Sitting next to moderator and Washington Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff in front of a packed room, Rubio opened his comments on his recent trip to the Middle East with a joke about his infamous water gulping moment from his response to Obama’s State of the Union Address earlier this month.
“This is a bit much,” Rubio quipped, picking up a pitcher of water provided on a table next to him and pouring it into a mug.
“Why don’t we just take care of business right up front here,” he said, taking a gulp from the mug.
Rubio went on to detail his trip to Jordan and Israel. According to officials he spoke to in the Jewish state, Rubio said Israel’s top priorities are Iran, the threat of weapons being transferred to terrorist groups in Syria, what is going on in Egypt, and the Palestinian issue, in that order.
“The sense you get from the Israeli side of that is that it is not the No. 1 issue on the map at this moment,” he said, referring to the question of immediately negotiating a final settlement agreement with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
“But there is a clear understanding that something is going to have to happen on that issue in the long-term.”
Israel’s goal right now, he said, is to create conditions where a peace deal is possible in the long term, since they don’t believe the conditions are there for such a deal in the near term.
Rubio’s remarks were light on criticism of the Obama administration, but the senator did lament what he sees as a lack of emphasis on human rights issues by the Obama administration abroad.
He argued America’s “standing in the world is largely built on our commitment to fundamental principles like human rights and democracy and freedom — freedom of religion, freedom of the press — and things of this nature. And I think we have an obligation to always be on the side of that.”
“I think, unfortunately, we slipped” on standing up for human rights, he added, saying he wishes the administration was a “little louder” on those issues.
Rubio also used the speech to make the case that what happens beyond America’s borders should matter to American voters.
“The last point I would make — and this is really something that we just need to work on for those of us who care about foreign policy — is we have to increasingly do a better job speaking to the American people why they should care about any of this,” Rubio said.
“In essence, at a time when unemployment is high and we have all this bickering going on about the political process and economic news is not always good, why should we care what’s happening 15 hours away?”
Rubio said there was no “single line answer to that, but the one I am increasingly finding that’s effective is to explain to people that we no longer really live in a national economy.”
“We live in a global economy in a sense that so much of what affects our daily lives are determined by factors far from,” he said, making his pitch.
“I mean, whether it is the number of drivers in India and China consuming oil or oil products, to disturbances to the supply of energy, to all sorts of other things, we truly do live increasingly in a global economy, whether we know it or not. Virtually no industry in America, no job, no low-class job in America for sure, is completely immune from global factors. So we should care about global issues around the world.”