Restoring principle: A foreign policy worthy of the American dream
An address by Sen. Marco Rubio

Article Highlights

  • .@MarcoRubio: Who will spread the light of peace and liberty if not America?

    Tweet This

  • .@MarcoRubio: The history of our nation is full of warnings that a lack of American engagement comes at a price.

    Tweet This

  • .@MarcoRubio: Many of our nation's adversaries and rivals have been emboldened by our uncertain foreign policy.

    Tweet This

Editor's note: The following are prepared remarks submitted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) prior to delivering his speech at AEI on Wednesday, Nov. 20. A full transcript will be provided the week of Nov. 25.

Thank you very much to AEI for hosting me today. This Institute has been at the center of the debate about American foreign policy for decades, and the work your scholars produce on a daily basis has been a great help to me throughout my efforts on these issues in the United States Senate.

Like so many times before, our country is engaged in a robust debate about the future of America’s role in the world.

As we engage in this debate, those of us entrusted with a role in our government must remember that the nature and extent of our involvement abroad isn’t just some academic discussion. Our decisions directly impact each and every American, often in personal and profound ways.

Over the last twelve years, thousands have lost mothers, fathers, sons and daughters as part of our effort to defeat terrorism and bring freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan. And these sacrifices have left many Americans feeling understandably weary. The effort has taken longer and cost far more than expected, and we are heartbroken each time we learn the name of another brave American who will not return home.

Many are also discouraged by the news coming out of the Middle East. The disputes in this region seem to pit one bad actor against another, leaving us with doubts about whether we should pick a side at all. And despite the sacrifices we have made, America remains the target of hatred and anger in the Arab street.

Add to these concerns the fact that, for many Americans, a focus on other nations seems misplaced when there are so many problems at home. This leads many to question whether our government should spend time and resources on the freedom and security of someone an ocean away. After all, what do we gain from such involvement?

These are all understandable sentiments. And they have created an opening for voices that have long desired to disengage and isolate America from the world. Their rhetoric is more careful than the isolationists of the past. But their actions speak clearly. On issue after issue, these voices have used the increasing uncertainty abroad and the economic insecurity at home to argue that it’s best for America to stay on the sidelines.

There is no denying that a globally engaged America comes at a steep price. But the history of our still young nation is full of warnings that a lack of American engagement comes with an even higher price of its own.

We only have to look at the bloody history of the twentieth century to see the price that America, and the world, pays when we ignore mounting problems. When we have listened to voices urging us to look inward, we have failed to meet threats growing abroad until it was almost too late. And now, we are on the verge of repeating that mistake once again.

Other nations are not sitting idly by waiting for America to, as President Obama termed it, “nation build at home.” Many of our nation’s adversaries and rivals have been emboldened by our uncertain foreign policy.

So as instability spreads and tyrants flourish, our allies want to know whether America can still be counted on to confront these common challenges. Whether we will continue to be a beacon to the rest of the world.

Just last week I read a speech on this very topic. But it was not delivered by some American neoconservative commentator, but rather by the Foreign Minister of France. He said about us, and I quote the English translation, “Nobody can take over from the Americans, especially from a military point of view. Given the power of the United States, an American ‘disengagement’ – if this would be the proper way to qualify it – is a global disengagement, with the risk of letting major crises fester on their own.” End quote.

We are often led to think that other nations are tired of the role America has played in global affairs. But in fact, it is the fear of a disengaged America that worries countries all over the world.

Meanwhile, at home, 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 mighty military strength to intervene in response to practically every crisis.
 
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.
 
It begins by being proud of what we have achieved as a nation. Some on both the left and the right try to portray our legacy as one of an aggressive tyrant constantly meddling in the world’s crises.
 
But ask around the world and you’ll find that our past use of military might has a different legacy. Our legacy is a crumbled wall in Berlin. It’s the millions of Afghan children – including many girls – now able to attend school for the first time. It’s vibrant democracies and steadfast allies such as Germany, Japan and South Korea.
 
Our legacy is that of a nation that for two centuries has planted its feet and pushed out against the walls of tyranny, oppression and injustice that constantly threaten to close in on the world, and has sought to replace these forces with the spread of liberty, free enterprise, and respect for human rights.
 
These principles are also advanced by other elements of American influence - those that don’t require any military might.

For example, consider the countless lives we’ve saved from the scourge of AIDS in Africa through the PEPFAR program. Or consider the economic mobility created by American trade and investment.
 
These accomplishments prove that, while military might may be our most eye-catching method of involvement abroad, it is far from being our most often utilized. In most cases, the decisive use of diplomacy, foreign assistance, and economic power are the most effective ways to achieve our interests and stop problems before they spiral into crises.
 
