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Marco Rubio Regurgitates Romney's Foreign Policy Sound Bites

May 15, 2015

As you may have heard, Florida Senator and 2016 GOP White House hopeful Marco Rubio delivered a major address Wednesday on foreign policy and national security. Wanting to learn more about his so-called "Rubio Doctrine," I visited his web site to see what he had to say.
As it turned out, I didn't need to waste the mouse clicks. His lofty talking points about a "new American century" and dire warnings about "our Navy at pre-WWI levels" sounded no better when Mitt Romney spouted them four years ago.
On a day when he didn't do himself any favors by claiming he would have opposed the Iraq invasion that he defended just six weeks ago, Marco Rubio botched basic U.S. history when he declared, "America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory." He was manifestly--as in Manifest Destiny--wrong. But it was this attack on President Obama that caught my eye:

[Obama] wasted no time stripping parts from the engine of American Strength. He enacted hundreds of billions in defense cuts that left our Army on track to be at pre-World War II levels, our Navy at pre-WWI levels, and our Air Force with the smallest and oldest combat force in its history.

Leave aside that future defense cutbacks are the result of the 2011 Budget Control Act's sequestration process Republicans demanded as the ransom for releasing its debt ceiling hostage. (Rubio voted against it, because he refused to vote for a debt ceiling increase unless he extorted much steeper cuts to federal spending.) As I pondered Rubio's charge about the military, I thought:

"We also have fewer horses and bayonets. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines."

The line, of course, belonged to President Obama, who used it to skewer Mitt Romney during their third and final presidential debate in 2012. That brutally effective take-down came just after Governor Romney declared:

"Our Navy is old -- excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We're now at under 285. We're headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That's unacceptable to me.
I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947."

Romney should have known better than to walk into Obama's ambush. One expert said Romney's sound bite "doesn't pass the giggle test," Politifact branded his claim about the size of the U.S. Navy a "Pants on Fire" lie. Those smack downs came after the Romney campaign charged that "President Obama has put us on course toward a 'hollow' force."

The Obama administration's cuts have left us with a military inventory largely composed of weapons designed forty to fifty years ago. The average age of our tanker aircraft is 47 years, of strategic bombers 34 years. While the weapons in our arsenal remain formidable, they are well along on the path to obsolescence. Along with the aging process, there has been a precipitous decline in sheer numbers. The U.S. Navy has only 284 ships today, the lowest level since 1916. Given current trends, the number will decline, and the additional contemplated cuts will cause it to decline even further. Our naval planners indicate we need 328 ships to fulfill the Navy's role of global presence and power projection in defense of American security. Our Air Force, which had 82 fighter squadrons at the end of the Cold War, has been reduced to 39 today.

So when President Obama ("So the question is not a game of Battleship, where we're counting ships; it's what are our capabilities") finished burying Romney's talking point, you might have expected Republicans would have left it six feet under.
But Marco Rubio tells us he represents a new generation of Republicans, one who will lead a "New American Century." As he put it in his Miami announcement address:

At the turn of the 19th century, a generation of Americans harnessed the power of the Industrial Age and transformed this country into the leading economy in the world. And the 20th century became the American Century.
Now, the time has come for our generation to lead the way toward a new American Century.

And as he worded it Wednesday:

"I believe America will continue to advance the cause of peace and freedom in our time. Because we will, America will remain safe and strong. And because we will, the 21st century will be another American Century."

But if "this will be the message of my campaign and the purpose of my presidency," Marco Rubio should be paying royalties to Mitt Romney. As the Washington Post summed up Romney's big foreign speech at The Citadel in October 2011:

Calling for a new "American century," Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney laid out a muscular agenda for promoting U.S. interests abroad.

Marco's "Rubio Doctrine" speech quite a copy and paste operation, but it was close. As the GOP's eventual nominee put it that day:

"I am here today to tell you that I am guided by one overwhelming conviction and passion: This century must be an American Century. In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world...
Let me make this very clear. As President of the United States, I will devote myself to an American Century. And I will never, ever apologize for America."

For his part, Iran-Contra architect and Iraq war cheerleader Elliott Abrams seemed very satisfied with Rubio's speech. Of course, he isn't just advising Senator Rubio now; in 2012 he performed the same task for Governor Romney. Lanhee Chen, a senior fellow at Stanford's conservative Hoover Institution, loved it, calling "Rubio's robust foreign policy vision is 'a great fit for the policy and political environment we are in right now.'"
And the one we were in 2012, when she worked for Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, Democrats will doubtless welcome Marco Rubio's recycling of Mitt Romney's failed talking points. As President Obama might put it, "Please proceed, Senator."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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