Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) arrived in Israel yesterday for the start of a week-long visit to the region. He’s scheduled to meet with PM Bibi Netanyahu, President of Israel Shimon Peres, and Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad, and then to hop next door to Jordan to visit King Abdullah. Newly minted Secretary of State John Kerry will be visiting shortly thereafter, and Obama will be here in March.
Rubio’s visit is ostensibly a function of his position as a member of the Senate Intelligence and Foreign Relations Committees, but the visit is generating predictable snark (“A visit to the Holy Land is a hallowed tradition among presidential contenders, and nearly as important as the height-hair-optimism trifecta,” as New York Magazine‘s Andre Tartar puts it). Snark notwithstanding, the basic premise is true: a Jerusalem photo op is practically a sine qua non for a presidential aspirant.
So let’s do the thought experiment. I’m encouraged by Rubio’s unequivocal stance on Iran and willingness to filibuster Hagel’s nomination in part as a means to pressure Obama into some answers on Benghazi, but I’d like to hear more from him. Does he have the slightest idea what’s happening in Syria, for example, and the effect the assorted possible outcomes might have on the rest of the region and on the US? Does he have an opinion on arming or not arming the rebels? American foreign policy under Obama has been notable for its consummate, almost magisterial ignorance of local realpolitik (a weakness about which one is hardly reassured by the appointment of John Kerry). Frankly, a lot of us would be impressed if Rubio can tell the difference between Ramallah and Gaza City. This is a real opportunity for him.
Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a little nervous about high-profile media events following his recent shellacking. I do hope that while he’s here, though, he moves beyond boilerplate and gives us some sense of the depth of his knowledge and the extent of his personal interest in this part of the world.