Our uses of these methods should vastly outnumber our uses of force. But 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.
 
Sometimes military engagement is our best option. And sometimes it’s our only option.
 
In those instances, it must be abundantly clear to both our allies and our adversaries that we will not hesitate to engage unparalleled military might on behalf of our security, the security of our allies and our interests around the world.
 
Diplomacy, foreign assistance and military intervention are tools at our disposal. But foreign policy cannot be simply about tactics. It must be strategic, with a clear set of goals that guide us in deciding how to apply our influence.

These goals should be to protect and defend our people, to promote liberty and human rights throughout the world, and to advance the enduring pursuit of peace for all mankind.

A strategic foreign policy vision based on these principles is what I hope to offer here today.
 
In order to do this, we must first admit that this administration lacks a clear strategic foreign policy.

From his first days in office, President Obama has seemed unsure of the role that American power and principles should play around the world. He has failed to understand that in foreign policy, the timing and decisiveness of our actions matter almost as much as how we engage.

The President has spoken about the need to shift American foreign policy away from the conflicts of the Middle East and place increased focus on Asia. But our foreign policy cannot be one that picks and chooses which regions to pay attention to and which to ignore. In fact, our standing as a world power depends on our ability to engage globally anywhere and at anytime our interests are at stake.

But this administration’s lack of an overriding vision of our role in the world has impeded our ability to do this effectively. And nowhere is this failure more evident than in the President’s handling of policy toward Central Asia and the Middle East.
 
For example, when he first took office, President Obama hoped that kind words would dissuade the regime in Tehran from its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And so in June of 2009, while Iranians were being gunned down by their rulers in the streets, the President hesitated to offer any words of support because he didn’t want to offend Iran’s leaders.
 
Also that summer, he waited for months before agreeing to provide our commanders in Afghanistan with the troops they requested. He also put a time limit on the surge of forces, which undermined our efforts and invited our enemies to wait us out. He seemed to regret the tough rhetoric of his campaign, when he promised day after day that Afghanistan was a “war we must win.”
 
In early 2011, when waves of peaceful protests began to sweep dictators from power across the region, this administration’s lack of a strategic foreign policy left it uncertain of how to respond.

When a peaceful revolution was met with brute force in Libya, the President hesitated for months before helping to overthrow the Qaddafi regime. And afterward, he provided almost no support to those Libyans who wanted to establish a representative, law-abiding government. As a result, chaos replaced tyranny and four Americans, including our ambassador, were murdered with impunity. And now Libya is becoming a safe haven for terrorists and a source of instability in the region.
 
The debacle in Syria also illustrates the cost of President Obama’s lack of a strategic foreign policy. 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 Qaeda-linked extremists.
 
But it was only when Bashar al-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, it was too late.

Because he never took the time before to explain how and why the conflict in Syria should matter to America, he was unable to rally the nation to support military intervention. I voted against President Obama’s plan for military action because he had no strategy beyond symbolic missile strikes. Nor did he explain what would happen following these strikes, which were publicly promised to be “unbelievably small,” when Assad would inevitably emerge to boast that his regime had survived our use of force. Ultimately, the President was forced to abandon these plans and turn to Vladimir Putin to broker a solution.

The results have been devastating.

We are left with the high likelihood of the worst possible outcome: a divided Syria, with a pro-Iran murderous dictator in control of part of the country, and radical jihadists in control of much of the rest.  Our closest allies in the region are now openly questioning the value of our friendship.

Our best options now are to alleviate the strain on our allies in the region through additional humanitarian assistance, to explore other ways of pressuring the Assad regime with sanctions, to cut off financial flows to extremists in the opposition, and to see if we can still find moderate elements to train and equip.

The President’s failure to negotiate a security cooperation agreement with Iraq was yet another instance in which this administration ambled aimlessly through a situation that should have prompted careful strategic maneuvering. It ensured the return of Al Qaeda to Iraq and the creeping authoritarianism of a Maliki government increasingly in the sway of Tehran. And in Afghanistan, the White House has often shown a lack of commitment that has put at risk the very real gains we and the Afghans have made.

Libya, Syria, Iraq and maybe soon Afghanistan are haunting examples of the sad and predictable results that have come when this administration has gotten the policy - and just as importantly - the timing wrong.

Now, clearly we can’t undo what’s been done. But we need to ask ourselves, “What can we do about this going forward?”

We should start by acknowledging the fact that a strong and engaged America has been a force of tremendous good in the world. This can be done easily by imagining the sort of world we would live in today had America sat out the 20th Century.

