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April 25, 2012

That Center Cannot Hold? Rubio Speaks on foreign policy
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Marco Rubio makes a splashy appeal to what used to be the national security center-right, with a Bob Kagan-heavy speech at Brookings and an LATimes op-ed on Latin America.

The pieces are well structured and make bows to reality -- working with allies and partners, the need for negotiation and engagement, even the appropriateness of using the UN to build coalitions -- that we have grown unused to hearing from conservatives over the primary debates.

Laura Rozen went as far as suggesting Rubio was auditioning for an Obama second-term Secretary of State, with lines like these:

In this new century, more than ever before, America should work with out capable allies in finding solutions to global problems. Not because America has gotten weaker, but because our partners have grown stronger. It’s worth pointing out, that is not a new idea for us. Our greatest successes have always occurred in partnership with other like-minded nations. America has acted unilaterally in the past – and I believe it should continue to do so in the future -- when necessity requires. But our preferred option since the U.S. became a global leader has been to work with others to achieve our goals. So yes, global problems do require international coalitions. On that point this administration is correct.

Preferably, we can succeed through coercive means short of military force. We should be open to negotiations with Iran.

The spread and success of political and economic freedom in the Middle East is in our vital interest. It will certainly present challenges, as newly enfranchised societies elect leaders whose views and purposes oppose and even offend ours. But in the long term, because governments that rule by the consent of the governed must be responsive to the material needs and demands of their people, they are less likely to engage in costly confrontations that harm their economies and deprive their people of the opportunity to improve their circumstances.

It's easier to imagine each of those paragraphs coming out of President Obama's mouth than Mitt Romney's, which presages some interesting questions about Rubio as VP.

I found just three differences on specific policies:  Rubio's call to establish a safe haven across the Turkish border and "potentially" arm the opposition in Syria; his limits on a timeline for negotiations with Iran; and his rejection of the US "reset" with Russia that produced Russian nuclear reductions udner New START, Russian help or abstention on Iran sanctions and Libya, and vital overflight rights for our troops in Afghanistan.

(I'm also confused by the idea that shale oil in Canada gets Eastern Europe to cut its cheap gas deals with Russia, so I'm not counting it here.)

But don't let all the convergence rhetoric fool you. Rubio's rhetoric, and even more the details he sets out in his Los Angeles times op-ed on Latin America today, ultimately lines him up with Romney on the central question around how the US engages in the world.

Rubio, like many, seems to define engagement as only on US terms, and pooh-poohs the idea that other countries can lead effectively. But where would we be without Germany in the European economic crisis, Australia ending atrocities in East Timor, EU peacekeepers in the Balkans? Where do emerging global powers, not just China but Brazil, Turkey, India, fit in his worldview? Why will they be content to be led by the US? He also maintains complete silence about how this definition of US leadership -- all the time, everywhere -- can be paid for, even while bemoaning his party's moves to cut foreign aid and the libertarians to his right's calls to bring home the military.

Rubio raised issues no one else has raised in politics this season, though his speech skipped some big ones (no mention of terrorism, light on Israel and the Arab Spring, nothing on the Koreas or Japan, or our military). And he made a real effort to recapture what used to be the center-right on national security. Ultimately, though, the new right seems likely to reject his views on engagement -- while the American public has already rejected the idea that engagement means universal go-it-alone leadership in favor of a vision in which America leads "with" others, not "for" them. 



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