“For this century is a time of tremendous challenge. But it is also a time of tremendous promise. This is indeed the world America made. And it is freer and more prosperous than it has ever been. And it can be even better. As Americans we cannot make that happen by ourselves. But the world cannot make it happen without us."
Senator Marco Rubio
Remarks as Delivered for Brookings Institution Speech
April 25, 2012
Thank you, Senator Lieberman. One of the best things about working in the Senate is the opportunity to know and learn from colleagues whose statesmanship sets an example for the rest of us. In my brief time in the Senate, I've had the chance to get to know Joe, and learn from him. He represents a view of America's role in the world in the tradition of Democratic leaders from Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman through John F. Kennedy and Scoop Jackson. In my every experience with him, it has always been evident that Joe Lieberman is a statesman, who takes positions on every important national issue because he believes they best serve our country’s interests and values. Thank you, Joe, for your introduction, and more importantly thank you for your example. It is a privilege to serve with you.
I want to thank, Brookings for this opportunity to contribute a few thoughts to the current debate over America’s role in the world in the 21st Century. I wanted to give this speech today to share with you my observations as someone who had a long time interest in foreign policy, who now finds himself in the role of policymaker.
I am always cautious about generalizations but until very recently, the general perception was that American Conservatism believed in robust and muscular foreign policy. That was certainly the hallmark of the foreign policies both President Bush's and of President Reagan. But when I arrived in the Senate last year I found that some of the traditional sides in the foreign policy debate had shifted.
On the one hand, I found liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans working together to advocate our withdrawal from Afghanistan, or our staying out of Libya. On the other hand I found myself partnering with Democrats like Bob Menendez or Senator Casey on a more forceful foreign policy. In fact, the resolutions that I co-authored with Senator Casey on Syria and with Senator Menendez condemning fraudulent elections in Nicaragua were held up by Republicans. I recently joked that today, in the U.S. Senate, on foreign policy, if you go far enough to the right, you wind up on the left.
And I found this sentiment not just in the Senate, but back home as well. For example, many of my loyal supporters were highly critical of my decision to call for a more active U.S. role in Libya.
The easiest thing for me to do here today is give a speech on my disagreements with this administration on foreign policy. And I do have many.
But I wanted to begin by addressing another trend in our body politic. One that increasingly says it is time to focus less on the world and more on ourselves.
I always begin by reminding people of how good a strong and engaged America has been for the world. And in making that argument, I have recently been relying heavily on Brookings fellow, Bob Kagan's timely book, The World America Made. He did not pay me to say that.
He begins his book with a useful exercise: asking readers to imagine what kind of world order might have existed from the end of World War II until the present absent American leadership. Could we say with certainty that it would look anything like America's vision of an increasingly freer and more open international system, where catastrophic conflicts between great powers were avoided, democracy and free market capitalism flourished, where prosperity spread wider and wider and billions of people emerged from poverty?
Would it have occurred if, after the war, America had minded our own business, and left the world to sort out its affairs without our leadership?
Almost surely not. As Bob persuasively argued, every world order in history has reflected the interests and beliefs of its strongest power, just as this world order still largely reflects ours. Of course many of these things weren’t achieved by us on our own. They weren’t achieved because we succeeded in all our international endeavors. They weren’t achieved because everyone always agreed with everything we did. They weren’t achieved because we were the most popular country on earth. They were achieved because the United States had a vision, the will and means to do the hard work of bringing it into existence and then of maintaining it.
We had the will and means to defend its norms and institutions and the security of our partners, face down its challengers, assist other people in attaining their liberty, keep trade routes open, and support the expansion of free market capitalism that accelerated the growth of the global economy.
And we did it without coveting any other country's territories or seizing their assets or robbing them of their opportunities. The purpose of the institutions we established, from the United Nations to the World Bank to the IMF, was to spread peace and prosperity, not to assert narrow American interests. Other nations consented to our leadership, because they saw what the economic and political values of the American worldview had achieved for us, and they wanted the same for themselves. They followed us because they believed that our way, the American way, the principles of free people and free markets, was the best way to advance their societies.
