Home/Daniel Larison/Rubio Was Never a “Moderate” on Foreign Policy

Rubio Was Never a “Moderate” on Foreign Policy

The framing of this article about Rubio’s foreign policy is absurd:

Three years later, the Florida Republican will return Wednesday to the venue for the first major foreign policy speech of his presidential campaign, where he is expected to complete a dramatic shift from moderate to ultra-hawk [bold mine-DL].

The idea that Rubio was ever a “moderate” on foreign policy is simply wrong. His views on these issues haven’t changed noticeably in the time that he has been in the Senate. He campaigned as an unapologetic hawk, and he set out to identify himself with the Senate’s most hawkish members as soon as he arrived. This is clear not only from his rhetoric but from his record. In his first year in office, he was a vocal supporter of intervention in Libya, and he wasagitating for increased U.S. involvement in Syria. He has long advocated for arming the Syrian opposition and seeking regime change in that country. Since then he has reliably been hostile to all attempts at diplomatic engagement with Iran and Cuba, and he has predictably been an advocate for more aggressive U.S. policies toward Russia, ISIS, and Venezuela, among others. His reputation for foreign policy expertise has been greatly exaggerated over the years, but his reputation for consistently endorsing aggressive policies is well-deserved.

The Brookings speech that Rubio delivered in 2012 was praised by many “centrists,” and Rubio was misleadingly called a “centrist” by more than a few people. Nonetheless, the substance of the speech was obviously very hawkish and indistinguishable from anything he would say today. (Then again, some members of Congress are considered “centrists” because they are hawkish.) He articulated a confrontational policy towards Russia, and he demonstrated a warped understanding of international engagement. If he is judged on the substance of what he has said over the years, it is obvious that there has been no “evolution” in his views. They remain as regressive and dangerous as they have always been.

It’s true that Rubio has sometimes tried to play games with labels, and has occasionally eschewed the name hawk because he claims that it is outdated, but this is an attempt to avoid the baggage that comes with the label. As I said in response to a December 2013 speech he gave in London, Rubio’s reputation for hawkishness is impossible to miss:

He is predictably in favor of more Western meddling in Ukraine to oppose Russian influence, rejects the deal with Iran, wants more support for the “moderate opposition” in Syria, and complains once again about instability in Libya that resulted from the war he supported. Most of the speech is geared towards flattering his British audience by placing great emphasis on the alliance with the U.K. and the importance of NATO, and as such most of it is anything that a conventional hawk from either party might say, but at no point does Rubio find fault with other hawks in his party nor does he ever seem to disagree with them about anything.

There is no reason why he would disagree with his party’s hawks, because he has always been one of the most hawkish and outspoken Republican members of Congress since he came to Washington. Another recent report on Rubio makes this clear:

“What differentiates him from the rest of the field?” asked Christopher A. Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank. “They’re all hawkish – just not to the extent he is. He’s a very strong supporter of intervention generally, and supported the use of force by President Obama as well as President Bush, even at a time it wasn’t politically popular.”

Rubio has, he said, “an aggressive enthusiasm for intervention abroad.”

That isn’t something that has just started in the last year or two. More than most of his colleagues, Rubio appears genuinely to believe in the horrible hawkish policies he supports.

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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