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“The Conservative Imagination”: Why Republicans Cannot Have A National Security “Doctrine”

In case you missed it, Marco Rubio delivered a Great Big Foreign Policy Speech yesterday, at the hallowed venue of the Council on Foreign Relations. It was such a big deal that Charlie Rose introduced him. And it even unveiled a proposed “doctrine” for national security, which I am sure the Floridian hopes will soon be known as the Rubio Doctrine.

But as Peter Beinart notes at The Atlantic, the Rubio Doctrine is basically just a collection of banal principles almost anyone could agree with:

The Rubio doctrine, which the Florida senator announced on Wednesday, “consists of three pillars.” Pillar number one is “American strength”: America must “adequately fund our military.” Pillar number two is “the protection of the American economy”: America must pursue “free trade.” Pillar number three is “clarity regarding America’s core values”: America must “support the spread of economic and political freedom by reinforcing our alliances, resisting efforts by large powers to subjugate their smaller neighbors” and “advanc[ing] the rights of the vulnerable.”

These, Rubio told moderator Charlie Rose, “are timeless truths.” But that’s precisely the problem. Historically, foreign-policy doctrines have been the opposite of “timeless.” They represent efforts to further American interests and ideals by offering a specific response to a specific geopolitical reality. Every president wants the United States to be strong, prosperous, and moral. Doctrines are supposed to outline a strategy for achieving those goals. They are not the goals themselves.

The most significant part of Beinart’s critique is this acerbic explanation of why Rubio has to keep his “doctrine” at 40,000 feet above the specific challenges of our era:

Rubio and most of the other GOP candidates want the United States to go on offense overseas after the perceived retrenchment of the Obama years. But Americans have little appetite for additional wars, and the threat that Republicans focus on most—“radical Islam”—lumps together states and organizations that are not only disparate, but bitterly hostile to each other. Truman’s “containment” doctrine and Reagan’s doctrine of “rollback” each had problems. But at least they were aimed at a specific enemy. Rubio can’t lay out a doctrine like that today because the two enemies he and other Republicans talk about most—Iran and ISIS—are only linked in the conservative imagination. On the ground, they’re at war.

That’s a bit of a problem, eh? I’m guessing if Rubio were challenged on this point, he might answer the way Will Rogers once did shortly before World War I when he was asked exactly how he proposed to drain the Atlantic Ocean, which was his “solution” to the problem of German U-Boat attacks: “That is a detail, and I am not a detail man.”


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly 15, 2015

May 18, 2015 - Posted by | Foreign Policy, Marco Rubio, National Security | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. These platitudes are similar to saying we will be all about jobs and then fail to do anything about jobs, such as investing in a crumbling infrastructure. I saw some his remarks. Rose should have asked some follow-up questions. OK, you would still invade Iraq even if you knew their was no WMD, but because Hussein was a bad guy. The question would be under what pretense would we invade them? There has to be a reason before we invade a country.

    The other issue is when candidates say we should not negotiate with Iran and just tell them they should not have a nuclear bomb. OK, then what do you propose we do – bomb them like Sheldon Adelson suggests. To me, negotiating with someone to get concessions to at least look at what they are doing is far more appropriate, as they would do it anyway. Plus, the bigger issue is half of Iran’s population is under age 35. If we once again have commerce with Iran, then future barriers come down and a former enemy may become, at a minimum, a trading partner. Remember, Japan and Germany are two of our best friends and once were direct enemies.

    Of course, we should be smart about our negotiations, but I have little appetite for chest thumpers, we speak in platitudes that say nothing but mom and apple pie, which we can agree on. People need to ask this questions of candidates – well then what would you do instead? The answers may be illuminating.


    Comment by btg5885 | May 18, 2015 | Reply

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