As Bob also points out, we haven't ever really sought this role, yet despite our worries, doubts and occasional resentment, we are proud of it. And we should be. As Bob's book highlights a number of facts that are worth repeating here today about the post-World War II world America made.
For example, the global GDP has risen four percent annually since the end of World War II, four times faster than the average in past centuries. Four billion people, mostly outside of Europe and North America, have been lifted out of poverty. The number of democracies in the world have proliferated nearly tenfold. And we have had the longest period of peace between the great powers. Ever.
Now, before anyone accuse me of claiming that American power has ushered in the biblical promise of a "new heaven and a new earth," let's stop and remember that the world America made is better, but it is not perfect. But it is vastly more peaceful and prosperous age than any other age in recorded history.
So this is the world America made, but what is the role for America now? Is now finally the time for us to mind our own business? Is now the time for us to allow others to lead? Is now the time for us to play the role of equal partner?
I always start by reminding people that what happens all over the world is our business. Every aspect of lives is directly impacted by global events. The security of our cities is connected to the security of small hamlets in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Our cost of living, the safety of our food, and the value of the things we invent, make, and sell are just a few examples of everyday aspects of our lives that are directly related to events abroad and make it impossible for us to focus only on our issues here at home.
The next question I am asked is why doesn't someone else lead for a change? Why do we always have to be taking care of all the problems of the world? Isn’t it time for someone else to step up?
I always begin my answer to that question with a question of my own. If we start doing less, who's going to do more? For example, would a world order where China, at least as we know it right now, was the leading power be as benignly disposed to the political and economic aspirations of other nations as we are?
I still have hope that behind the curtain of secrecy that veils the Chinese state, that there are voices who advocate for the peaceful and responsible rise of that nation. Voices that reject the idea that global power is a zero sum game. We hold out hope for a new China of tomorrow, but for now we must deal with the China we know today. A China which enjoys its closest relationships with countries such as North Korea and Iran. So, at least for now, it would be foolish to be confident in the idea that China can be counted on to defend and support global economic and political freedom or to take up the cause of human rights. By the way, the rest of the world, especially their neighbors have already figured that out, and they prefer not to take that risk.
The short answer is that, at least not yet anyways, there is no one else to hand off the baton to, even if that were a good idea. On the most difficult transnational challenges of our time, who will lead if we do not? The answer, at least today, is that no other nation or organization is willing or able to do so.
Finally, I'll be asked, if we still have to lead, can’t we at least be equal partners with someone else? In fact, shouldn’t we rely on other nations to carry more of the burden? After all, we all know that they resent us telling them what to do, right?
In this new century, more than ever before, America should work with our capable allies in finding solutions to global problems. Not because America has gotten weaker, but because our partners have grown stronger. It's worth pointing out, by the way that is not a new idea for us. Our greatest successes have always occurred in partnership with other like-minded nations. America has acted unilaterally in the past - and I believe it should continue to do so in the future -- when necessity requires. But our preferred option since the U.S. became a global leader has been to work with others to achieve our goals.
So yes, global problems do require international coalitions. On that point this administration is correct. But effective international coalitions don't form themselves. They need to be instigated and led, and more often than not, they can only be instigated and led by us. And that is what this administration doesn't understand. Yes, there are more countries able and willing to join efforts to meet the global challenges of our time. But experience has proven that American leadership is almost always indispensable to its success.
You can see this in the actions or sometimes lack thereof of the World Trade Organization or the UN Security Council. And when American influence is diminished, for example, by the one-nation one-vote formula of the UN General Assembly or the UN Human Rights Council, we see absurd and often appalling results. Multi-lateral international organizations can be a forum for forming international coalitions. But as we have repeatedly seen over the last few years, the more difficult the problem, the likelier bad actors will spoil meaningful solutions within the current system of international organizations.
