Rubio is way too smart to want to take the country back to the days of George W. Bush. He just hasn’t figured out an effective way to move beyond the Bush era on the foreign policy side either.
This frames the problem the wrong way. My guess is that Rubio doesn’t think he is taking the country back to the Bush era. As he sees it, he is advocating for standard-issue Republican hawkish foreign policy, and to the extent that he has Bush’s record in mind at all he probably thinks that it was on balance a good record. That is the real problem: these Republicans don’t accept that their foreign policy has already been tried and failed, and if you tell them that they are adherents of Bushism they will probably take it as a compliment. I submit that Rubio hasn’t figured out a way to “move beyond” the Bush era because he thinks it is unnecessary or because he doesn’t want to do it. Failing to do so certainly hasn’t done him any harm among party leaders, since they aren’t interested in separating themselves from Bush-era foreign policy, either.
It isn’t that Rubio and other hard-liners lack intelligence. That would be an easy way to dismiss them, but it’s wrong. They may lack good judgment, but that’s a different issue. Very smart people can believe all sorts of nonsense derived from ideology and/or a half-baked understanding of the world. Some people made the same argument about Romney when he was reciting the party boilerplate on these issues. They said, “He’s much too smart to believe what he’s saying, so we can discount it.” Saying things like this about Romney or Rubio reassures the people saying them that no one can genuinely hold these discredited positions anymore, and it creates the comforting illusion that intelligence is a reliable defense against making major policy blunders. Neither is true. The Bush administration’s failures didn’t happen because their architects were stupid. These were failures of competence and judgment, and they were the result of having terrible ideas that were untethered to reality.
Miller isn’t wrong that the Rubio article in question was awful and lacking in specifics, but it’s not surprising that Rubio chose to present “a disjointed and embarrassing set of bromides” as his argument. That is Rubio’s normal style of foreign policy argument on most occasions. The speech he gave at Brookings last year was much more detailed, but including specifics didn’t make things any better. Rubio made a number of proposals for what should be done in Syria in that speech, and fortunately he and others calling for these measures have been ignored. It would be much more useful to see what Miller has to say about that awful speech, since that is what gave Rubio his largely undeserved reputation as a leading Republican on foreign policy issues.