Terms used to discuss foreign policy are outdated and should be upgraded to describe the complexities of the 21st century, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said Wednesday during a speech on the subject in which he sought to outline what he called “a new vision for America's role abroad.”
“Foreign policy is too often covered in simplistic terms. Many only recognize two points of view: ‘doves’, who seek to isolate us from the world, participating in global events only when there is a direct physical threat to the safety of our homeland; and ‘hawks,’ who believe we should use our military strength to intervene in response to practically every crisis,” Rubio said during an address at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washinton. “The problem is these labels are obsolete. They come from the world of the past. The time has now come for a new vision for America's role abroad — one that reflects the reality of the world we live in today.”
Rubio, who is pondering a presidential run, sought to describe his vision of an active, strategic and aggressive U.S. policy, one that ensures that the U.S. plays a central role in world affairs and “keeps Americans safe, promotes our national interests, and remains true to our guiding principles of liberty and human rights.”
That aggressive presence should “always” include the possibility of the use of military force, Rubio said.
“Force used with clear, achievable objectives must always remain a part of our foreign policy toolbox. Because, while we always prefer peace over conflict, sometimes our enemies choose differently,” he said.
“Sometimes military engagement is our best option. And tragically, sometimes it becomes our only option.”
Rubio’s speech comes at a time of internal debate within the Republican Party over the role of the United States internationally. In the years since the costly invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan led by former President George W. Bush and endorsed by most lawmakers at the time, a noninterventionist wing of the party has sprouted within the conservative movement, particularly through the rising popularity of former presidential candidate Ron Paul and his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
Traditional “hawks” such as Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham — lawmakers who have developed a close relationship with Rubio since he joined the Senate in 2011 — have tussled with Sen. Paul over the use of both aid and force with foreign nations.
In July for instance, Paul introduced a bill in the Senate that would halt aid to Egypt after the nation’s government was overthrown. Rubio joined with a majority of the chamber in rejecting the proposal, but Paul’s move drew distinct lines between the two schools of thought.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Rubio referred to the proposal to remove all aid to Egypt as “reckless,” and called for something of a middle ground. According to his outline, the United States should uphold its strong presence abroad “strategically” by flexing muscle through sanctions, promises of aid and of course, the threat of force.
Rubio was sharply critical of President Barack Obama’s record on foreign policy, particularly his handling of Syria after the nation’s president was accused of using chemical weapons against civilians earlier this year.
“More than two years ago, I urged the president to exercise American influence at a time when we clearly had the ability to shape the outcome of the Syrian war — not through military action, but by working with an opposition that was not yet dominated by an influx of al-Qaida-linked extremists,” Rubio said. “But it was only when Assad employed chemical weapons, blatantly crossing the president’s own red line, that the conflict finally got a measurable — though very small — response from the White House. But by then, sadly it was too late.”
Rubio’s outspokenness on foreign policy is not new, but his growing expertise on the subject — he sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — will serve to bolster his credentials should he seek the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016 or later.
Rubio has had somewhat of a tumultuous year after he took a major political risk in championing a comprehensive immigration overhaul with Democrats. The measure, which included a pathway for citizenship to immigrants living in the United States illegally, passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, but Republicans in the lower chamber declined to give it a vote in the House. Rubio’s participating in crafting the bill enraged part of the conservative base within the Republican Party, particularly his early supporters who associate with the tea party movement.
Rubio has kept a relatively low profile since the immigration bill passed the Senate, so his speech Wednesday offered him an opportunity to take on a separate issue, and show that there’s far more to Rubio than immigration.