For example, we can't always rely on the UN Security Council to achieve consensus on major threats to international peace and security. As we've seen on North Korea, on Syria, on Iran, China and Russia simply will not join that consensus when they don't perceive the problem as a threat to their narrow national interests. Instead they exercise their veto or threat of a veto to thwart effective and timely responses. The Security Council remains a valuable forum, but not an indispensable one. We can’t walk away from a problem because some members of the Security Council refuse to act.
In those instances, where the veto power of either China or Russia impede the world’s ability to deal with a significant threat, it is the United States that will have to organize and lead coalitions with or without a Security Council resolution.
And this concept is neither novel nor partisan. President Clinton acted exactly in this way in Kosovo with the support of congressional leaders like Senator Lieberman.
Everywhere we look, we are presented with opportunities for American leadership to help shape a better world in this new century. We have to view these opportunities within the context of the fact that in every region of the world, other countries look apprehensively on the growing influence of newly emerging powers in their midst, and look to the U.S. to counterbalance them.
In some instances these emerging strategic realignments are not inevitably destined for conflict. For example, if China chooses to conform its rise within the international order, there is much to be hopeful for in the Pacific region. On the other hand, there is no reason for optimism about Iranian designs on regional dominance in the Middle East.
And it is indeed in that region where multilateral cooperation is most urgently needed right away. Whether in bringing an end to the bloodshed and the Assad tyranny in Syria, or in helping Egypt overcome economic hardships and move toward the establishment of a true democracy, or in addressing the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, America shouldn't try to solve any of these problems alone. But neither will any of these challenges be addressed without strong and creative American leadership. No other nation has the influence, relationships or reputation for seeking lasting solutions to intractable problems than the United States has.
Iran's nuclear ambitions are more than just weapons. Iran wants to become the most dominant power in the Middle East. But given Iran's history of human rights abuses, fomenting Shia versus Sunni conflict and sponsorship of terrorism as a tool of statecraft, the world must never allow that to happen. Fortunately, preventing a dominant Iran is a goal we share with virtually every other nation in the region. Certainly we welcome Russia's and China's cooperation in facing this challenge. But the prospect of a nuclear capable Iran is so unacceptable that we must be prepared to act with or without them. We have a host of willing partners in every region of the world who share our concerns and are relying on our leadership to compel Iran to abandon its ambitions.
Preferably, we can succeed through coercive means short of military force. We should be open to negotiations with Iran. But always remember that they should not be deemed a success when they only lead to further negotiations. Stronger pressure shouldn't be postponed in the expectation our forbearance will encourage Iran to act in good faith. Nothing in our experience with Iran suggests it considers such gestures as anything other than a lack of resolve on our part.
Ultimately however, we must remember that their ambitions so far have come with a high tolerance for pain. Therefore, even as we work through the United Nations and with the international community on sanctions and negotiations, we should operate on a dual track. We should also be preparing our allies, and the world, for the uncomfortable reality that unfortunately, if all else fails, preventing a nuclear Iran may tragically require a military solution.
The goal of preventing a dominant Iran is so important that every regional policy we adopt should be crafted with that overriding goal in mind. The current situation in Syria is an example of such an approach. The fall of Assad would be a significant blow to Iran's ambitions. On those grounds alone, we should be seeking to help the people of Syria bring him down.
But on the Foreign Relations committee, I have noticed that some members are so concerned about the challenges of a post-Assad Syria that they have lost sight of the advantages of it.
First, Iran would lose its ally and see its influence and ability to cause trouble in the region correspondingly reduced. But Hezbollah would lose its most important ally too, along with its weapons supplier. And the prospects for a more stable, peaceful and freer Lebanon would improve.
Second, the security of our ally, the strongest and most enduring democracy in the region, Israel, with whom we are bound by the strongest ties of mutual interest and shared values and affection would improve as well. And so would the prospects for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors improve.
