Commentary

Rubio’s Strangely Stale Foreign Policies

Sen. Marco Rubio might fancy himself as a new type of leader for a new era, but his May 13 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations was trapped in the past.

Invoking John F. Kennedy’s final speech as president, more than 50 years ago, was bad enough. But Rubio’s overarching message—the Rubio Doctrine—amounts to warmed-over Cold War dogma, sprinkled with the language of benevolent global hegemony favored by so many Washington elites, but disdained by most Americans beyond the Beltway.

It is difficult to understand the depths of his political and strategic myopia.

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.

It is difficult to understand the depths of his political and strategic myopia.

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.

Specifically, Rubio pledged: “As president, I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space.” (Any? Whew!)

To be sure, many people around the world may be happy to allow U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to attempt such an ambitious undertaking, and to have American taxpayers pick up the tab. It is reasonable to guess that most foreign leaders are anxious to preserve the current order—so long as the U.S. government provides for their defense, they are free to spend their money on other things.

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.

Americans, unsurprisingly, and by a wide margin, favor something else. A poll taken last year by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, found a mere 38 percent of Americans who considered “defending our allies’ security” to be a “very important” foreign goal, below “combating world hunger” and “limiting climate change.”

Several of Rubio’s other major foreign policy goals, including “promoting human rights abroad,” “protecting weaker nations against foreign aggression” or “helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” ranked even lower.

To be sure, Rubio is hardly alone in his embrace of the decades-old status quo. A parade of politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, routinely speak of the United States as the indispensable nation, and celebrate the U.S. military’s role as a global constabulary.

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.

Christopher Preble is the vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute.