During what was advertised as a “major foreign policy speech” at the Brookings Institution on Wednesday, Sen. Marco Rubio said: “I am always cautious about generalizations but until very recently, the general perception was that American conservatism believed in a robust and muscular foreign policy.”
Rubio is correct that conservatives have always believed in a strong national defense. What conservatives have never believed in is an irrational offense — policing the world, nation-building and global welfare. Today, America has a $15 trillion and rising national debt. Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen has called our debt America’s greatest security threat. Said Rubio:
Faced with historic deficits and a dangerous national debt, there has been increasing talk of reducing our foreign aid budget. But we need to remember that these international coalitions we have the opportunity to lead are not just economic or military ones. They can also be humanitarian ones as well.
How is spending America’s children into debt slavery for “humanitarian missions” conservative?
Historically, liberals have agreed with President Woodrow Wilson that it is America’s mission “to make the world safe for democracy.” It was the Republican Party led by Sen. Robert Taft in the early to mid-twentieth century that formed the conservative opposition to what was considered Wilson’s utopian notion. Yes, President Ronald Reagan built up America’s defenses substantially during the Cold War. But he was still extremely reluctant to use them. As George Mason University Professor Colin Dueck has noted: “The United States did not embark on any large-scale or lasting military interventions under Reagan. He used force in a way that was brief, small-scale and popular domestically, and when these conditions did not obtain, he extricated the U.S. from the possibility of protracted military entanglements.”
Unlike Reagan, Rubio eagerly encourages protracted military engagements. As Rubio put it on Wednesday:
I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business. Every aspect of [our] lives is directly impacted by global events. The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Our cost of living, the safety of our food and the value of the things we invent, make and sell are just a few examples of everyday aspects of our lives that are directly related to events abroad and make it impossible for us to focus only on our issues here are home.
Business Insider’s Michael Brendan Dougherty noted of this passage from Rubio:
This is a prescription for endless war. It is also patently untrue. Not even the Soviets could bring peace to all the small hamlets of Afghanistan, and we haven’t been able to do it either, despite being vastly more sophisticated, wealthier, and spending much longer in that nation. … Rubio’s speech lists almost a half dozen nations that have to dramatically change so that the world order can reflect “the interests and beliefs of its strongest power,” us.
Rubio’s foreign policy is quintessentially liberal — that the U.S. government not only can solve the world’s problems, but that it should as a moral imperative. The conservative deals with the world as it is, necessarily recognizing practical limits. The liberal tries to reshape the world as he would like to see it, at any cost.
There is no question where Rubio falls in this right-left tension.
Rubio conflates Reagan’s foreign policy with that of George W. Bush as “muscular” and “robust” and declares both conservative, a disservice not only to Reagan but a dishonest assessment of American conservatism. In 2005, columnist George Will asked William F. Buckley his opinion of Bush’s foreign policy:
WILL: Today, we have a very different kind of foreign policy. It’s called Wilsonian. And the premise of the Bush Doctrine is that America must spread democracy, because our national security depends upon it. And America can spread democracy. It knows how. It can engage in nation-building. This is conservative or not?
BUCKLEY: It’s not at all conservative. It’s anything but conservative. It’s not conservative at all, inasmuch as conservatism doesn’t invite unnecessary challenges. It insists on coming to terms with the world as it is …
Rubio was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 as a tea party champion, but he has subsequently done very little in the way of trying to cut spending. Instead, Rubio has talked much about the dire need to continue with the same overextended foreign policies of Bush and Obama, even as our debt mounts. Tea party senators like Rand Paul, Jim DeMint and Mike Lee have voted for big cuts and balanced budgets on multiple occasions, but not Rubio. When big-government hawk senators like John McCain, Joe Lieberman or Lindsey Graham insist that the U.S. take action in Libya, Syria and God-knows-where-else, there’s Rubio right beside them.