Home/Daniel Larison/Marco Rubio and the GOP’s “Credible Alternative” on Foreign Policy

Marco Rubio and the GOP’s “Credible Alternative” on Foreign Policy

Max Boot does his best to separate Republican hawks from Romney’s defeat:

But, whatever the polls say, future Republican presidential candidates would be well advised to undertake a real effort to explain their foreign policy positions to the country and to reestablish foreign policy credibility which, to some extent, has been frittered away by George W. Bush’s early mistakes in Iraq. It may be unfair to hold an entire party responsible for one president’s mistakes—and not to give Bush proper credit for rescuing the situation in Iraq with the surge—but Republicans will have to recognize that that’s the way it is [bold mine-DL]. They cannot take national security policy for granted. Instead, they must work hard between now and 2016 to make a convincing case about why Obama has gone wrong and what a credible alternative is. That is something that Sen. Marco Rubio, who is already being talked about as a potential candidate in 2016, has done especially well. Other GOP hopefuls would be well advised to follow his example.

It’s important to remember that most of Romney’s foreign policy arguments during the campaign were simply echoes of what Republican hawks were already saying. He obsessed over the “apology tour” nonsense and fell back on rhetoric about American exceptionalism and “the American Century” because this is what many of them were doing in 2009-2010. His foreign policy speeches were laced with Republican hawks’ complaints on Obama’s conduct of policies related to Israel, Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Britain, and Poland, etc. The “credible alternative” that Marco Rubio has presented in the last two years is virtually identical to what Romney was saying, which should tell you everything you need to know about how credible Rubio’s alternative really is.

As for the GOP’s credibility on these issues, it wasn’t just Bush’s early mistakes in Iraq that cost the party in the eyes of the public. The poor management of the Iraq war was certainly an important reason why Republicans aren’t trusted on foreign policy and national security as they once were, but more than that is the stubborn insistence within the GOP that the Iraq war wasn’t a major strategic blunder and needless waste of lives and resources. A large majority of Americans recognizes that the war was unnecessary and wasn’t worth fighting, and they hold the GOP as a whole most responsible for it because most Republicans insisted on defending the war until the very end. It isn’t unfair to place a large share of the blame for the Iraq war on the Republican Party as a whole, whose leading members were more enthusiastically in favor of it from the beginning and supported it long after it was clear that the war itself–and not just the way it had been fought–had been a horrible error. Until Republican hawks work to repudiate the party’s identification with the Iraq war and abandon the sort of thinking that led to that war, they will continue to be distrusted by the public and they will deserve to be. If the GOP wants to regain the public’s trust on foreign policy, Marco Rubio is one of the worst messengers it could have. Other potential candidates would be well-advised not to imitate Rubio.

Of course, there is more to the failures of the Bush administration on foreign policy than just the Iraq war. The tendency to inflate manageable threats into uncontainable, “existential” ones or to invent threats where none exists is not limited to the GOP, but Republican hawks are most inclined to indulge in both. The impulse to believe that the U.S. must “do something” in response to most foreign crises and conflicts is one that members of both parties share, but it is strongest in the GOP, and Republican hawks tend to support resorting to the use of force more often and more quickly than just about anyone else. All of these bad habits distort Republican foreign policy thinking, and they lead Republican politicians to adopt intransigent and confrontational positions that neither the general public nor many of their own constituents accept. These are not positions that will benefit from more forceful or frequent explanation. Most Americans recoil from them because they understand very well what is being offered to them: an apparently unending series of unnecessary and costly conflicts and overseas commitments that seem to make no discernible contributions to American security.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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