Finally, the nations in the region see Syria as a test of our continued willingness to lead in the Middle East. If we prove unwilling to provide leadership, they will conclude that we are no longer a reliable security partner, and will decide to take matters into their own hands. And that means a regional arms race, the constant threat of armed conflict, and crippling fuel prices here at home due to instability. The most powerful and influential nation in the world cannot ask smaller, more vulnerable nations to take risks while we stand on the sidelines. We have to lead because the rewards of effective leadership are so great.
Forming and leading a coalition with Turkey and the Arab League nations to assist the opposition, by creating a safe haven and equipping the opposition with food, medicine, communications tools and potentially weapons, will not only weaken Iran, it will ultimately increase our ability to influence the political environment of a post-Assad Syria.
The spread and success of political and economic freedom in the Middle East is in our vital interest. It will certainly present challenges, as newly enfranchised societies elect leaders whose views and purposes oppose and even offend ours. But in the long term, because governments that rule by the consent of the governed must be responsive to the material needs and demands of their people, they are less likely to engage in costly confrontations that harm their economies and deprive their people of the opportunity to improve their circumstances.
The expansion and success of political and economic freedom is critical to our interests in every region of the world, and nowhere more so than in our own hemisphere. It is no coincidence that the rise of economic prosperity in the Western Hemisphere directly coincides with the democratic gains of the previous two decades. Mexico, Peru, and Colombia are three examples of nations that have weathered the global economic downturn in a stronger position than ever.
Our goal for our own region should be pretty straightforward: a coalition of neighboring democratic nations that trade freely and live peacefully with one another.
Other than overcoming our own past indifference and lack of focus on this goal, there are two other challenges. The first is Venezuela's and the other ALBA countries' overt anti-Americanism. They make a lot of noise, and we can't ignore their anti-democratic abuses or their growing closeness to Iran.
But our greater challenge really is a second more subtle one. That is the efforts of some nations to replace our influence with their influence and to use of protectionism and other unfair practices to pursue that aim. The antidote for both is to reengage energetically in the region.
First, we must be a clear and consistent advocate for freedom. To be free isn't limited to holding elections; it's a way of governance. And in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador, elected leaders have used their power to undermine fundamental freedoms by attacking the press, the courts and their political opponents.
Second, we need to commit to being a reliable partner as our neighbors cope with significant security challenges. Both Mexico and Colombia, they need our continued commitment to win their respective wars against criminal organizations. And we must also make it abundantly clear that we will not tolerate Iran exporting violence and terrorism to our hemisphere.
Third, we must reject protectionism and instead embrace the ultimate goal of a free trade area of the Americas. The recently approved free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama was a good step. We need to move forward to bring both Canada and Mexico into the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
And fourth, we should move aggressively to form a strong energy partnership with Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and a post-Chavez Venezuela. A stable Western Hemisphere displacing an unstable Middle East and an increasingly belligerent Russia as the center of the world’s energy production would create countless jobs for Americans and energy security for the world.
In Asia, the question of whether China's rise will be peaceful and respectful of their neighbors is one of our biggest long-term challenge. We must make it abundantly clear that we are firmly committed to our defense agreements and firmly committed to our allies to freedom of navigation on our seas.
And the growing strategic importance of Asia actually heightens rather than diminishes the strategic importance of Europe. U.S-European cooperation is a valuable complement to our work with our East Asia allies. All of us -- Asians, Americans, and Europeans -- have a common interest in seeing China evolve in a peaceful and democratic direction. And we have a common interest in seeing China abide by the rules of the international economic order. The United States, Europe and East Asia represent 71 percent of the world's economy. That's a lot of leverage, and we should use it to address problems such as China's disregard for intellectual property rights, gross human rights violations, its unfair trade practices, its currency manipulation, and the looming presence of China's state-owned industries.
In addition, this U.S.-EU partnership is critical to a more realistic approach to Russia as well. I know some here might disagree, and certainly the President would, but I feel like we have gotten precious little from Russia in exchange for concessions on nuclear weapons.
The reason is because Russia's domestic politics shape its foreign policies. An autocratic Russia tends to be more anti-Western, and to act in ways that make it harder to integrate Russia into the global community and the free international political order.
