Senator Marco Rubio has a foreign policy vision that looks a lot like what Mitt Romney put forward in his 2012 presidential campaign.
It wasn’t so long ago that Obama was ridiculing Romney for calling Russian America’s number one geopolitical foe and complaining that the Navy had fewer ships any time since World War I. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets because the nature of our military’s changed,” Obama mocked in their final debate. “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years,” Obama said.
But now, six years later, Rubio believes Romney’s basic foreign policy frame has been vindicated. And it just so happens to mesh with the worldview of a certain senator from Florida who could well be gearing up for a presidential campaign of his own.
“Many of the things Mitt Romney warned about and talked about, especially in that third debate, have now become reality,” Rubio told The Daily Beast in an interview. “The last six years have certainly discredited the Obama worldview and have created an opportunity for people to assert the rightful place of the United States in the world.”
For Rubio, Obama’s perceived foreign policy failings are in their own ways indictments of the policies of isolationists inside the Republican party. Rubio counts his possible 2016 primary challenger, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, as one of those isolationists. It’s a charge Paul rather vigorously denies. But, to Rubio’s ear, there’s a lot of similarity between the views of Paul and Obama when it comes to America’s role in the world.
“What is going to be pretty clear to Americans is that for six years Barack Obama has been following through what he campaigned on, and that was the idea behind all isolationists: that it is U.S. engagement that creates these problems, that it’s our fault that people hate us around the world, when the opposite is actually true,” said Rubio.
Rubio will give a major foreign policy speech Wednesday at the first ever public event hosted by the John Hay Initiative, an organization comprised of 185 “conservative internationalist” scholars and former officials, almost all Republicans, that has been working with lawmakers and prospective 2016 GOP candidates to promote a Romney-esqe foreign policy agenda.
The Hay Initiative, named after Teddy Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, was founded by three leaders of the Romney campaign foreign policy team: Elliot Cohen, Eric Edelman, and Brian Hook. Rubio's national security counselor Jamie Fly was a senior member of the Romney campaign foreign policy team.
Rubio’s Wednesday speech will focus on a lot of the themes Romney ran on in 2012 when talking about foreign policy: the call for military spending increases, the need to stay ahead of big power peer competitors China and Russia, and the notion that American leadership and credibility are in question and must be aggressively reasserted.
“We need to increase our military capabilities at a time when if you look at our Air Force, our Army, the size of our Navy, it’s dramatically eroded,” Rubio said. “It’s extremely dangerous at a time when virtually every other major military power in the world is rapidly expanding. The Chinese are undergoing one of the most dramatic modernization efforts in modern human history when it comes to their military.”
But Rubio’s remix of Romney might not sound any better to voters the second time around. Despite widespread disapproval of Obama’s handling of foreign policy recently, according to polls, Americans don’t seem to yet be clamoring for more military spending in a time of fiscal crisis and amid a slow economic recovery. And if the Republicans take over the Senate in November, the fight within the party between the budget hawks and the defense hawks will be just beginning.
Rubio is pushing for more ships, more planes, and more troops, but also more money for military research and development while keeping counterterrorism funding high to deal with al Qaeda, ISIS, and the overall problem of radical Islamic extremism. He sees the GOP moving back to its roots as the party advocating for more weapons and more bravado in American foreign policy.
“I never felt that [isolationism] was the mainstream of the Republican Party. I certainly think now more than ever you’ve seen a return or a re-embrace of our traditional stance of being a part of strong national defense,” he said. For the Rand Pauls and Barack Obamas of the world, Rubio said, “reality is setting in” about the growing chaos in the world.
“We may want to ignore these problems but these problems won’t ignore us.”