Remarks by Presidential candidate, Marco Rubio, May 13, 2015:
It is great to be back at the Council on Foreign Relations.
I’d like to begin my remarks today by quoting from the closing of another set of remarks – from a speech that echoes across history due to its proximity to tragedy, but that stands more importantly, more powerfully, as a testament to the bipartisan tradition of strong American leadership.
On the morning of November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy spoke at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce on the need for a strong and active America, and he ended with this:
“I am confident, as I look to the future, that our chances for security, our chances for peace, are better than they have been in the past. And the reason is because we are stronger. And with that strength is a determination to not only maintain the peace, but also the vital interests of the United States. To that great cause, Texas and the United States are committed.”
These were the final words of the final speech President Kennedy ever delivered. But the commitment to American Strength he spoke of lived on long after him – across decades, across both parties – eventually bringing about the conclusion of the Cold War and the emergence of America as the world’s only superpower.
President Kennedy, like most presidents before and since, understood what our current president does not: that American Strength is a means of preventing war, not promoting it. And that weakness, on the other hand, is the friend of danger and the enemy of peace.
Since the end of the Cold War, the threats facing America have changed, but the need for American Strength has not. It has only grown more pressing as the world has grown more interconnected.
In recent decades, technology has demolished barriers of travel and trade, transforming our national economy into a global one. The prosperity of our people now depends on their ability to interact freely and safely in the international marketplace. Turmoil across the world can impact American families almost as much as turmoil across town. It can cause the cost of living to rise, or entire industries to shed jobs and crumble.
Today, as never before, foreign policy is domestic policy.
Sadly, President Obama disagrees with that simple truth. He entered office believing America was too hard on our adversaries, too engaged in too many places, and that if we just took a step back, did some “nation building at home” – ceding leadership to other countries – America would be better liked and the world better off.
So he 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.
He demonstrated a disregard for our moral purpose that at times flirted with disdain. He criticized America for having “arrogance” and the audacity to “dictate our terms” to other nations. From his reset with Russia, to his open hand to Iran, to his unreciprocated opening to Cuba, he has embraced regimes that systematically oppose every principle our nation has long championed.
This deterioration of our physical and ideological strength has led to a world far more dangerous than when President Obama entered office.
In just the last two years, we’ve seen an emboldened Russia invade Ukraine. We’ve seen ISIL sweep across multiple states, commit brutal atrocities, and attempt to establish a caliphate. We’ve seen one of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophes in decades as hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been slaughtered at the whim of a tyrant. We’ve seen the largest migration of refugees since World War II, bringing instability to an entire region and putting whole generations at risk of radicalization. We’ve seen China rapidly expand its military capabilities and take aggressive action in the South and East China Seas. We’ve seen North Korea expand its nuclear arsenal and continue its brutal human rights violations. We’ve seen cyber-attacks against our allies and our own people. We’ve seen peaceful protestors met with violence from their governments.
And most threatening of all, we’ve seen Iran expand its influence throughout the Middle East and threaten to annihilate Israel as it moves closer to a nuclear weapons capability. The president's proposed deal with Tehran will likely lead to a cascade of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and could force Israel to take bold action to defend itself, making war with Iran even more likely. President Obama’s desperation to sign a deal – any deal – has caused him to elevate politics over policy, legacy over leadership, and adversaries over allies.
The likely impacts of this deal, along with the broader unraveling of global order, underscore a truth we must never again forget: America plays a part on the world stage for which there is no understudy. When we fail to lead with strength and principle, no other country, friend or foe, is willing or able to take our place. And the result is chaos.
I believe the onus of maintaining American Strength lies where the buck stops. It is up to our next president to right the wrongs done by our current one. It is up to our next president to properly fund and modernize our military. It is up to our next president to restore our people’s faith in the promise and power of the American ideal.
We simply cannot afford to elect as our next president one of the leading agents of this administration’s foreign policy – a leader from yesterday whose tenure as Secretary of State was ineffective at best and dangerously negligent at worst. The stakes of tomorrow are too high to look to the failed leadership of yesterday.
