Marco Rubio May 20 2015
Washington CNN  — 

What’s the difference between “nation-building” and helping Iraq “build their nation”?

Speaking on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said the U.S. has a “responsibility to support Democracy” abroad, and that “the most “immediate responsibility we have is to help them build a functional government.”

When pressed on the fact that “sounds like nation-building,” a rationale given by George W. Bush and President Barack Obama for much of their policies with regards to Iraq, Rubio said “Well, it’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”

His defense underscores the challenge for many in the Republican presidential field who are jockeying for the hawk of GOP mantle while trying to curry public favor.

READ: In Florida, not-yet-candidate Jeb Bush marks territory

Many of the more hawkish positions the contenders may have to endorse if they’re looking for support from the party’s neoconservative wing and the major donors that fall within it — most notably, Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul — are also in some cases unpopular with Americans.

The Iraq war issue befuddled many in the GOP presidential field last month after Jeb Bush struggled to answer whether his brother’s decision to invade Iraq was, in retrospect, a mistake. His days-long attempt to clean up his initial gaffe on the question, when he said the invasion wasn’t a mistake, underscored what a challenging issue the war and foreign policy in general can be for Republican presidential contenders as they flesh out their policy positions.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and extended military involvement in both countries has soured public opinion on military engagement abroad. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that a majority of Americans believe the U.S. should “mind its own business internationally,” and a similar portion say the U.S. does too much in helping solve world problems.