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Misremembering Rubio’s Foreign Policy

Edward Luce repeats an oddly commonmisunderstanding of Rubio’s foreign policy views:

Mr Rubio’s weaknesses can also be turned to his advantage. Foremost is a tendency to bend with the wind. Two years ago, he sounded almost centrist on foreign policy [bold mine-DL]. Today he vows to undo Mr Obama’s alleged appeasement of America’s foes, chiefly Iran and Cuba.

Luce is claiming that Rubio has significantly changed his foreign policy views and rhetoric in the last two years, but it’s just not true. Rubio might be emphasizing his hard-line views more often than he did when he first started in the Senate, but foreign policy is one area where we can say with certainty that he hasn’t changed positions at all. That is something for hard-liners to celebrate and for the rest of us to regard with dread. I don’t doubt that on some issues Rubio is inclined to “bend with the wind,” and on immigration that would be a fair description of what he has done as senator. To say the same of his foreign policy views is wrong and it makes Rubio seem more reasonable and flexible on these issues than he is.

To the extent that Rubio has become more vocal in condemning Obama’s policies in the last year, that is happening because Obama has been actively pursuing high-profile policies that clash more sharply with Rubio’s hard-line preferences. Rubio now has every incentive as a presidential candidate to exaggerate his differences with Obama for partisan reasons. He also has good reason to distract attention from the fact that he has backed some ill-conceived Obama policies, including the Libyan war. His disagreements with Obama on Iran and Cuba were more muted when Obama’s policies toward those countries were more conventional. Once negotiations with Iran started to make progress and when Obama sought to normalize relations with Cuba, that triggered Rubio’s predictable hawkish reactions on both issues. Rubio didn’t suddenly become more hawkish during this time. He reacted as an Iran hard-liner and Cuba embargo dead-ender would when faced with the prospect of successful diplomatic engagement with these pariah regimes. If Rubio has ever seemed “almost centrist” on foreign policy, that is only because many so-called Washington “centrists” are incorrigible hawks and interventionists. In that sense, Rubio is a “centrist” only as part of the bad tradition of McCain and Lieberman, but not in the way that Luce wants his readers to think.

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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