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Rubio: Russia should be embarrassed, ashamed
01:16 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Rubio said Russians had put themselves into harm's way

He said the strikes indicated a firm US stance against Assad's reign

Washington CNN  — 

Sen. Marco Rubio, a longtime hawk on Syria, praised the US airstrike on a Syrian airfield days after a chemical attack on innocents attributed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Following news that President Donald Trump had green-lit the US action, Rubio said Thursday on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that Russia could not fairly criticize the military strike because Russia backed Assad – who is accused of perpetrating the attack on his own people.

“They have no standing to say anything about this,” Rubio said of the Russians.

He said that the move doesn’t just send a message, but amounts to a “significant degrading” of Assad’s ability to carry out chemical attacks.

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“This is the area from which those chemical attacks were launched,” Rubio said. “It’s the place you were going to see future attacks come from, particularly targeting innocent civilians.”

Earlier in the night, Rubio tweeted a photo of a man holding two babies and wrote, “Something should happen.”

Rubio also quoted a passage from the Bible ahead of the strikes, writing, “‘Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished’ Proverbs 11:21 #SyriaChemicalAttack”

Speaking Friday on CNN’s “New Day,” Rubio said the strike was in “our national interest” because of American troops in the area whom Assad could potentially target in a similar chemical weapons attack.

“If Assad is willing to use that gas against civilians, why would he not be willing to use it against Americans?” Rubio said.

Earlier, a deputy Russian UN ambassador had warned of “negative consequences” Thursday if the US decided to use military force in Syria.

In the interview with Cooper, Rubio insisted that the Russians, who have an established military presence backing Assad alongside Iranian forces, were not targeted by the US military attack – but had put themselves “into harm’s way.”

“If the Russians are there on the ground assisting Assad in the commission of these heinous crimes – war crimes – they should answer for that,” Rubio said.

He called their position backing Assad “absurd” and said Russia should be “embarrassed and ashamed” after insisting Assad had turned over his chemical weapons stockpile following a 2013 agreement to do so.

“We know that for the better part of this year Assad has been using chlorine bombs against innocent civilians and population centers, and now … a couple days ago, a nerve agent, sarin,” Rubio said.

The senator went further Friday, telling CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that the Russians were complicit in the Tuesday attack and the US should “stop worrying” about provoking them.

“We need to stop worrying so much about Russia’s going to think or what Russia’s going to do; they should be worried about us,” Rubio said. “And perhaps now for the first time in quite a while, I think they are.”

In 2013, Rubio did not support authorizing a military strike against Assad after Obama called for congressional approval in the wake of Assad unleashing chemical weapons on his people.

“While I have long argued forcefully for an engagement and empowering the Syrian people, I have never supported the use of force, of US military force, in this conflict, and I still don’t,” Rubio said at the time. “I believe that US military action of the type contemplated here may prove to be counterproductive. After a few days of missile strikes it will allow Assad, for example, to emerge and claim that he took on the United States and survived.”

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said last week that the US would not focus on removing Assad from power, but shifted her tone after recent chemical attacks on civilians.

Looking ahead, Rubio advocated for an international coalition Friday; something he said “will not happen without strong American leadership.”

“We can’t solve the world’s problems, but there are very few problems in the world that can be solved without America,” Rubio said. “I do believe that if America is willing to lead with a combination of a military and a diplomatic solution to this problem, then I do believe we will have willing nations.”

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Trump said this week’s chemical attack had crossed “many lines” for him, and Rubio said Thursday night’s decision to lash out directly against Assad may have possibly indicated a firm stance against the Syrian president, which he implicitly contrasted with former President Barack Obama.

“I’ll let them speak for their policy, but tonight’s actions show that the days of being able to act with impunity are over when it comes to Bashar al-Assad,” Rubio said. “There is now an American President prepared to do what it takes to ensure that he does not have the capability, or that his capability to conduct these sort of heinous war crimes is diminished and that he’s held accountable.”

CNN’s Richard Roth contributed to this report.