Marco Rubio, hardly the sharpest tool in the foreign policy tool shed, delivered an address yesterday to the Brookings Institution on “the American world order” and what he thinks about it. From the outset, it was clear that Rubio is trying to identify himself consciously with the neoconservative movement and its chief spokesman in the Senate, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who introduced Rubio. And both Lieberman and Rubio lavished praise on Robert Kagan, the neoconservative strategist who is the chief proponent of the idea that the United States is not in decline and should still pretty much run the world. At the start of his remarks, Lieberman issued a “special thank you to Bob Kagan for orchestrating and inspiring this event today.”
To emphasize the point, Rubio singled out “Scoop Jackson,” the neoconservative senator from Washington who, in the 1970s, launched the careers of nearly all of the leading lights of the neocon movement, from Richard Perle on down.
Rubio’s address might be seen as an audition for the role of vice president in a Mitt Romney administration, though that’s unlikely for two reasons. First, Rubio is sort of a male Sarah Palin, an untested local figure highly popular with know-nothing Tea Party types, and Romney isn’t likely to risk another Palin-style debacle. Second, though it’s little known, Rubio is a former Mormon, and it’s simply too much to believe that Jesus-loving GOP evangelicals will accept two Mormons on the same ticket, even if Rubio no longer subscribes to the tenets of the Latter-Day Saints.
So what did Rubio say?
Perhaps the main point, differentiating himself from the Obama administration’s ally-based, multilateral, old-school realist foreign policy, Rubio made it clear that, like Dick Cheney, Perle and the neoconservatives ensconced in think tanks and magazines around Washington, he believes in going it alone. After a few comments about the useful role of global institutions, Rubio went on to make it clear that he won’t let the United Nations, Russia, China and others get in our way when countries need to be bombed or invaded:
You can see this in the actions of —or sometimes lack thereof, of the World Trade Organization or the UN Security Council, and when American influence is diminished, for example, by the one nation, one vote formula of the UN General Assembly or the UN Human Rights Council, we see absurd and often appalling results. Multilateral international organizations can be a forum for forming international coalitions, but as we have repeatedly seen over the last few years, the more difficult the problem, the likelier bad actors will spoil meaningful solutions within the current system of international organizations.
For example, we can’t always rely on the UN Security Council to achieve consensus on major threats to international peace and security. As we’ve seen on North Korea, on Syria, on Iran, China and Russia simply will not join that consensus when they do not perceive the problem as a threat to their narrow national interests.
And he added:
Instead, they exercise their veto or threat of a veto to thwart effective and timely response. The Security Council remains a very valuable forum but not an indispensible one. We can’t walk away from a problem because some members of the Security Council refuse to act.
That’s not very subtle. And while it’s fair to say that Obama, too, threatens unilateral action now and then, he’s shied away from it and—as shown in the case of Libya—likes to lead from “behind.” That’s exactly what riles Rubio.
On Iran, where he waxed most hawkish, Rubio raised the bar by declaring that the dispute with Iran is not about its nuclear program but about Iran’s alleged desire to control the entire region:
Iran’s nuclear ambitions, by the way, are more than just weapons. Iran wants to become the dominant power in the Middle East. But given Iran’s history of human rights abuses, fomenting sectarian conflict and sponsorship of terrorism as a tool of state craft, the world must never allow that to happen.
Not only that, but Rubio declared that every single aspect of America’s Middle East policy must be subordinated to the goal of stopping Iran:
The goal of preventing a dominant Iran is so important that every regional policy we adopt should be crafted with that overriding goal in mind.
Naturally, that includes toppling President Assad of Syria.
Rubio barely mentioned Afghanistan at all, signaling the Republican party’s dilemma of how to support a lost war that the voters have abandoned already. (In fact, in the Q&A, Brookings’ Marvin Kalb said, “Let me, then, be specific and ask you about Afghanistan, which is a subject you barely touched on in the talk.” After which Rubio gave a half-hearted defense of the war, hardly a stirring battle cry: “I think it’s critical for public policymakers to clearly explain, and persuasively explain, to the American people why our engagement there is so important.” Right. Which Rubio didn’t do. At all.
Rubio spoke about challenges from Russia, China, the world economic crisis and other issues, mostly sticking to neocon talking points. If you are patient enough, read the whole thing.