Imagine if the beaches of Normandy were never touched by American boots. Imagine if our foreign aid had not helped alleviate many of the world’s worst crises. Imagine if nuclear proliferation had continued unfettered by U.S. influence. It is no exaggeration to say that the majority of the world’s democracies may not exist had America remained disengaged. 

Next we must acknowledge that there are threats to America today that are just as dire, just as pressing as any we faced in the last century.

Guided by these two realities, we must construct a strategic foreign policy that keeps Americans safe, promotes our national interests, and remains true to our guiding principles of liberty and human rights.

Such a strategy must be based on the idea that our highest priority is the safety of the American people. That is why there is no more important use of our influence and power than to prevent rogue regimes and terrorist groups from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. If states with sinister intentions, or that are under the influence of extremist groups, were to acquire nuclear weapons, they would become largely immune to external pressure. And they would surely spark other nations to join this so-called “nuclear club.”

This new arms race would dramatically increase the chances of nuclear war and render most of our other foreign objectives meaningless.

Consider Iran’s desire to gain nuclear weapons and North Korea’s continued investment in its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Both threaten regional and global stability, and of course the safety of billions around the world, including here in America.

When it comes to Iran, we should make no mistake: its leaders want nuclear weapons because they want to become the most dominant power in the Middle East.

Many in the region are looking to us for leadership. But too many of our allies and strategic partners see our foreign policy as a riddle and our actions as inconsistent with our rhetoric. They only see movements toward disengagement and feel that we’re overly eager to negotiate a deal with Iran.
 
We must demonstrate a willingness to maintain an unwavering position of strength in all talks, because Iran’s goal at the negotiating table has never been peace, but rather to win relief from sanctions without making irreversible concessions. We need to make absolutely clear to Iran’s leaders that sanctions will continue to increase until they agree to completely abandon any enrichment or reprocessing capability.  We must also remember that those sitting across the table from us, however modern they may seem, are the representatives of a brutal regime that continues its sponsorship of terrorism and deprives its people of their fundamental rights.
 
Another key to tackling the challenges posed by these nuclear rogues is maintaining an effective deterrent, not merely hoping that unilateral disarmament will lead the Irans or North Koreas of the world to follow our lead.  We should seek to establish flexible, adaptable groups of like-minded states to counter the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction, rather than solely relying on arms control agreements that are often not worth the paper they’re written on.
 
We must also address the threat posed by those regimes that may lack advanced capabilities, but that remain determined to undermine our strategic interests.

For example, we have seen the strong grip that anti-American sentiments have on some Latin American governments. Venezuela and Bolivia in particular have developed a troubling affinity for Iran. And Cuba was recently caught trafficking in weapons systems with North Korea in blatant violation of multiple UN Security Council Resolutions.
 
Despite these actions, the White House has remained passive as these nations and their anti-American allies assault the freedom of their own people and undermine the stability of their neighbors.
 
But this administration has shown more than just a reluctance to stand up to our enemies; it has also shown a reluctance to stand with our friends.

Look no further than Latin America to see examples of the benefits of rewarding our friends. Our support of our democratic allies in Colombia and Mexico are two examples of how patience and principles pay off.

We need to build on this progress by considering a new security agreement for the Western Hemisphere that includes our Canadian and Latin American partners and allows us to work together to solve the more difficult problems facing our region.

For instance, we should consider ways to expand cooperation among our security forces. This would enable us to better focus our efforts to stop illicit human, narcotics and weapons trafficking in the hemisphere.

On the energy front, the Western Hemisphere needs to establish itself as a democratic, peaceful and stable alternative to the Middle East. Approving the Keystone pipeline and authorizing the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Agreement are good first steps. We should also continue to cultivate the shale revolution here in the United States and leverage it to increase our geopolitical presence.
 
We’ve seen that great things can be achieved when the United States partners with key allies. This lesson extends to Asia as well, where the bedrock of our interests in furthering peace, security, liberty and prosperity is our alliances with democratic governments.

This administration’s rhetorical focus on the Asian region is welcome. But as China rises and becomes increasingly assertive, many of its neighbors look to the United States’ handling of events in the Middle East – and the cuts to our defense budget – and remain unconvinced that America is going to be there if the going gets tough.

This is unfortunate, because there are real success stories in the region. Japan is a perennial reminder of how democracy and free enterprise can transform a foreign power from a dangerous adversary into a lasting friend. Now, the Abe government is examining ways in which Japan can use its military outside of narrow self-defense missions. We should wholeheartedly support these efforts.

