Politics & Policy

Meet the Rubio Doctrine, Which Sounds a Lot Like the Truman Doctrine

(Scott Olson/Getty)

The Truman Doctrine is back. In his most comprehensive foreign-policy remarks to date, Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio will explicitly echo the 33rd president’s 1947 remarks to a joint session of Congress in which he called for the support of “free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” In doing so, he put the United States on a more aggressive footing against the Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. 

In remarks Wednesday before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City, excerpts of which were provided to National Review, Rubio will propose resisting “efforts by large powers to subjugate their smaller neighbors” and advancing “the rights of the vulnerable, including women and the religious minorities that are so often persecuted.” Like Truman, Rubio will urge the renewed expansion of American power in explicitly moral terms: The United States, he will say, is a global leader “not just because it has superior arms, but because it has superior aims.” It’s a rebuke not just of the American retreat from Iraq and Afghanistan overseen by President Obama, but also of Bill Clinton’s emphasis on domestic affairs over foreign engagement during his two terms in office. 

Now running against Mike Huckabee, the man he once endorsed, Rubio often says his policies would bring about a “new American century,” characterized by an expansion of freedom not just in this country but across the globe.

Rubio is now widely considered the standard-bearer of the Republican hawks. He has come a long way since 2008, when he endorsed former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in the presidential election and worked to round up allies for him in Florida, Rubio’s home state and a key primary state that Huckabee then hoped to carry. On the campaign trail that year, Huckabee elicited the ire of many GOP hawks by calling for the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, arguing that the United States should negotiate with Iran, and accusing the Bush administration of tarnishing the country’s reputation on the world stage. Huckabee was explicit in his opposition to Bush administration’s push to spread democracy abroad. 

But during the 2008 election season, as he closed out his time as state-house speaker, world affairs were not yet a top priority for Rubio, then a 36-year-old lawmaker. “For those of us who consider ourselves to be Reagan conservatives, Mike Huckabee is our best chance to win the nomination,” Rubio told reporters. “People are looking for genuineness and sincerity in politics. He has those qualities as well as the positive leadership skills needed to run our country.” Rubio cited Huckabee’s emphasis on family values as a key reason for his endorsement. A video shot in January of 2008 shows an even more baby-faced Rubio campaigning in New Hampshire on the governor’s behalf. “We came all the way up from Florida to help Governor Huckabee win in New Hampshire,” he says. Huckabee, for his part, credited Rubio with changing his mind on the Cuban embargo, which he opposed as governor but supported during his 2008 bid. Rubio’s mentor, Jeb Bush, backed former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in the 2008 race. A spokesman for Rubio declined to comment on his support for Huckabee’s 2008 bid. 

Rubio doesn’t mention Huckabee in his 2012 biography, An American Son, which is devoted largely to charting the progression of his political career, but he does say that it was during his time in the Senate that he became an active voice in the foreign-policy debate. That’s something to which he credits former Democratic senator Joe Lieberman, as well as Arizona senator John McCain and South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham, all members of an older generation who believe strongly in the importance of American global leadership.

It was as a Senate candidate and in his first years in office that Rubio first came into contact with some of his most influential national-security advisers, including former George W. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams and Brookings Institute fellow Robert Kagan. Abrams briefed Rubio during his successful long-shot bid against Charlie Crist in 2010, and Kagan played a key role in shaping Rubio’s 2013 foreign-policy address at the American Enterprise Institute. There, he talked of the key role the United States has played in the post–World War II era and said that, in fact, it is not American intervention but “the fear of a disengaged America that worries countries all over the world.”

At the Council on Foreign Relations, Rubio will lay out a foreign-policy vision that contrasts starkly with the one put forward by Huckabee on the campaign trail in 2008. Rubio often says his policies would bring about a “new American century” characterized by an expansion of freedom not just in this country but across the globe. He will set forth the three principles that he believes should “govern the exercise of our power,” and he in suggesting that the Rubio doctrine could one day find itself on the same plane as those of Truman, Kennedy, or Reagan. The Rubio doctrine, he will say, consists of funding the military in order to restore and maintain American military strength; opposing “any violations of international waters, airspace, cyberspace, or outer space”; and supporting the spread of freedom, both economic and political, across the globe.

On Monday, in an op-ed in USA Today, Rubio backed the extension of the National Security Agency’s program that allows the collection of metadata from cellphones and other devices. In 2002, as a member of the Florida house, he put the brakes on legislation that would have required the state’s higher-education institutions to submit the visa information of foreign students to state-government officials in the interests of policing terrorism. “I hope no one thinks we’re Captain America saving the world,” he told the Miami Herald.

As a presidential candidate, that’s precisely the position Rubio is adopting. And, after six years of what many Republicans think have been filled with humiliation and retreat on the global stage, the education of Marco Rubio comes as a happy relief.

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