Thank goodness presidents seldom get to put into effect all of their bold, insincere, and self-serving campaign promises. And thank goodness Sen. Marco Rubio is unlikely to ever be president.
But if you like cool wars and exciting international crises, and if you wish we would spend lots more on the military than either political party considers prudent, your candidate is Marco Rubio.
Speaking to the Council on Foreign Relations in May, 2015, Sen. Rubio promised to “use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space.” Any?
The Obama Doctrine and the Rubio Doctrine
We might call the Obama Doctrine “Don’t do stupid stuff.” The Rubio Doctrine is apparently “Do stupid stuff.” After careful consideration, I prefer the former.
What Would Rubio Do?
If we take him at his word, Sen. Rubio would send the military to attack China for hacking Sony, and for island-building in the South China Sea. Sen. Rubio would attack Russia for its flights into UK and Ukrainian airspace, its annexation of Crimea, and its occupation of eastern Ukraine. Sen. Rubio would attack Saudi Arabia for violating Syrian airspace and for attacking Yemen. Sen. Rubio would attack Iran for stopping a freighter in the Straits of Hormuz.
If another Falklands war happened on his watch, Rubio would attack either Argentina or the UK, not sure which. They cannot both be the legitimate authority there. What if Israel invades Lebanon again? If Turkey gets more involved in Syria? If NATO intervenes again in Libya?
One war at a time, please!
How many of these Rubio interventions and wars could we manage at one time? The Pentagon has already abandoned its plan to be ready for two simultaneous wars.
Fortunately, no other country subscribes to Sen. Rubio’s idea of what calls for war, given American violations of airspace, international waters, and cyberspace. Imagine our panic if Russia or China said that they would use their power To “oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space.”
Marco Rubio on the 2003 invasion of Iraq
Perhaps merely to exploit a Jeb Bush gaffe, Sen. Rubio did say that knowing what we know now, he would not have invaded Iraq. That answer was easy: the only people who today defend that invasion are the people responsible for it, or their brothers..
That 2003 invasion created chaos: we overthrew a stable (albeit tyrannical) Iraq, generated the rise of ISIS, the Sunni uprising, a continuing civil war, the empowerment of Iran in Iraq, uncounted civilian casualties, too many American casualties, an ongoing $3-$6 trillion butcher’s bill, diminished American prestige, and serious wear-and-tear on American military capabilities.
Despite that, a spokesman said that Sen. Rubio feels “the world is better off” without Hussein in power. In truth, not even Iraq is better off now than with Saddam Hussein in power.
War in support of business
While many of the foreign policy prescriptions Sen. Rubio outlined Wednesday were broad, he issued direct warnings to Russia, China, Iran and other countries that attempt “to block global commerce.” He singled out attempts to block transit through the South China Sea, where China claims control and is building islands, and the Strait of Hormuz and nearby Arabia, where Iran recently seized a Marshall Islands-flagged ship.
Nothing new here. Washington has a rich history of sending the American military to advance or protect business interests. Consider Commodore Perry, and early 20th-century interventions in Latin America as a start.
Damn international law, full speed ahead!
“Gone will be the days of debating where a ship is flagged or whether it is our place to criticize territorial expansionism,” Sen. Rubio actually said. Did he really say that?
As part of what he described as a three-pronged foreign policy doctrine, Sen. Rubio also called for boosting the military budget beyond levels imposed by automatic budget cuts agreed to in 2011 by both parties.
President Obama’s most recent budget called for $612 billion in defense spending, more than the sequester allows and more than the Republican House recommended, not counting the slush fund (Overseas Contingency Operations) to cover war costs.
Imagine having the world’s largest defense budget, and it doesn’t cover wars!
Human rights, too?
Seeking to look beyond sheer military power, Sen. Rubio (echoing President George W. Bush) says he would support the spread of economic and political freedom, despite the obvious cautionary lessons he should have learned from the Bush debacle in the Middle East. Sen. Rubio promised to resist efforts by large powers to control smaller neighbors, excepting ourselves obviously. Sen. Rubio promised to advance the rights of women and religious minorities around the world, probably excepting here at home.
What about antiquities?
About the only justification for war that Sen. Rubio did not mention (nor does anyone else) was to protect antiquities. Here he misses an opportunity to appeal to neglected voters, the sort who attend opera and have memberships in art museums. With ISIS now demolishing some antiquities in Palmyra, I have to admit that I am susceptible to being wooed into supporting military intervention.
All wars inadvertently or knowingly destroy irreplaceable art and architecture as a by-product , but to do so intentionally must be one of the most inexplicable and inexcusable human crimes committed in the name of religion or nationalism.
Presidential candidates’ promises matter
How astonishing and discouraging that we still live in a world where one person can initiate a war, even a nuclear war. Not just one dictator, but also one single person in the world’s oldest democracy.
The role of the Pentagon
America’s greatest debt to our senior military leadership today is not for its service and sacrifice in unnecessary wars and military operations, which is arguably the only kind we have fought since 1945.
Our greatest debt today to the Pentagon is for its restraining influence on war-happy presidents, when our military leaders explain the practical limitations and drawbacks and costs of one crazy idea or another.
They cannot stop cowboy presidents, but they probably slow them down. Historically, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior military leaders were not always voices counseling prudence, but these days I believe that they are.
Senior military leaders must cringe when they hear a presidential candidate promise to send the troops everywhere without debate. Every American voter should, too.