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Rubio Campaign Press Release - READ: Marco Rubio Explains Exactly What's So Worrying about Russia's Aggression in the Middle East

December 01, 2015


By Marco Rubio
December 1, 2015

Turkey, our NATO ally, deserves the full backing of the United States after the shoot down of a Russian military plane last week. This event was just the latest manifestation of the dangers of allowing Russia to fill the vacuum left by President Obama in the Middle East.

Aside from its violation of Turkish airspace, the downed Russian plane was apparently targeting Turkmen-populated pockets of northern Syria rather than territory controlled by ISIS. Most Russian military strikes since the end of September have been non-ISIS targets, including many civilian areas, revealing that Russia does not share our interest in confronting and defeating ISIS but instead is intent on propping up the Assad regime.

It is farcical to think, even after the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, that the United States and Russia can work together in resolving the crisis in Syria. We simply do not share common interests, let alone values, with Russia. President Vladimir Putin, a veteran of the KGB, leads one of the most corrupt, kleptocratic, and authoritarian regimes in the world.

Transparency International ranks Russia very low in its corruption perceptions index (136 out of 175 countries). A recent Reuters report revealed how Putin's daughter and her husband have holdings worth some $2 billion. And Putin himself is estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars.

Corruption is Putin's greatest export, but it is not the only problem we face from his rule. Putin resorts to any measures necessary to stay in power, and critics and opponents wind up harassed, imprisoned, and even murdered.

The human rights situation in Russia under Putin is the worst it has been since the collapse of the USSR. And given the dreadful way he treats his own people, it should surprise no one that Putin supports like-minded authoritarians, including Syria's Bashar al-Assad. He invades his neighbors to prevent their deeper integration with the West. He fabricates the myth that the West and NATO enlargement are threats to Russia, when the reality is that Russia's most secure and stable borders are with countries that belong to NATO.

Putin has described the Turkish downing of the Russian military plane as a "stab in the back." But Putin has been attacking Western countries for years by, for example, use of energy cutoffs and trade embargoes against neighboring states; the cyber attack against Estonia in 2007; the invasion of Georgia in 2008; the invasion and ongoing aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea (the first such annexation since World War II); military and diplomatic support for the murderous Assad regime in Syria; planned delivery of advanced missile defense systems to Iran; and dangerous flyovers by Russian military aircraft of NATO member states' territory.

Putin exploits weakness in his Western counterparts, and he has seen plenty of that from President Obama and Secretary Clinton over the past seven years. He only understands strength and will back down if presented with a challenge. Some of my fellow Republicans naively think they can sit down and develop a good relationship with Putin. They think they know how to strike deals with him — that's what Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton thought, too, and we all know what a disaster their "reset" policy has been for Europe's security and America's standing in the world.

This latest incident with Turkey should also renew conversations within the alliance about whether NATO as an institution should be involved in the response to the terrorist attacks on Paris and the broader fight against ISIS. The civil war in Syria has threatened the security of Turkey for years and now the fallout from this conflict has spilled over to threaten all NATO allies on both sides of the Atlantic. Bringing NATO into the fight in concert with regional Arab partners and local forces on the ground would bring some much needed firepower and coordination to a war that we are not currently winning.

Steps to avoid a repeat of what happened last Tuesday are worth pursuing to avoid a further escalation in tensions, but if another Russian military plane violates Turkish airspace, it too should be warned first and shot down if it ignores those warnings.

Eventually, Putin will get the message. He needs to understand that there are serious costs for invading neighbors, propping up a murderous dictator like Assad, and violating the airspace of and threatening other countries.

To be sure, Turkey presents its own challenges to our interests in the Middle East. For several years, it did little to counter the festering extremism on its borders, giving ISIS freedom to maneuver and import recruits. After agreeing to join the fight against the terror group this past summer, Turkey has targeted it sparingly, directing most of its efforts towards the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) and other Kurdish groups. Meanwhile, at home, President Erdogan has clamped down on the press and harmed freedom of expression.

These issues are important, and the United States must raise them. But unlike with Russia, the United States can do so within the context of our NATO alliance. Maintaining the integrity of that alliance is crucial — not just for the security of the Middle East, but also for the security of Europe. Were we to opt out of defending Turkey, Putin may conclude that he can bully our other NATO partners as well.

I believe strongly in speaking truth to power. We should not sugarcoat one of the most corrupt, abusive, and aggressive leaders in the world today. We need to show greater solidarity with our allies and friends around the globe and demonstrate a willingness to stand up for our principles. The days when Putin called the shots should have been over long ago. They certainly will end if I become president.

Marco Rubio, Rubio Campaign Press Release - READ: Marco Rubio Explains Exactly What's So Worrying about Russia's Aggression in the Middle East Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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