Rubio: Syrians need to topple Assad, not foreign forces

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said Friday that a coalition of different Syrian groups, not foreign ground forces, should topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“First of all, he has to be removed from power through a combination of alternatives on the ground that are Syrians, not foreign fighters or foreign forces,” Rubio said on CBS.

President Donald Trump ordered a missile launch against Assad following a recent deadly chemical weapons attack. The strike was the United States’ first attack against the regime, as former President Barack Obama decided against retaliating after similar attacks.

Although he stressed the importance of Syrians overthrowing Assad, Rubio said on MSNBC that it is “quite possible” that American forces end up on the ground in Syria.

“That may be quite possible at some point, but it has to be in furtherance of a strategic goal, an aim,” he said on MSNBC. “The strategy needs to be we need to empower some non-jihadist Sunni groups.”

Trump’s decision to attack Syrian received support from congressional leadership in both parties, while libertarians and more liberal Democrats criticized the president for not seeking congressional approval to strike.

Rubio expressed concern Assad may use his chemical weapons against Americans in the area who are working on fighting ISIS. He said Assad is a “war criminal” who should be brought to justice.

“Realize that as long as Bashar al-Assad is there, you’re going the have ISIS or you’re going to have Al Nusra or some other radical element,” Rubio said. “Because his very presence, and after the crimes he committed against his own people, there will always be a radical element fighting against him until he is removed.”

Assad’s attack came shortly after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said the United States was no longer pursuing regime change in Syria. Although Rubio said he thought the timing of Assad’s attack in relation to those statements was “not coincidental,” he was encouraged by the Trump administration’s actions since then.

“There’s a difference between being a candidate and being the president and having access to this information and the gravity of the office on your shoulders,” Rubio said. "And both last night in his statements and the day before in that press conference, I think you saw a person, a human being, our president Donald Trump, who was deeply impacted, as we all were, by the images.”

Rubio’s current position stands in contrast to his stance on the issue in 2013 as Obama considered striking Syria. Voting against authorizing military action following a similar attack, Rubio argued he did not think the use of force would work.

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