...And Not Getting into New Ones
America now inhabits a largely opportunity-less world of diplomatic migraines and root canals. It's a world more likely to be managed and contained than resolved.
If Obama is willful, skillful and above all lucky, this will probably mean smaller deals -- one on enrichment with Iran, perhaps; an interim accord for Israelis and Palestinians -- not big ones. And on the Arab Spring, we'll be trying to navigate the murky middle ground between traditional allies like Egypt, which may well become more adversarial, and old adversaries like Libya and Iraq, which will remain difficult and uncertain partners. Indeed, U.S. options run from terrible to bad to worse. And worst of all, if diplomacy with the mullahs fails, Obama may well have another war on his hands in his second term.
This is reality. And yet the Rubio message is one of leadership based on empty rhetoric with no real approach, let alone strategy to correlate means and ends. On North Korea, he calls for new sanctions; on Syria, he doesn't call for anything, really; on Egypt, he argues for standing up for persecuted minorities; and on Russia he urges us to stand up to "tyrants like Vladimir Putin." Long on rhetoric commitment and very short on operational and practical tactics and strategy, the Rubio plan isn't a plan at all but a disjointed and embarrassing set of bromides.
The Real Problem: Stealing Republican Foreign Policy
I've long maintained that the dividing line for America's foreign and domestic policy shouldn't be between Democrat and Republican but between dumb and smart. Republicans from Rubio to McCain want to be on the smart side. They simply can't manage to find policies that are all that different from Obama's, are workable, and are consistent with what they know to be the new realities of a tough world and an even tougher American economy.
And one of the reasons is that Barack Obama has cornered their market and stolen pages from the GOP playbook. Obama has become a George H.W. Bush realist when it comes to avoiding ideological overreach, and a much more effective and less ideological version of Bush the younger too: willfully surging in Afghanistan, killing Osama, and whacking 10 times the number of bad guys with drones than his predecessor. He may well be the American president who just doesn't talk about containing Iran's nuclear program, but uses military power against it. One reason the Chuck Hagel fight has been so bitter is that former senator is the poster child for a Republican realism that some in the party detest. In many ways, that nomination fight says more about the state of the Republican Party than it does about the Hagel candidacy itself.
Marco Rubio is a very smart guy with a potentially bright political future. But he can't write an article like this and expect to be taken seriously, unless his only objective is to shore up a Republican base and not expand it. Politics is about addition, not subtraction, even on an issue like foreign policy that most Americans don't pay a lot of attention to.
If Rubio's article was intended to be the beginning of his own education on foreign policy and a counterpart to his domestic-focused Republican response to the SOTU, then all I can say is that he's got a lot more homework to do. Perhaps his current fact-finding trip to Israel and Jordan will help. But based on his initial foray into foreign policy, he's not yet ready for prime time, nor are his ideas for how to best advance the nation's interests abroad.