Rubio polishes message

Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks about foreign policy Wednesday in Washington.

WASHINGTON — Sen. Marco Rubio outlined his vision Wednesday of a more muscular American foreign policy, the latest salvo in his effort to elevate his profile as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney begins his search for a running mate.

The Florida Republican’s half-hour speech at the centrist Brookings Institution came four weeks after he endorsed Romney and two days after campaigning with him. He also recently has spoken of a new immigration proposal that breaks ranks with some in his own party.

Both in Washington and around the country, the 40-year-old Cuban-American is pushing himself forward as a fresh conservative.

He has remained coy about whether he would join Romney’s ticket this November, but his careful criticism of President Barack Obama’s leadership as well as the isolationist tendencies among some Republicans reinforced the image he has projected of himself as a tough conservative but one moderate enough for national election.

“Global problems do require international coalitions. On that point this administration is correct,” Rubio told a crowd of almost 200 academics, policymakers and diplomats. “But effective international coalitions don’t form themselves. They need to be instigated and led, and more often than not, they can only be instigated and led by us. And that is what this administration doesn’t understand.”

Introduced by Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2000, Rubio didn’t address whether he’s seeking the same office. The freshman lawmaker has frequently been mentioned as a potential choice for Romney and a Republican Party struggling to improve its standing with Hispanic voters. A recent Pew Research Center survey showed Obama with a commanding 67 percent to 27 percent advantage over Romney with Hispanics.

Rubio provided a hawkish yet sober prescription for American leadership in conflicts from the Middle East and Asia to Latin America. He went beyond general Republican opposition to many of Obama’s policies and avoided the outlandish claims that peppered Republican presidential primary debates last year.

He lamented “liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans” who championed U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and opposed involvement in Libya, and said Obama should have done even more to advance the cause of the rebels who toppled Moammar Gadhafi.

Yet he voiced support for Obama’s statements against a nuclear-armed Iran and praised President George W. Bush’s aid efforts in Africa and President Bill Clinton’s decision to intervene in Kosovo without a U.N. mandate. And he recounted cooperating with Democratic senators to raise pressure on human-rights abusers and backsliding democracies from Syria to Nicaragua, standing up to the isolationist camps in both parties.