As a Cuban-American attorney from Miami who shares much in common with Sen. Marco Rubio—we’re both Florida Gators—I am naturally expected to support his presidential candidacy. But Rubio’s frightening foreign-policy views prevent this conservative from doing so.
There is a war brewing on the right, one arguably more fierce—and fateful—than the usual “conservative vs. liberal” contests. In the summer of 2004, Christopher Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair of a “Rumble on the Right” among the interventionists and realists. That rumble continues in the form of a proxy war, largely between those who support Sen. Rand Paul’s sensible approach to foreign policy and those who support Senator Rubio’s.
But before examining Rubio’s foreign-policy stances, one must ask: is he even much of a conservative? For those who define conservatism as big business, big government, and war-happy, sure. For the rest of us? We’re not buying it. Rubio’s amnesty push alone should have been the nail in the coffin of any presidential ambition: it’s a position advanced mostly by crony businessmen seeking cheaper, wider labor pools. And perhaps therein lies the key. Rubio is the billionaire’s candidate—a blank slate with a Colgate smile, a company man, be it for amnesty or more wars. And though he has backed off of pushing amnesty, what does it say about the man’s character that he has turned on his own signature legislation, which he swore was of the utmost importance?
Then there is Rubio’s inability to speak in anything other than vague slogans, his Hallmark card-isms. As Glenn Greenwald remarked on Twitter: “Whenever Marco Rubio speaks policy, [he] seems like a 9th grader who read a biography of Reagan & is giving a book report.” Something else you’ll notice in Rubio’s speeches and social media postings? His intense focus on foreign policy. Rubio has even bizarrely stated that foreign policy is domestic policy.
To be fair, foreign policy is the issue over which an American president has the most control, and it’s therefore of prime importance in any presidential candidate. In that spirit, let us examine the foreign-policy views of Marco Rubio, he whom the data-journalism website Vox describes as “the biggest hawk in the GOP field.”
First, there’s Iraq. While most presidential contenders sensibly admit that the Iraq invasion was a mistake in hindsight, Rubio steadfastly insists it was not. This, despite over 4,400 dead Americans, half a million dead Iraqis, a staggering $2 trillion price tag—10 percent of our national debt—and the creation of a power vacuum that has enabled the rise of ISIS. Rubio would even commit our troops yet again. “Anytime there’s a vacuum created anywhere in the Middle East,” he told CNN without a hint of irony, “it becomes a magnet for these sorts of terrorist groups to come in and operate from.” And if the Baghdad regime we set up the last time proves unable to check the Islamic State, “this might require some element of U.S. ground power in order to finish the job.”
Second, there’s Syria. In 2013, the establishment’s drums beat loudly in favor of intervention on the side of the Syrian rebels and against Bashar al-Assad. Many grassroots conservatives opposed getting involved, some purely because Obama—who, like Bill Clinton, is no stranger to interventionism—favored it. For whatever perfect storm of reasons, this time noninterventionism prevailed, thanks to public pressure on Congress, and the choice was soon vindicated. In aiding the rebels against Assad, we would have been aiding ISIS, too—not least because even the “good” rebel groups have proved to be hotbeds for Islamic State recruiting. But who was loudly calling for that intervention? Marco Rubio.
Third, there’s Libya. Here again Rubio agreed with Obama’s interventionist impulse—in fact, Libya highlights just how much Rubio resembles an establishment Democrat, sharing nearly identical foreign-policy positions with Hillary Clinton. Right-wing interventionists often attempt to smear Rand Paul as a liberal whenever his view coincides with Obama’s—e.g., in opposing the embargo on Cuba. But the truth is Rubio’s foreign policy has much more in common with the Clintons and President Obama than it does with a conservative like Ronald Reagan.
Fourth, we have Ukraine. Rubio has called for arming Ukraine and even supports the country’s prospective entry into NATO, which would obligate us to defend Ukraine militarily under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. You know, just your run-of-the-mill policy position that could lead to World War III with Russia. No big deal. This, even though most Americans have no interest defending in Ukraine.
But wait, there’s more! Fifth is Yemen, where he’s also advocated intervention. In an interview with Charlie Rose, Rubio suggested that U.S. support for a fight against Shi’ite rebels there should not only include “U.S. logistical and air support” but “I think ultimately you could embed Special Operations Forces.”
If you don’t need a cigarette after all that, and aren’t worried about the prospect of this being our commander in chief, I tip my hat to your nerves’ resilience.
Much like Sen. John McCain, Rubio appears to be a man who never met an intervention he did not like. The irony is Rubio—unlike McCain, Lindsey Graham, or either of the George Bushes—never served in the armed forces despite being perfectly able. During Rubio’s eligible years, America engaged in five wars. Rubio took a pass.
Yet no-military-record-be-damned, he wears his interventionism proudly. And it has paid off, with Rubio receiving much praise from the mainstream media and insider buzz around his candidacy. He tied Scott Walker as the Weekly Standard’s pick for the candidate most likely to get the Republican nomination, and early polling puts him close to Walker and Jeb Bush at the head of the field. The powerbrokers and tastemakers are still the interventionists and, as such, a realistic foreign policy remains something of a handicap, while interventionism makes a career.
But despite the fanfare, the chinks in Rubio continue to show, with an embarrassing appearance on Fox News recently where Rubio, defending his vision for Iraq, stated: “It’s not nation building. We are assisting them in building their nation.” Even a Fox News host called the answer “confusing.”
Rubio bills himself as the candidate of the future, yet his “New American Century” platform might instead best be described as “Turn of the Century.” If you’re clamoring for the ‘Murica, “Democracy can flourish in the Middle East!” policy of the George W. Bush years, Rubio’s your guy. If you want something pensive, positive, and fresh—he probably isn’t.
In 2012, Rubio made perhaps his most worrisome statement: “I disagree with voices in my own party who argue we should not engage at all, who warn we should heed the words of John Quincy Adams not to go ‘abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.’” There you have it. Next up: “Marco Rubio on why Thomas Jefferson’s ‘entangling alliances with none’ was foolish nonsense.” Rubio breaks rank with the Founding Fathers’ tradition and believes in globetrotting monster-destruction—or monster-making, judging by our Mideast record.
Voters will need to choose between this dumbed-down Woodrow Wilson or an alternative. Eleven years in, the Rumble on the Right continues.
A.J. Delgado is an attorney, author, and television commentator and a conservative columnist for the Miami Herald.