The Cable

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 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."

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The Cable

Obama campaign: Romney trip shows he is failing the commander-in-chief test

Mitt Romney's foreign trip showed that he can't handle sensitive diplomatic situations, can't even handle relationships with friendly countries, and therefore is failing the commander-in-chief test, according to Obama campaign representatives Robert Gibbs and Colin Kahl.

"He offended our closest ally and triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region in the world. He certainly didn't prove to anyone that he passed the commander in chief test," said Gibbs, the former White House press secretary, on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

Gibbs said the Romney campaign set extremely low expectations for the trip  -- and then didn't even meet those expectations. The former Massachusetts governor did not visit any warzones or meet with any U.S. troops, Gibbs observed, as then Senator Barack Obama did when campaigning in 2008.

"Many were surprised that Mitt Romney did not take the opportunity to meet with any members of our armed forces on this trip," said Gibbs.

Gibbs also noted that Romney only took three questions from the reporters traveling with him, sparking frustration between the Romney campaign and the press corps that boiled over with profane comments from one of Romney's aides to reporters in Poland. Obama took 25 questions on his campaign trip abroad, Gibbs said.

"He repeatedly took a pass on explaining his views on foreign policy to the American people," Gibbs said. "Romney's auditioning to be the leader of the free world and it's clear he is unable to represent America on the world stage."

Kahl, who served in the Obama administration for three years as deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, said that Romney's suggestion that London was not ready to host the Olympics was an unforced error.

"The trip was supposed to be an easy one for Governor Romney, but he couldn't even handle the low bar that his campaign set for him," said Kahl. "If Romney can't handle the special relationship with Great Britain on the eve of the Olympic Games, how can he handle our enemies?"

Kahl said that Romney's trip was devoid of specific policy proposals and that Romney has repeatedly criticized Obama's foreign policy without spelling out exactly what he would do differently.

"The world got to see what it would be like if Mitt Romney was in charge of American foreign policy and it's not a sight they will forget any time soon," said Kahl. "This trip casts serious doubt as to whether Governor Romney has the ability to handle the job."

Gibbs and Kahl also criticized Romney for intimating that culture had something to do with the disparity of wealth between in Israel and the Palestinian territories, comments described as racist by several Palestinian leaders.

"You have to choose your words very, very carefully and Governor Romney just didn't do that," said Kahl. "

"It's up to Governor Romney to explain why those comments would be helpful to resolving the conflict in the Middle East."

Kahl also defended the Obama administration's reluctance to recognize Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy there, as Romney promised to do when he was in the Jewish state.

Kahl said that the current policy that the status of Jerusalem is an issue to be negotiated between the two parties represents bipartisan consensus going back decades.

"[Romney] disagreed with past democratic administrations like Bill Clinton's and past Republican administrations like Ronald Reagan's," Kahl said.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Romney surrogate and rumored candidate to be Romney's running mate, defended the former governor's comments on culture and wealth in a brief interview Tuesday with The Cable.

"I think that certainly you look at the success of some countries and you wonder why are some nations that are right next door to other nations and more successful. I think America has benefited from being a melting pot of cultures," Rubio said. "There's no way you look at Israel and not marvel at what they have accomplished -- their commitment to democracy, their commitment to free enterprise, their commitment to upward mobility -- and I think you find a lot of that in their culture, absolutely."

The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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