In his critique of the president's handling of foreign policy in his State of the Union address last week, Marco Rubio has accomplished something really important. But perhaps not what he had in mind.
Indeed, what the senator from Florida and Time magazine's Savior of the Republican Party has done is to turn the spotlight not on Obama's foreign policy but on a grim ground truth from his own side: Republicans have yet to find a sensible alternative to Obama's admittedly avoider approach to the world or to regain their own footing in the post post-9/11 world that their last standard-bearer helped to shape.
Rubio is way too smart to want to take the country back to the days of George W. Bush. He just hasn't figured out an effective way to move beyond the Bush era on the foreign policy side either.
Getting Out of Bad Deals...
Last week, I wrote my own analysis of Obama's foreign-policy SOTU. FP's managing editor, the inestimable Blake Hounshell, came up with the title -- "The Avoider" -- which was, to quote Marisa Tomei's character in My Cousin Vinny, dead-on-balls accurate.
Obama's first-term foreign policy wasn't pretty. There was the stumble bumble over the Israeli-Palestinian issue; the Afghan surge; Gitmo (I'm going to close it, then maybe not); naively raising expectations about engaging the Russians and Iran; and of course Benghazi.
And even though the foreign policy section of the SOTU might have been set to Engelbert Humperdink's country classic "Make the World Go Away," on balance Obama's record -- no spectacular successes (save killing Osama bin Laden) and no spectacular failures -- has been pretty much on target. No attacks on the continental United States, al Qaeda central dismantled, a better image in parts of the cruel and unfriendly world? I'll take it.
Despite his rhetorical aspirations, Obama wasn't going to be a transformative figure in foreign policy as much as a transitional one. The world's just too complex for grand bargains. And that transition was designed to move the country from a hyperactive foreign policy driven by ideology to an approach grounded more in the way the world actually is, including the reality of America's own financial and economic travails. It was a downsized foreign policy in an age of austerity, fatigue, and impatience with grand plans for saving the world.
You can certainly argue, as Rubio and others have, that Obama overcorrected, moving from doing too much to not enough. But who can argue with Obama's willful extrication from America's longest and among its most profitless wars? Extrication demands a certain leadership of its own kind -- hardly the kind of guts-and-glory, Mission Accomplished type. But one that's essential and particular to the times.
And what would Rubio have done differently? He really doesn't say. I'd love to see a paragraph on that.