Neoconservative Marco Rubio wants to rule the world
By Tim Stanley
Nobody usually cares when a Senator gives a speech on foreign policy to the Brookings Institute, but the US media was all over Marco Rubio’s Wednesday effort. It mattered because Rubio is top of Romney’s list to be the Vice Presidential nominee – and the press was struck by its statesmanlike tone and attempt to bridge the partisan divide. But while the sound of the talk was moderate, its content was not. This was the most hawkish speech since John Wayne told that Mexican lady in The Alamo what he was fighting for: “There’s right and there’s wrong. You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you’re living. You do the other and you maybe walking around, but you’re dead as a beaver hat…”
While Rubio did list some Democrats that he likes (Roosevelt, Truman, Scoop Jackson), he really seemed to want to send a message to the Republicans that he dislikes. This is the relevant section:
“Until very recently, the general perception was that American Conservatism believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy … But when I arrived in the Senate last year I found that some of the traditional sides in the foreign policy debate had shifted. On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, and staying out of Libya. On the other hand I found myself partnering with Democrats … on a more forceful foreign policy … I recently joked that today, in the US Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left.”
Rubio’s target is obvious: Ron Paul, Rand Paul, and those elements of the Tea Party Right that dissented on Libya. Given that it barely scraped 20 percent in most primaries, it’s amazing how much the Paulite revolt seems to have upset the Republican establishment. In fact, Rubio’s entire speech (and it’s a long one) reads like a step-by-step rebuttal of the Paulite critique of neoconservative foreign policy – the belief that America has a moral duty and a strategic interest to promote global democracy.
Rubio is a Cuban American, which may have shaped his views on the subject. For many years, the US was the only consistent world power critic of a communist dictatorship that effectively drove the Rubios from their own country. There are certainly a lot of anticommunist memories informing contemporary neocon policies.
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be troubled by Rubio’s all-encompassing vision of American hegemony. Especially if you’re not American. Another quote: “What happens all over the world is our business. Every aspect of [our] lives is directly impacted by global events. The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.”
Apparently, if some goatherd in the mountains of Afghanistan loses one of his flock to a landmine, the consequences for Topeka, Kansas could be terrible. The absurdity of the theory that literally every security problem in the world is a direct threat to the United States is but one example of Rubio’s naïveté. In his vision, America never makes mistakes and everyone loves it. Small nations regard the US as their protector against bigger nations, whose wickedness is irrational: “Other countries look apprehensively on the growing influence of newly emerging powers in their midst, and look to the U.S. to counterbalance them.”
Of course, there’s plenty that’s right in Rubio’s talk. He highlights the importance of alliances and free trade, as well as engaging constructively with Latin America. Europeans will rejoice that he sees a “U.S.-EU partnership” that is critical to balancing the rise of China or the intrigues of Moscow.
But the Senator does insist on pursuing Iran as if it were a latter-day USSR – again, the influence of those old Kremlinologists is obvious. Nobody likes the Iranian dictatorship and nobody (outside a small body of cranks) wants to see it get a nuclear weapon. But these are issues of containment. Rubio deals with Iran as if it were an existential threat: “Iran’s dangerous nuclear ambitions are about more than just weapons. Iran wants to become the most dominant power in the Middle East … The prospect of a nuclear capable Iran is so unacceptable that we must be prepared to act with or without [the consent of others].” Rubio doesn’t just raise the possibility of war; he practically sets a timetable for it.
The shallowness of Rubio’s speech is best demonstrated by his brief, almost innocent mention of the anti-Kony video campaign run by Invisible Children: “All around us we see the human face of America’s influence in the world. It actually begins with not just our government, but our people … The atrocities of Joseph Kony would still be largely unknown. But in fact, millions now know because an American filmmaker made a short film about it and then distributed it on another American invention YouTube.”
Where to begin? The people of Africa certainly knew about Kony before the Kony 2012 video was released. So did the President: he sent Special Forces to Uganda to deal with the warlord back in October 2011 (and was attacked by Republicans for doing so). Perhaps a few well-meaning kids in the US suburbs didn’t know, but what has Invisible Children actually contributed towards resolution of that conflict (especially given that Kony might not even be in Uganda anymore)? And is Rubio suggesting that US foreign policy be guided by whatever video has the most hits on YouTube? If Kim Jong Un makes a sex tape, will America invade North Korea?
Finally, who should be our target in Uganda? Kony, certainly. But also successive Ugandan governments that have stolen from and terrorised their own people. Do we deal with them all at once? And if we do, who shall replace them? The Earth is not divided between good and evil, as Rubio seems to suggest. Rather, it is an amoral mess governed by flawed souls – many of them found within the US State Department. People have tried to bring order to the world before and they’ve all failed. So will Marco Rubio.