At a Senate Foreign Relation Commitee hearing Thursday in Washington, Sen. Marco Rubio made the case that the U.S. needs to come up with a grand strategy to solve the chaotic civil war which is giving al-Qaeda a new base in Yemen. He also considers Iran's position supporting the rebel Houthis.
"So many of our debates in this committee, so many of our debates in Washington, have been tactical," Rubio said: "Air strike, or no air strike; arm, or don't arm. But sometimes we feel like it's not in the furtherance of a strategy, and so this is an important part of that."
About Yemen he said: "Al-Qaida has historically been very patient in pursuing the sort of state functions that ISIS immediately embraced, they have had ambitions to do that, and Yemen sounds like a pretty good place for them to try to do it."
"If tactics aren't driven by strategy, then they're not nearly as effective, and we kind of have to stop and start," he concluded.
RUBIO: That's a great conversation. I'd say it's probably a broader situation that involves Yemen, and that is my hope, that the National Security Council will move back to its original role, which is to be kind of a (sic) internal think tank that develops strategic views of every region in the world.
And then, you know, it's the State Department, in consultation with the State Department, the Department of Defense and others, to carry out the appropriate strategy, but also the tactics. So many -- so many of our debates in this committee, so many of our debates in Washington, have been tactical: Air strike, or no air strike; armed, or don't arm. But sometimes we feel like it's not in the furtherance of a -- of a strategy, and so this is an important part of that.
This conversation, I think, calls that to light. You know, what -- what is our strategy with regards to Yemen? And I think should be driven by our national interest, which I think you would -- anybody on the panel would disagree, are twofold. One is the counterterrorism aspect of it. From everything I have seen, and testified here today, al-Qaida in Yemen is the new Fatah, in many ways. It is now the core area where you see al-Qaida actually being able to prosper, create anchor, and -- and establish. And they have deep links to Yemen that go back a tremendous amount of time, and they take advantage of an ungoverned space.
So that's first and foremost. We don't want Yemen to be an ungoverned space, because ungoverned space is the breeding ground for al-Qaida, and ISIS before them. And while it seems that al-Qaida has historically been very patient in pursuing the sort of state functions that ISIS immediately embraced, they have had ambitions to do that, and Yemen sounds like a pretty good place for them to try to do it. In fact, they did try to do it until very recently, and have proven to be enduring in their desire to, at some point, peel back and reconstitute it at the appropriate time.
So that's our first interest, and the other, which we shouldn't ignore, is the question that Senator Menendez has asked, and I know a lot people have asked, and that is, what is the Iranian intention in the region? And so there's this, all this discussion about are the Houthis under the command and control of the Iranians? I wouldn't judge whether or not they are a proxy simply by whether a command and control, because I would argue that over the last five years, Hezbollah's relationship with Iran has strengthened and grown as a result of functionality. The more capable they've proven in Syria and in other places, the stronger that link has become.
But this is the Iranian strategy. They're not going to build ten aircraft carriers to try match us. They are going to seek asymmetrical ways to influence the region and pursue their ambitions. Some of it may be through someone they're very closely linked with. Others may be through these entities that they use as second proxies.
But in the case of the Houthis, there -- I don't think there's any debate that they are receiving substantial amount of assistance from the Iranians, and that the level of assistance immediately correlates into actions. In essence, the lethality and the and the volume of attack that they've undertaken is in line with the amount of support they have received. And we've seen open source reporting, IRGC officials being captured and killed. They're there. They're on the ground in the furtherance of the strategy.
So as I hear all this conversation about a negotiated settlement, I don't think that in the Iranian view of the world, a negotiated power-sharing agreement sounds really well -- really good in the halls of Western diplomatic conversation.
But in Iranian geopolitical views, that they probably prefer the situation that's there now, than they would any sort of power sharing. They're not involved in this because they are concerned about ethnic minorities not having a voice in government. They're involved because they see the opportunity to create a beachhead of influence, and they bring on the periphery of who they view as their strategic rival for dominance in the region. And they want this to be protracted.
And even if you could find a bunch of people among the Houthis that were willing to be involved in some power sharing, Iran will always be able to find some element in Yemen willing to accept weapons, because it's tempting to have that level of power. And in some parts of the world, the more weapons you have, the more powerful and influential you've become.
And that's why I am not against diplomacy. I think diplomacy's important, and I think if we could figure out a negotiated settlement that brings this to a peaceful conclusion we should pursue it. I just hope we don't put too many eggs in that basket, because the people that are feeling this on the Iranian side are not that big on negotiated diplomatic Western European models of diplomacy. They view this as a geopolitical opportunity to destabilize the region for purposes of being able to leverage Saudi Arabia and the United States as a base of operation. And if it happens to have the side effect of al-Qaida building, well, that's an additional thing that they think is great in terms of sapping our resources.
So I -- I've just said a lot of different things about this whole dynamic, because I think it's important that we start talking about, as -- as the Chairman just said, the sort of strategic view that they're trying to undertake, with -- in consultation with the State Department, and Defense, and everybody else... We -- we debate a lot about tactics.
(UNKNOWN): We do.
RUBIO: But if tactics aren't driven by strategy, then they're not nearly as effective, and we kind of have to stop and start.
And by the way, it helps with our allies. And so -- but -- but -- with the minute that I have left, the question is this: Irrespective of what we may think about what the ideal solution is, which is this big peace treaty, where everybody sits down, shake hands, they have a government, and everybody's happy with it... The Saudis are going to pursue their national interests, with or without us. And their national interest, in their mind, is ensuring that there is not a Iranian influence of any sort on their periphery.
And therefore, my question is this: Irrespective of what we do, the Saudis are going to continue to do what they believe is in their national interest, with or without our guidance, in terms of carrying out the military components of this. Am I -- am I wrong in saying that?
(UNKNOWN): No, Sir, you are 100 percent correct.
RUBIO: Those are my favorite answers, when people agree.