Marco Rubio gave his big foreign policy speech yesterday, and he carved out space in his remarks to praise many former presidents for their vision and moral clarity when it came to foreign affairs. He led off with a quote from John F. Kennedy, name-checked Harry Truman, said “Reagan” a (surprisingly scant) three times. The overall thrust of his remarks was that American foreign policy in the 20th century was just terrific, and as president he’ll bring that same spirit of Cold War resolve back to the White House and make sure “the 21st century will be another American Century.”
One president’s name didn’t come up – the last Republican to hold the office, George W. Bush. That makes sense, given that the Bush legacy is still politically toxic and other 2016 wannabes are taking no small amount of grief for associating themselves with it. But really, Rubio should have given W. at least some credit, given that the foreign policy vision he laid out was undiluted neoconservatism molded by a coterie of neocon advisers plucked from the most recent Bush administration.
And, in classic neocon fashion, Rubio’s doctrine of foreign policy consisted mainly of black-and-white moralizing and dubious assurances that bloated military budgets, in conjunction with tough-guy posturing, will bend the globe to America’s will.
To make his case, Rubio attacked what he viewed as the “deterioration of our physical and ideological strength” under the Obama administration, which “has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office.”
RUBIO: In just the last two years, we’ve seen an emboldened Russia invade Ukraine. We’ve seen ISIL sweep across multiple states, commit brutal atrocities, and attempt to establish a caliphate. We’ve seen one of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophes in decades as hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been slaughtered at the whim of a tyrant. We’ve seen the largest migration of refugees since World War II, bringing instability to an entire region and putting whole generations at risk of radicalization. We’ve seen China rapidly expand its military capabilities and take aggressive action in the South and East China Seas. We’ve seen North Korea expand its nuclear arsenal and continue its brutal human rights violations. We’ve seen cyber-attacks against our allies and our own people. We’ve seen peaceful protestors met with violence from their governments.
So that’s what happens when a president fails to show clarity of vision and moral resolve? That’s interesting because an “emboldened” Russia also invaded Georgia in 2008. Al-Qaida in Iraq – the precursor to ISIS – rampaged and committed atrocities for much of the American occupation of Iraq. China spent the Bush years building up its military and indulged in some provocative saber-rattling, like shooting down a satellite. North Korea obtained its first nuclear weapon during the Bush administration and enthusiastically repressed its people for the duration of Bush’s presidency. Violent crackdowns on protesters by foreign governments? Check and check.
Clearly, then, Rubio feels that George W. Bush was a failure, yes? He must have considered him a weakling who just didn’t get what American leadership was all about, and a moral coward who resigned the world to tyranny and oppression at the hands of freedom-hating regimes, right?
“George W. Bush, in my opinion, did a fantastic job as president over eight years,” Rubio said during the 2012 elections, “facing a set of circumstances during those eight years that are different from the circumstances that a President Romney would face.” Part of that “fantastic job” was the Iraq War, which Rubio said in 2010 was absolutely worth it. “The world is better off because Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge in Iraq,” he said. “And I think we have to remind ourselves of that, is that the world is a better and safer place because Saddam Hussein no longer is in charge of that country.”
But what of Iran? According to Rubio, the growth of Iranian power is Obama’s biggest failing. “And most threatening of all,” Rubio said yesterday, “we’ve seen Iran expand its influence throughout the Middle East and threaten to annihilate Israel as it moves closer to a nuclear weapons capability.” Iran’s been threatening to annihilate Israel for years (including under Bush), but yeah whatever it does it now because Obama is weak or something. Iran moved closer to having a nuclear weapon under Bush. And Iran vastly expanded its influence in the Middle East under Bush because we toppled Iran’s biggest rival in the region and left a giant power vacuum with a mismanaged military occupation.
I point all this out because the crux of Rubio’s argument is that a tough president who refuses to compromise and demonstrates a willingness to deploy a vastly overdeveloped military can mold the world to his designs. We just had a president who thought the same way, and we’re still cleaning up the mess he left.