Putin might talk tough, but he knows he is weak. Everywhere he looks, he sees threats to his rule, real and imagined. And so he uses state-owned media to preach paranoia and anti-Western sentiments to Russians. He faces a rising China to the east and hostile Islamic forces to the South, but he tells his people that the biggest threat they face is from NATO.
Some of our allies in Europe increasingly feel that our recent "reset" with Russia tended to ignore and in some cases, undermine them. We need to re-energize and lead a united coalition with European nations to tackle issues ranging from missile defense to the continued enlargement of NATO. Furthermore, if we are successful in forming a Western Hemisphere energy coalition that takes advantage of the shale-gas revolution, we will be able to help our European allies reduce their coerced dependence on Russian energy as well.
A re-energized U.S.-European coalition can help empower those forces within Russia working to end corruption and open their political system. And if that happens, then we will be closer than ever to the bipartisan American vision, endorsed by the Clinton administration and the Bush administrations, of a Europe "whole and free."
Faced with historic deficits and a dangerous national debt, there has been increasing talk of reducing our foreign aid budget. But we need to remember that these international coalitions that we have the opportunity to lead are not just military ones, they can also be humanitarian ones. In every region of the world, we should always search for ways to use U.S. aid and humanitarian assistance to strengthen our influence, the effectiveness of our leadership, and the service of our interests and ideals.
When done so effectively, in partnership with the private sector, with faith-based organizations, and our allies, foreign aid is a very cost-effective way not only to export our values and our example, but to advance our security and economic interests.
One of the programs I am proudest of is the effort that began under President George W. Bush with robust Congressional support and has continued under President Obama and that is to combat AIDS in Africa. Millions of human beings are alive today because the United States and others in the global community are paying for their anti-viral medications. This investment allows us to say without any hint of exaggeration that by 2015, the world could see the beginning of the end of AIDS, something that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
We need to continue this kind of foreign aid investment, but not just in PEPFAR, but in malaria control, vaccine programs and agriculture initiatives so that we can make similar strides in preventing hunger and establishing a healthier global community.
This was by no means a comprehensive analysis of our challenges and opportunities around the world. After all, we could dedicate entire speeches to the emergence of functional states in Africa or the challenges posed by the Arab Spring. My purpose today was not to catalogue our interests in every corner of the planet. My purpose was to argue that the world is a better place because of American engagement in it and it will continue to get better only if we continue to get better only if we continue to engage.
I disagree with the way in which the current administration has chosen to engage. For while there are few global problems we can solve by ourselves, there are virtually no global problems that can be solved without us. In confronting the challenges of our time, there are more nations than ever capable of contributing, but there is still only one nation capable of leading.
And I disagree with voices in my own party who argue we should not engage at all. Who warn we should heed the words of John Quincy Adams not to go "abroad, in search of monsters to destroy".
I disagree because all around us we see the human face of America's influence. It actually begins with not just our government, but our people. Millions of people have been the catalyst of democratic change in their own countries. But they never would have been able to connect with each other if an American had not invented Twitter.
The atrocities of Joseph Kony would be largely unknown. But in fact, millions people know because an American filmmaker made a short film about it and then distributed it on another American innovation, YouTube.
Even in our military engagements, the lasting impact of our influence on the world is hard to ignore. Millions of people have emerged from poverty around the world in part because our Navy protects the freedom of the seas allowing the ever increasing flow of goods between nations.
And long after the last American soldier has left Afghanistan, God willing, there will be millions of strong, productive and independent Afghan women because today they are the first girls in generations to attend school thanks to the generosity of the American people.
We do these things because we are a compassionate people. And we also do it because it is in our national interest. Because perhaps more than any other nation on the earth, we understand that a world that is freer, more just, more peaceful and more prosperous poses less of a threat.
I know this is a time of great uncertainty. A time when many wonder if America is in decline. And once again, as Bob Kagan points out in his book, however, there have been other times when we felt less than confident about the future. We need to look no further than the decade of my birth for an example.