Taiwan shows that traditional Chinese culture and democracy can coexist and even flourish.  We should explore ways to deepen our relationship with Taiwan through bilateral trade agreements and by working together on economic reforms so that they can eventually join the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Together with Japan, South Korea, Australia, India, and others, our goal is not to “contain” China. But rather to ensure that China’s rise remains peaceful.

We celebrate the fact that millions of people in China have emerged from generations of poverty into the middle class. We remain hopeful that China’s leaders would use their growing influence to engage as a responsible world power. But we cannot ignore their increasingly assertive and illegitimate territorial claims. And we cannot ignore the human rights violations that happen as a matter of state policy.

Our renewed focus on Asia does not need to come at the expense of our longstanding alliances in Europe. We can and must do both.

In Europe, we need to build on the expanding community of close American allies that are essential economic and strategic partners.  Key to this goal is ensuring that our efforts to engage with Russia do not undermine our allies, many of whom face threats from their much larger neighbor to the east.

We must establish a consistent willingness to speak out when the Russian government steps over the line, particularly with regard to human rights abuses.

This should be part of a broader initiative on America’s part to retain our legacy as the world’s leading defender of human rights. For all the progress we have made in promoting the dignity of every man, woman and child, there are still outrageous human rights abuses occurring in all parts of the world -- yes, even here in America.

Consider modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking, which subjects the most vulnerable to a life of bondage and abuse. This is a problem that America must do more to combat, not just abroad but in our very own backyards. Modern day slavery exists in every state in America, including my home state of Florida.

Another human rights outrage that remains prevalent around the world is the systematic, often violent persecution of religious minorities. Christians in particular are increasingly targeted for persecution throughout the world. Protecting the rights of every person to worship in accordance with their faith must always be a clear priority of the United States, and that will require us to speak firmly to our adversaries and frankly to our friends.

Furthermore, when it comes to human rights and humanitarian causes, we must put our money where our mouth is by conditioning our foreign assistance to reflect our values and interests.

Consider the good that America has done to alleviate suffering in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Our nation is providing the Filipino people with desperately needed humanitarian assistance, and has deployed some of our men and women in uniform to assist with the effort. Our people are also demonstrating how the power of private charitable giving can be just as influential as our government aid dollars.

Also on the foreign aid front, I am currently working to ensure that our assistance to Egypt is conditioned so that it advances our long-term goal of a stable, democratic Egypt, something that will not be possible if we recklessly cut all assistance to that country. 

For all the good that American foreign aid does, I believe there is an even clearer and bolder gift we can offer to the cause of human rights. And that is the spread of liberty.

America's success in remaining a beacon for freedom has been due in part to our extensive public diplomacy efforts.

But we should continue to come up with creative ways to utilize new technologies that aid in the spread of news and information. Because ultimately, as we’ve seen with the Arab Spring, ease of communication and the spread of knowledge has proven a surefire way to spark the fire of liberty.

But tyrants know this, too. Cuba is a case in point.

They have successfully worked to restrict their people’s access to information in a variety of ways, including strictly controlling Internet access. We should transition our information programs from focusing only on content to focusing on access as well, particularly access that’s not subject to regime scrutiny.

In addition to easing the flow of knowledge and communication around the world, we need to ensure progress is made in easing the flow of commerce. Expanding free and fair trade will create job opportunities for our own people and will have a profound impact in lowering poverty abroad. Concluding TPP with our Asian partners and TTIP with Europe should both be top priorities given their potential to reinvigorate our alliances in key regions and spread economic opportunity at home.

Congress must avoid the false allure of protectionist policies. America’s economic might has always been linked to our openness. We can work to maintain this openness by extending access to our Visa Waiver Program to key allies such as South Korea, Poland, and others in Central Europe.

We must find ways to make the visa application process less burdensome for those wishing to travel and do business in the United States. For instance, many Brazilians are interested in visiting Florida’s tourist attractions, but take their business elsewhere due to onerous visa procedures. Simplifying this process would be a positive move toward friendly nations and a boon to our nation’s economy.

These proposals I’ve just discussed are investments in our future.  All are tools that can be utilized to prevent crises and, if necessary, respond once they occur. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, diplomacy and global engagement will fail to prevent or solve a threat to our security. And in those instances we need to have the world's most advanced intelligence capabilities.

We must respond to the valid concerns of Americans who are alarmed by reports regarding their civil liberties, but we must distinguish these reasonable concerns from conspiracy theories sparked by Edward Snowden. This man is a traitor who has sought assistance and refuge from some of the world’s most notorious violators of liberty and human rights.

Our intelligence programs need to be carefully monitored and controlled.  But we do need them. Because terrorists don’t use carrier pigeons. They use cell phones and the Internet, adapting the latest technologies to aid their malign intent. We need to be prepared to intercept the messages of those who wish us harm, while not interfering in the affairs of ordinary citizens.

