,” he said.

“But what would President Rubio do right now?” Karl asked. “Would you commit U.S. forces to — to a no-fly zone?”

Rubio repeated himself: “First of all, if I was in charge of this issue, we never would have gotten to this point. We would have identified elements that we could have worked with, and we would have made sure that those elements, not the al Qaeda elements, were the best armed, best equipped and best trained. That being said, I think we need to continue to search for elements on the ground that we can work with, and we should try to do the best we can to increase their viability and their strength so that if and when Assad falls, and we hope that he still will, they will be the ones on the ground with — with the best ability to kind of manage a future, hopefully democratic Syria, a peaceful Syria.”

So it sounded then as if his policy would have been similar to Obama’s, provided that Obama’s administration had tried and failed to find allies on the ground up until now.

While some libertarian-minded Republicans have bristled at the notion of being the policeman of the world, Rubio has a more muscular, interventionist neo-conservative approach to the use of American force. Indeed, Rubio’s staff chief, Cesar Conda, is a former aide to the ultimate neo-con, former Vice President Dick Cheney. But Conda works for Rubio, not the other way around.

Just why Rubio hasn’t said much is anyone’s guess. He has been traveling. It is the August recess and he’s trying to focus on being a dad.

But Rubio’s also focused on positioning himself for a future White House run. And after the backlash from the far-right over his support for bipartisan immigration reform, Rubio has been actively making amends with tea party groups back home in Florida. He's scheduled to appear this weekend in Orlando at the Americans for Prosperity "Defending the American Dream Summit" where he'll undoubtedly touch on the issue of Syria or be asked about it.

Meantime, Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky have filled the void of conservative darlings amid Rubio’s apparent demise among some tea partiers.

And both Cruz and Paul appear anti-intervention in Syria.

Cruz said a strike in Syria isn’t in the United States’ best interest and Paul has backed legislation to prevent Obama from escalating military action in Syria. Other members of the House are simply demanding that Obama seek congressional authorization.

That puts them at odds with old-line conservatives in the Senate like John McCain. That’s just the type of Republican that Rubio would like some political distance from. Some Democrats, too, are urging military action, namely Rubio’s fellow Florida Sen. Bill Nelson

"There should be moral outrage over the use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians in Syria,” Nelson said this week. “At this point I believe it appropriate to take military action with NATO and our regional allies.  Inaction would only lead to greater suffering and instability in the region and would further embolden Assad.”

So between siding with tea party darlings or siding with the likes of Nelson and McCain, Rubio has stayed on the sidelines. But for how much longer?