The student has now become the teacher.
Sen. Marco Rubio, once viewed as a protege of presidential competitor Jeb Bush, schooled the former Florida governor Wednesday evening in the first national security address of his national campaign.
As compared to Jeb Bush, who fumbled and stumbled through his first major national security address, Marco Rubio delivered a master class on foreign policy that spoke to the soul of the right’s hawkish neoconservatives…
In an hour before the Council, he spoke about everything from Filipino typhoon survivors to keeping South China Sea transit ways accessible—and at one point corrected longtime broadcaster and forum moderator Charlie Rose about the extent to which there are Iranian fighters in Iraq.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) continues to build support among Republican hawks, earning praise from conservative foreign policy analysts for his Wednesday speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Foreign policy conservatives said they were impressed by Rubio’s ability to speak in detail on a wide range of issues while avoiding pitfalls that have tripped up some other Republicans.
“It felt as if he were taking a Ph.D. oral exam in foreign policy—and he passed easily,” said Max Boot, a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations who has provided advice to Rubio and other candidates in an unofficial capacity. “He never seemed the slightest bit flustered, he always had cogent points to make, and he had a plethora of specific facts to cite in his answers about everything from Iraq to China.”
“What most presidential candidates do is just kind of summarize past foreign policy crises to give a Wikipedia page [explanation] of what’s going on,” said Richard Grenell, the former U.S. spokesperson for the United Nations. “Marco Rubio is actually offering solutions and he’s leading the discussion.”
Now a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Rubio has traded in a moderate pitch on international affairs for an aggressive, hawkish approach…
For Rubio, its both a natural evolution on his thinking in an era of Islamic State fighters and new threats from Russia, as well as a shift rightward to match his party’s demands of its next presidential nominee. Republican voters and caucus participants in early nominating states demand an orthodoxy from their presidential candidates, and Rubio’s earlier flirtation with moderation—even if not entirely moderate—would prove disqualifying inside the party.
For instance, the now hawkish Rubio previously backed negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program in 2012. Now, as an increasingly vocal member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he unsuccessfully sought to derail Obama’s still-gelling agreement with Tehran over its nukes. He unsuccessfully tried to attach one amendment that would have made it impossible for the United States to reach a final agreement with Iran; leaders in his own party kept the measure far away from the final bill that gives Congress oversight of any deal.
And in 2012, Rubio intimated that the United States has limited capacity to guide the world. “Let’s stop and remember that the world America made is better, but it is not perfect,” Rubio said. “But it is vastly more peaceful and prosperous than any other age in recorded history.”
Rubio said in his CFR speech that his “first priority” as president would be to “adequately fund our military.” He has been running on a staunchly hawkish platform. He introduced a budget amendment earlier this year to beef up defense spending without offsets in other areas.
But in the past, he has called for cuts in other areas to offset a boost in spending.
“To lift the sequester we must find a real, lasting solution to the true cause of our growing national debt: the unsustainable path of important programs like Medicare and Social Security,” Rubio said at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013.
Asked to explain the shift on national security spending, a Rubio spokesman did not immediately respond.
“At least 85 percent of American foreign policy does not change from president to president, and the presidents who do try to change more than that eventually discover the pitfalls of that approach,” writes Tufts University professor, and Washington Post contributor, Daniel Drezner. This foreign policy learning curve, Drezner explains, has become a part of the pageantry of American politics, even if candidates eventually fail to live up to the ideals enumerated on the campaign trail once in the White House.
Early indicators suggest a similar letdown in a hypothetical Rubio presidency. Though the senator spoke abstractly about freedom and human rights during his speech, Rubio also heaped praise on Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and even went so far as to suggest that a Rubio administration would provide U.S. ground forces to help Saudi Arabia wage a primarily sectarian war in neighboring Yemen…
While there is some reason to believe the one-term senator might challenge the status quo in the Middle East — he has, after all, evolved on the question of Iraq — history, and the senator’s own statements, suggests that the answer is no.
Here Mr. Rubio took a pronounced neoconservative turn. He urged America to “think big,” to “advance the rights of the vulnerable” who are “persecuted.” “The American people hear their cries, see their suffering . . . and desire their freedom.” That sounds anodyne unless it’s not…
Here is what is concerning: In our time “moral clarity,” has, as a former member of George H.W. Bush’s White House put it, “tended to stack the terms of a debate without having to address the merits of a policy.” “Moral clarity” tends to start with ringing cries and end with manipulations.
In making his case Mr. Rubio disparaged “nation building at home.” But it is not invalid to say that America needs to become more fully what we say we believe in, and put a priority not on projecting our values militarily but reflecting them more deeply at home. It is true that the world now has less respect for us as a moral actor in the world, but it is not only because of the bad leadership of the past seven or 15 years, take your pick. It is not only because the world knows of our economic problems and the dysfunction and corruption of our governing class. The world is less impressed by us because they’ve been here…
I wish every candidate who rightly lauds Ronald Reagan’s candor and moral clarity would then note: “And interestingly enough, he never invaded the Warsaw Pact countries.” He used words, diplomacy and other forms of muscle to change the world.
Marco Rubio’s campaign webpage prominently features this assertion: “nothing matters if we aren’t safe…
Maybe I’m being oversensitive to this kind of appeal, and I realize it’s just election-time sloganeering, but placing the goal of “safety” – either domestically or abroad – above all things is one of the most vacuous promises of American political life…
[W]hen Rubio gave his speech at the Council on Foreign Relations the other day, unveiling the Rubio Doctrine, he claimed that the “world has never been more dangerous than it is today, but in the New American Century, a stronger America will make the world safer.”
