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The Cable

Marco Rubio, in His Own Words in the Pages of Foreign Policy

A guide to the latest GOP presidential candidate's writings.


Marco Rubio, the Republican senator from Florida, formally added his name Monday to the list of Republican candidates seeking the party’s nomination for president in 2016. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio has spent his four years in the Senate staking out hawkish positions on foreign policy, and his entry into the race is likely to fuel a heated election-season debate within the Republican Party on the United States’ role in the world.

An eager critic of President Barack Obama, Rubio has used his perch on the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committees to articulate an aggressive vision of American foreign policy, or what he would describe as a “decisive” vision of U.S. leadership. With sundry crises in the Middle East and American troops now back in Iraq, foreign policy may become a surprisingly important issue for voters — to the extent that the American electorate at all cares about such things — in 2016. With Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who has emerged as his party’s most forceful advocate for a more modest foreign policy, also seeking the Republican nomination, expect the two men to clash over such issues as Iran, Syria, and the U.S. position toward China.

Rubio is an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy, and here we present a guide to some of the senator’s recent writings, which offer an illustrative snapshot of some of his thinking on American foreign policy and how he aims to present himself as a candidate in 2016.

Refusal to Lead

On the heels of Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address (also the occasion of the senator’s now infamous water-sip foul-up), Rubio penned a critique of what he describes as the president’s failure to assert American leadership abroad:

The biggest foreign policy problem facing the United States right now is not too much U.S. engagement, but the danger of a world in which we increasingly refuse to lead. There are few global challenges that can be solved without decisive American leadership.

It’s Time to Stop Enabling Iran

With international negotiators finalizing an agreement to govern Iran’s nuclear program, Rubio returned to the pages of FP last month to argue that such a deal threatens to enable Iran’s ambitions as a regional power:

Beyond the nuclear deal, there is a broader concern about the legitimacy an agreement would grant the oppressive clerical regime in Tehran. A deal as currently constructed will increase Iranian influence in the region and will aid and abet Iran’s efforts to achieve the status of regional hegemon.

This has significant consequences for the safety and security of our ally Israel, but also for our Sunni Arab partners in the region. That is why, despite the Pollyannaish pronouncements of administration officials, one hears expressions of concern from Cairo to Riyadh about the current path of American diplomacy toward Iran.

We Have Let the Chinese People Down

Rubio has positioned himself as a vocal defender of human rights, and on the 25-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre last year, Rubio articulated his vision for how to make human-rights promotion a more central part of U.S. foreign policy:

First, we need to be much more willing to back up our beliefs with vocal support for the oppressed. Far too often, U.S. policymakers don’t have the courage of their convictions or have decided that human rights diplomacy is futile…. Second, we need to be more willing to use our economic might to back up our values. Despite the important role that sanctions have played as a tool of U.S. foreign policy, our government is incredibly cautious about deploying this tool in new cases, even when sanctions are targeted against human rights abusers or corrupt officials. Administration officials fight behind the scenes to water down any congressional effort in this area and then drag their feet regarding implementation once Congress acts.

Do Two Dreams Equal a Nightmare?

Atop the list of challenges facing whomever replaces Obama in the Oval Office is managing the relationship with China. In 2013, Rubio offered a sharp critique of the President Xi Jinping’s so-called “Chinese Dream,” which he calls his agenda of economic growth and modernizing reforms:

Although Xi’s dream has echoes of the American Dream, these two visions are very different and ultimately incompatible if China desires to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. Which dream succeeds in the coming decades will have profound implications, not just for the United States and China, but for the world.

I Come Bearing … Reassurance

Writing ahead of Obama’s highly touted 2014 Asia trip, Rubio described how the president should approach the region, providing perhaps a clue to how he would approach this strategically vital part of the world:

While much appreciation remains for the administration’s renewed focus on this vitally important region, our allies are looking to the president to back up the rhetoric with action. He will need to take a message of reassurance but also progress on key areas such as trade, tangible steps to strengthen and improve our alliances — while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of historical disputes and assuaging concerns about his approach toward China.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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