While America did not intend to become the world’s indispensable power, that is exactly what our economic and political freedoms have made us. The free nations of the world still look to America to champion our shared ideals. Vulnerable nations still depend on us to deter aggression from their larger neighbors. Oppressed peoples still turn their eyes toward our shores, wondering if we hear their cries, wondering if we notice their afflictions.
We cannot bring about peace and stability on our own, but the world cannot do it without us. The question before us is not “should we lead?” but rather “how should we lead?” What principles should govern the exercise of our power?
The 21st century requires a president who will answer that question with clarity and consistency – one who will set forth a doctrinefor the exercise of American influence in the world, and who will adhere to that doctrine with the principled devotion that has marked the bipartisan tradition of presidential leadership from Truman to Kennedy to Reagan.
Today, I intend to offer such a doctrine. And in the coming years, I intend to be such a president.
My foreign policy doctrine consists of three pillars.
The first is American Strength.
This is an idea that stems from a simple truth: the world is at its safest when America is at its strongest. When America has the mightiest Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and intelligence community in the world, the result is more peace, not more conflict.
To ensure our strength never falters, we must always plan ahead. It takes forethought to design and many years to build the capabilities we may need at a moment’s notice. So to restore American Strength, my first priority will be to adequately fund our military. This would be a priority even in times of peace and stability, though the world today is neither peaceful nor stable.
To begin, we need to undo the damage caused by sequestration, which is why I’ve endorsed the National Defense Panel’s recommendation that we “return as soon as possible” to Secretary Gates’ fiscal year 2012 budget baseline.
Adequately funding the military will allow us not only to grow our forces, but also to modernize them, which in turn will allow us to remain on the cutting edge in every arena before us – land, sea and air, but also cyberspace and outer space: the battlefields of the 21st century.
By modernizing and innovating, we can ensure that we never send our troops into a fair fight; but rather always equip them with the upper hand. And when they come home, we will be as firmly committed to their wellbeing as they have been to ours.
A strong military also means a strong intelligence community, equipped with all it needs to defend the homeland from extremism – both homegrown and foreign-trained. Key to this will be permanently extending Section 215 of the Patriot Act. We cannot let politics cloud the importance of this issue. We must never find ourselves looking back after a terrorist attack and saying we could have done more to save American lives.
Some will argue that with all the fiscal challenges facing our nation, we simply cannot afford to invest in our military. The truth is we cannot afford not to invest in it. We must remember that the defense budget is not the primary driver of our debt, and every time we try to cut a dollar from our military it seems to cost us several more just to make up for it. This is because the successes of all our initiatives depend on the safety of the American people and the stability of the global economy.
And that brings me to the second pillar of my doctrine, which is the protection of the American economy in a globalized world.
When America was founded, it took more than ten weeks to travel to Europe. In the 19th century, the steam engine cut that to around 12 days. In the 20th century, the airplane cut it to around 6 hours. Now, in the 21st century, you can access global markets in a single second, with a tap on your smartphone.
Millions of the best jobs in this century will depend on international trade. It is more important than ever that Congress give the President Trade Promotion Authority so we can finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. These agreements will create millions of jobs and cement U.S. strategic partnerships in Asia, South America, and Europe.
Those such as Secretary Clinton, who preach a message of international engagement and “smart power” yet are not willing to stand up to special interests and support free trade, are either hypocritical or fail to grasp trade’s role as a tool of statecraft that can bolster our relationships with partners and create millions of American jobs.
As president, I will use American power to oppose any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space. This includes the economic disruption caused when one country invades another, as well as the chaos caused by disruptions in chokepoints such as the South China Sea or the Strait of Hormuz.
Russia, China, Iran, or any other nation that attempts to block global commerce will know to expect a response from my administration. Gone will be the days of debating where a ship is flagged or whether it is our place to criticize territorial expansionism. In this century, businesses must have the freedom to operate around the world with confidence.
The third pillar of my doctrine is moral clarity regarding America’s core values.
We must recognize that our nation is a global leader not just because it has superior arms, but because it has superior aims. America is the first power in history motivated by a desire to expand freedom rather than its own territory.
