Rubio Overrates His Foreign Policy Experience

If the Florida senator insists on touting his “judgement” and “understanding” of foreign affairs, let’s take a look.

Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida listens to a question from a voter in Nashua, New Hampshire, January 23, 2016
Republican senator Marco Rubio of Florida listens to a question from a voter in Nashua, New Hampshire, January 23, 2016 (Michael Vadon)

Criticized by his more senior rivals for lacking experience, Marco Rubio argued on Thursday that he alone has the “foreign policy experience” to qualify for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

“The fact of the matter is Jeb has no foreign policy experience,” the Florida senator said about his state’s former governor. “He has no foreign policy experience and was governor a long time ago.”

The world has changed a lot in the last ten years. Foreign policy has changed a lot in the last five years. No one on that stage has more experience or has shown better judgment or has shown a better understanding of national security threats than I have.

As a member of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, Rubio is not totally inexperienced when it comes to foreign policy.

But that’s not the type of experience his critics were talking about.

“A good guy”

In a debate televised by ABC News from Goffstown, New Hampshire last week, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, told Rubio, “You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven’t.”

Rubio, caught off guard, responded with a mantra about Barack Obama, the man he hopes to succeed next year, being a first-term senator when he was elected too yet having a clear plan to change America — as though that in any way vindicated his own lack of executive experience.

Christie has since exited the nominating contest after placing behind Rubio in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. But Bush, who is competing with Rubio and John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, for the same moderately conservative voters, continues to make the point.

“Marco Rubio is a good guy,” he told CNBC. But — “I’m a leader.”


Rubio, in turn, is accurate about Bush’s lack of foreign policy experience. But he overrates his own.

Only a freshman legislator who didn’t start taking an interest in the world outside America until after he was elected — probably with an eye toward running for president from the day he was — would think foreign relations have changed so drastically in the last five years that those who have been in politics for decades more than him can no longer master them.

As for his judgement and understanding of world affairs, well. Rubio is better described as someone who has just woken up to the dangers of the world and can’t believe others don’t share his sense of alarm.

The year he entered the Senate, Rubio supported Obama’s intervention in Libya. But when that didn’t end the North African country’s civil war, he turned on the Democrat and accused him of not committing wholeheartedly. A more robust military intervention, Rubio alleged, would have done better.

He later took the president to task for ending half a century of Cuban isolation, characterizing his reversal of such an obviously failed policy as “part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants” — a record that only exists in the imagination of far-right Republicans.

Rubio has been more alarmist about the self-declared Islamic State in Iraq and Syria than most Republicans (which is saying something), describing the militant group in apocalyptic terms. “Either they win or we win,” he keeps telling voters, even though the caliphate poses no immediate threat to the United States.

As for Obama, he doesn’t want to defeat the Islamists, according to Rubio, because he is afraid to “upset” Iran — even though Iran is fighting the same jihadists and Obama’s policy has killed thousands of them.

Black and white

Rubio sees the world in black and white. Where there is evil, America must crush it. Where allies are wavering and foes, like China and Russia, are rising, all America needs to do is project strength and determination. Dictators must be overthrown and undemocratic regimes, whether in the Caribbean or the Middle East, isolated indefinitely.

Such instinctive hawkishness and naive belief in the ability of American “strength” to alter the course of world events is why voters elected Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008 and have been losing confidence in Republicans’ foreign policy since.

Rubio may have been on the Foreign Relations Committee for five years; that in itself doesn’t make him the best-prepared candidate for president.

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