Those of us tasked with providing oversight to these programs, starting with the President, need to be honest with the American people about the daily threats that we face. We must explain why these programs, in a limited and carefully managed form, are necessary to protect the security of all Americans.

Similarly, our fiscal challenges at home have even caused some, including a few Republicans, to question why so much defense spending is necessary. I believe the Department of Defense, like any government agency, should be efficient and eliminate all waste from its budget. But the fact is that President Obama has been making dangerous cuts to the defense budget since entering office. Our uniformed military leaders and the past three Secretaries of Defense all agree that these cuts, when coupled with those imposed by sequestration, threaten military preparedness.

This would lead to the same problems we faced in the 90’s. These massive cuts will tempt our adversaries to test us, scare our allies, and leave America vulnerable to attack.

To lift the sequester we must find a real, lasting solution to the true cause of our growing national debt: the unsustainable path of important programs like Medicare and Social Security.

None of this will be easy. It will be tempting to think we can ignore chaos abroad and shift more resources to projects at home.

But America must not fail to recognize her vital role in the world.

During the 20th Century, our power, our influence and most importantly our example, has been the preeminent driver of the spread of liberty and peace throughout the globe.

But now we find ourselves in a new century. And voices in both parties argue that we can no longer afford to play this role. And that even if we could, it is not our place to do so.

But this is not a new argument. It is an old one. It is a failed one.

History has proven time and again that when a powerful nation loses or abandons its role in the world, it leaves behind a vacuum that other nations will rush to fill.

And so I ask you: if America stops leading, who will fill the vacuum we leave behind? Is there a candidate nation for this role that can offer the security and benevolence that America can? Is there any other nation we can trust to spread the values of liberty and peace and democracy? There is not.
 
In our hearts, Americans understand this. But we are tired from the conflicts of the last decade. We are frustrated that our efforts are so often unappreciated. And we wonder – with all the problems that need addressing here in America – why should we focus so much energy abroad?

The answer is that foreign policy is domestic policy. So much of what happens here at home is directly related to what is happening abroad.

When liberty and economic prosperity spread, they create markets for our products, visitors to our tourist destinations, partners for our businesses, investors for our ideas, and jobs for our people.
 
But when liberty is denied and economic desperation take root, it affects us here at home. It breeds radicalism and terror. It drives illegal immigration. It leads to humanitarian crises that we are compelled to address.

Many understand this. But we are made anxious by the polling and trends that show an increasingly skeptical public. It is important for those of us that share this vision for an active America to remember that we need to bring the American people with us. Americans, especially those outside this city, need their leaders to make a compelling case for the importance of international engagement.

This is important because, in the end, these successes abroad belong to the entirety of the American people. It is the American people who for generations have manned America’s military, defended our freedom and built our economic might. It is the American people who’ve engaged the world through private, charitable, and religious efforts, and have represented this country overseas in greater ways than any diplomat can hope to.

The darkness of tyranny and oppression always seems to spread with discouraging ease. Sadly, this darkness will always be a dominant force in our world. But we must never allow it to become the dominant force in our world.

We can do that. Because as we’ve seen, the light of liberty can drive this darkness away. It can illuminate the potential of a nation. It can brighten the stability of a region. It can reveal the hope of a lasting peace.

Every American can agree that the light of peace and liberty would benefit our world. But who will spread it if not America?

There is no other nation that can. And that is why, despite the challenges we face here at home, America must continue to hold this torch. America must continue to lead the way.

###

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine

What's new on AEI

Making Ryan's tax plan smarter
image The teacher evaluation confronts the future
image How to reform the US immigration system
image Inversion hysteria
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 01
    MON
  • 02
    TUE
  • 03
    WED
  • 04
    THU
  • 05
    FRI
Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
From anarchy to Augustus: Lessons on dealing with disorder, from Rome’s first emperor

We invite you to join us for two panel discussions on how Augustus created order from chaos 2,000 years ago, and what makes for durable domestic and international political systems in the 21st century.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
Multiple choice: Expanding opportunity through innovation in K–12 education

Please join us for a book launch event and panel discussion about how a marketplace of education options can help today's students succeed in tomorrow's economy. Attendees will receive a complimentary copy of the featured book.

Thursday, September 04, 2014 | 12:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.
How conservatives can save the safety net

Please join us for a luncheon event in which our panel will discuss what conservatives can learn from how liberals talk and think about the safety net and where free-market economics, federalism, and social responsibility intersect to lift people out of poverty.

No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.