In recent years, the ideals that have long formed the backbone of American foreign policy – a passionate defense of human rights, the strong support of democratic principles, and the protection of the sovereignty of our allies – have been replaced by, at best, caution, and at worst, outright willingness to betray those values for the expediency of negotiations with repressive regimes.
This is not only morally wrong; it is contrary to our interests. Because wherever freedom and human rights spread, partners for our nation are born. But whenever our foreign policy comes unhinged from its moral purpose, it weakens global stability and forms cracks in our national resolve.
In this century, we must restore America’s willingness to think big – to state boldly what we stand for and why it is right. Just as Reagan never flinched in his criticisms of the Soviet Union’s political and economic repressions, we must never shy away from demanding that China allow true freedom for its 1.3 billion people. Nor should we hesitate in calling the source of atrocities in the Middle East by its real name – radical Islam.
As president, I will support the spread of economic and political freedom, reinforce our alliances, resist efforts by large powers to subjugate their smaller neighbors, maintain a robust commitment to transparent and effective foreign assistance programs, and advance the rights of the vulnerable – including women and the religious minorities that are so often persecuted – so that the afflicted peoples of the world know the truth: the American people hear their cries, see their suffering, and most of all, desire their freedom.
Those are the three pillars of my doctrine – American Strength, the protection of our global economy, and a proud advocacy for America’s core values.
This approach will restore American leadership to a world badly in need of it. It will reestablish a foreign policy based on strategy and principle rather than politics and polls – one that is overseen by the White House but not micromanaged by it, and that will restore America’s status as a nation thatshapes global events rather than one that is shaped by them.
I want to allow plenty of time to discuss how this vision would work in practice. So let me close with one final thought.
The president of the United States is constantly called upon to make difficult decisions in the defense of our nation, and these decisions come with a cost far greater than money.
My greatest honor in serving in the U.S. Senate has been working with our men and women in uniform, our intelligence professionals, our diplomats, and our veterans. I have seen the tremendous sacrifices they and their families make, but I have also seen the tremendous impact those sacrifices have had on the world.
I have talked to Filipino Typhoon survivors who knew that an American carrier over the horizon meant food, water, and survival.
I have talked to Japanese and South Koreans who knew an enduring U.S. presence allowed their nations to prosper.
I have talked to Europeans convinced that America’s role as a security guarantor had prevented conflict on what had been a blood-soaked continent for centuries.
I have talked to American business leaders who knew their ability to access millions of international customers and create thousands of domestic jobs has hinged on American Strength.
Most personally, I have seen American freedom and security play out in the lives of my parents, my children... and myself.
But increasingly in recent years, I’ve also met people frustrated by the direction of American leadership:
Cuban dissidents devastated by the President’s concessions to the Castro regime for nothing in return North Koreans disappointed by America’s reluctance to speak out against modern-day gulags Arabs and Israelis worried about America’s indifference to Iran’s growing influence Syrians crushed that America failed to prevent their country from descending into chaos Afghans worried that America will leave them like we left IraqEuropeans anxious about Russia’s bellicose rhetoric and actions
And many of our own people, concerned about their safety in an increasingly chaotic world.
Of all the important duties of the presidency, and there are many, protecting our people and their interests – wherever those interests lie – is the highest honor, the greatest burden, and the most profound privilege. The first duty of the president, as written in the Constitution, is not “taxer in chief” or “regulator in chief” – it is Commander in Chief.
Every presidential candidate must be prepared to execute this duty. And any who advocates averting our eyes from the dangers of the world must be prepared to explain, against six years of counterevidence, how retrenchment and retreat will lead to a safer world. They will not.
Only American leadership will bring safety and enduring peace. America led valiantly in the last century – from Truman to Kennedy to Reagan. And because of our leadership, that century became an American Century.
Following World War II, Pope Pius the 12th noted as much when he wrote: “America has a genius for great and unselfish deeds. Into the hands of America God has placed the destiny of an afflicted mankind.”
I believe America still has that genius. I believe mankind remains afflicted, and that its destiny remains in our hands. And 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.