In the 1970s, we experienced setbacks against communism in Asia, the collapse of trust in government, the oil shock, stagflation, high interest rates, Soviet expansion, the hostage crisis in Iran, and disco music.
Americans were worried that something had permanently changed for our country. We couldn’t be certain our standard of living would improve generation after generation, and even less certain that we could maintain America's primacy in world affairs.
Then, as now, a serious school of thought emerged to confirm those worries and gained attention in our national debates. We had a nice run, but nothing lasts forever, the argument went. Our problems are too numerous, our resources too depleted, our economy too dependent on dying industries, our public institutions too inadaptable, and our rivals too potent for us to keep pace with, much less stay ahead of. And now, they said, back then, the most important responsibility of public officials to manage our decline intelligently and mitigate its consequences at home and abroad.
We know now, of course, that is not how it turned out. By the end of the next decade, few were speculating about what the world would be without America's leadership because we were once again in the unique unipolar moment when American power and influence seemed virtually unchallenged.
Now, we are worried again. And that's understandable. The pace of change in the world is so fast and the challenges we face are so numerous and serious that many Americans worry we can't sustain our way of life at home much less maintain the burden of leading the world.
The financial crisis; the steep drop in the value of our homes; a deep recession and excruciatingly slow recovery; high unemployment; stagnant wages; record budget deficits and public debt; a lack of confidence in the ability of our government and political system to solve problems; soaring energy prices; two long wars; new and complex threats to international peace and stability; and the rapid rise of China as an economic competitor and a rival for global influence. There are plenty of reasons to worry.
And yet, even with all these problems, there is absolutely no reason why America cannot remain a global superpower in this new century as well. We have a huge head start in dealing with the challenges of transforming. We have the advantage of concentrating more of our energy, resources, productivity and innovation on figuring out the future. Our continued power is possible, but it is not self-perpetuating. It will require us to do what every generation of Americans before us has done - confront and solve the pressing domestic challenges of our time.
It may not seem that way if you follow the daily news coming in from around the world, but this new century is a time of great promise. It is not the promise of a perfect world. Not one without injustice, violence, conflict, hunger, or disease. It is the promise of a better world. Better than the one we have today. Better than the one we have ever known.
A world where democratically elected leaders govern as responsible democrats and avoid armed conflict with their neighbors. A world where oppressing women or selling children is not culturally acceptable anywhere. A world where AIDS is a disease of history, and starvation no longer part of our future.
A world of extraordinary innovation. The generations born since the spread of the World Wide Web are the most skilled collaborators ever. And now that everyone, everywhere can talk to anyone, anywhere at any time, they can talk to each other and come up with new ideas that are still unimaginable to us today.
Above all else, the 21st century provides us the opportunity for more freedom. A world where more people are free to grow their economies. Free to pursue their dreams. Free to become prosperous.
I left my last page of the speech, does anyone have my last page? Did I leave it with you? I apologize.
Above all else, the 21st century provides us the opportunity for more freedom. A world where more people are free to grow their economies. Free to pursue their dreams. Free to become more prosperous.
This is the promise of this century. But it will not happen if we are not engaged. It will not happen if we do not lead.
Why does it have to start with us, some say. Why do we have to do it?
We find our answer in the words of a non-American - and this is why I needed this page. In an address to Congress in 2003, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said, you might have been there that day, his quote was:
"I know it's hard on America. And in some small corner of this vast country, out in Nevada or Idaho or these places I've never been to but always wanted to go -- I know out there, there's a guy getting on with his life, perfectly happily, minding his own business, saying to you, the political leaders of this country, 'Why me, and why us, and why America?' And the only answer is because destiny put you in this place in history in this moment in time, and the task is yours to do."
And so it is. For this century is a time of tremendous challenge. But it is also a time of tremendous promise. This is indeed the world America made. And it is freer and more prosperous than it has ever been.
And it can be even better. As Americans we cannot make that happen by ourselves. But the world cannot make it happen without us.