Everything about that sentence is awful, but especially the promise. But, as my own jingoistic inclinations go, I’m all for aggressively crushing terrorists and peacefully promulgating American idealism, which is by any historical measure both morally and functionally superior to anything else going on in the world. But, while the world may never be safe enough for Rubio, asserting that it has “never been more dangerous than it is today,” is without factual basis. Even when we consider all the cruelty and brutality in the world, and there is plenty, there’s a far better case to be made that, for most humans, the world is safer than ever. It’s safer from disease, safer from train accidents, safer from genocide, safer from crime, safer from barbarians raiding villages and dragging your family into slavery, and it is certainly safer from world war.
[W]what all these doctrines had in common was that they constituted an effort to define, and answer, the specific challenge of a given time. For Monroe, it was hemispheric independence. For Truman, it was communist expansion. For Carter, it was threats to America’s oil supply.
That’s exactly what the Rubio “doctrine” does not do…
These, Rubio told moderator Charlie Rose, “are timeless truths.” But that’s precisely the problem. Historically, foreign-policy doctrines have been the opposite of “timeless.” They represent efforts to further American interests and ideals by offering a specific response to a specific geopolitical reality. Every president wants the United States to be strong, prosperous, and moral. Doctrines are supposed to outline a strategy for achieving those goals. They are not the goals themselves…
When you’re running against candidates like Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee, appearing serious on foreign policy isn’t hard. But the closer you look at the “doctrine” that supposedly guides Rubio’s approach to the world, the less serious it looks. Anyone can enunciate “timeless truths.” Serious candidates explain novel ways to pursue them given the particular circumstances of their time. At the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday, Rubio barely tried.
I very much doubt that the growing anxiety over America’s loss of influence in the world, and the rise of competitors like China and Iran, constitutes the sort of crisis that makes foreign affairs a first-order electoral issue. But even if it does, I suspect that the sweet spot will lie elsewhere. An effective anti-Obama agenda, even if it’s substantively wrong, would stress traditional statecraft, managerial competence, sober oratory — Bush I rather than Bush II. It’d be a good moment for Colin Powell, but he’s not running. It’s not such a bad moment for Hillary Clinton, who is.
Whatever its political merits, Rubio’s chesty worldview would make the world less safe rather than more. He would have the United States throw in its lot with Saudi Arabia in its growing proxy war with Iran by putting boots on the ground in Yemen. President Obama is trying to use the current Camp David summit to assure Gulf States that the U.S. fully recognizes the threat of Iranian adventurism while at the same time restraining the headlong rush to confrontation. That requires a degree of balance and prudence to which our budding Kennedy seems immune. Rubio would encourage Ukraine to join NATO, though he argued that the American failure to bolster Ukrainian military capability over the last few years has left it currently unsuitable for membership. That kind of brinksmanship would only provoke reciprocal aggression from President Vladimir Putin of Russia. The actual, as opposed to cartoon-version, John F. Kennedy, made just that mistake…
Rubio is adroit enough that he could tone down his bellicosity in order to mount an effective attack against Obama’s foreign policy, as embodied in Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. That, too, would be fun to watch. Nevertheless, the world of 2016, with its emerging powers and disintegrating international order, its sub-state actors and transnational problems, does not need John Kennedy circa 1960. That would not be fun to watch.
Rubio misperceives the American public’s willingness to sustain the current model indefinitely, and therefore fails to appreciate the need for a genuinely new approach to U.S. global affairs. He minimizes the costs and risks of our current foreign policies, and oversells the benefits.
He ignores the way in which U.S. security assurances to a host of some-of-the-time allies have discouraged these countries from taking reasonable steps to defend themselves and their interests. And he fails to see any reasonable alternative to a world in which the United States acts—forever, it seems—as the sole guarantor of global security…
But the fact that foreigners like this arrangement doesn’t explain why most Americans would. When Rubio calls for huge increases in the Pentagon’s budget, he is telling Americans that they should be content to accept higher taxes, more debt and less money to spend here at home, so that U.S. allies elsewhere can neglect their defenses and feed their bloated welfare states…
But it seriously undermines Rubio’s claim to represent the hopes and aspirations of a new generation when he invokes the policies of the same-ol’ generation, and the one before it. His relative youth and stirring personal narrative will appeal to some, including possibly younger voters turned off by a cast of familiar names and has-beens. But Rubio’s fresh face alone is unlikely to compensate for his strangely stale foreign policies.
As Yahoo’s Meredith Shiner noted, “the question-and-answer session after Rubio’s address to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York provided an even more interesting glimpse into the thinking of a candidate.”
The glimpse I got was of someone who was genuinely interested in foreign affairs. I didn’t agree with a ton of what he said, but his responses on Syria and Cuba suggested that he did have a clear and consistent worldview.
I wrote something about Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.) a few months ago that applies to the entire GOP field, “This isn’t about whether Walker should profess a more dovish or hawkish foreign policy posture. This is whether he wants to sound like a smart hawk or a dumb hawk.”
Rubio’s a hawk — like the rest of the GOP potentials. He’s a hawk who has made the occasional gaffe. But he’s not dumb, and unlike most of the rest of the GOP field, he does not need to play catch-up on foreign affairs. And given the importance that national security will play in the GOP primary, that is a decided advantage for the senator from Florida.