Rubio: “It is our responsibility to clearly outline to the American people what our proper role in the world is and what American interests are at stake when we engage abroad. … If this is to be another American Century, the world needs a strong America now. Because freedom cannot survive without us.”
Senator Marco Rubio’s Remarks As Delivered
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. First of all, thank you all for coming. I am honored and privileged to be here. I’m impressed by the good work, by the way, that the Helms Center is doing in teaching young people the foreign policy principles that Senator Helms stood for. And I’m honored by this opportunity to speak to you for a few moments eight and a half months into my Senate career on what I think is a historic and important moment in American history. And I hope by the end of our time here together tonight we’ll all share that belief irrespective of where we fall on the individual issues.
I have come to deeply appreciate Jesse Helms’ willingness to fight for his views – particularly in foreign policy – and his unwillingness to compromise on matters of basic principle. That made him rare in Washington, and it also made him influential. I want to read what a distinguished journalist once wrote that it was “his relentless, unswerving application of conservative principles to practically every issue” is what “made him a major player in Washington and [in] national politics.”
Jesse Helms was, in particular, an unswerving champion of freedom fighters. When he was still a junior Senator, he and a former governor of California—a fellow named Ronald Reagan – they worked together to introduce a “morality in foreign policy” plank to the 1976 Republican platform.
Here is what it said, it said: “The goal of Republican foreign policy is the achievement of liberty under law and a just and lasting peace in the world. The principles by which we act to achieve peace and to protect the interests of the United States must merit the restored confidence of our people.”
It also said that “we must face the world with no illusions about the nature of tyranny.” And it pledged that: “Ours will be a foreign policy that keeps this ever in mind.”
Now, remarkably, this was controversial in the 1970s—the era of détente, of defeat and of retreat. The idea of placing morality at the center of our dealings with other nations was derided by supposed sophisticates as unrealistic and uninformed.
But then Ronald Reagan took these words to heart and he made them the center of his foreign policy—a foreign policy that even his critics now admit was remarkably successful.
President Reagan challenged the “evil empire.”
“Tear down this wall,” he demanded—and it came down. He won the Cold War not by coddling dictators but by confronting them—and by standing up for the principles that have defined us since the formation of our great Republic.
As I think about the challenges of the 21st century—challenges that range from upheavals in the Middle East to the fiscal crisis back home – I am mindful of Ronald Reagan’s example—and of Jesse Helms’.
I am guided by their understanding that America’s strength lies in its ideals, and that if we are to make this century another American century, we must be prepared to fight for those ideals.
Now, fundamentally, I believe that the world is a better place when the United States of America is strong and prosperous. Now, I don’t believe that America has the power or means to solve every issue in the world. But I do believe there are some critically important issues where America does have a meaningful role to play in resolving crises that are tied to our national interests.
If we refuse to play our rightful role and shrink from the world, America and the entire world will pay a terrible price. And it is our responsibility to clearly outline to the American people what our proper role in the world is and what American interests are at stake when we engage abroad.
At the core of our strength are the “self-evident” truths of the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” that government exists to “secure these rights” and that it derives its “just powers from the consent of the governed.”
These are not just our rights as Americans. These are the rights of all human beings. Nurtured in thirteen embattled colonies along the Eastern seaboard more than two centuries ago, the blessings of liberties have since spread to more than 100 countries around the world.
Freedom’s domain now stretches from Mexico to Mongolia. Some of the world’s democracies are ancient nations. Others are more recent in origin. Some are poor. Others are rich. Some are Christian. Others Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Confucian, Hindu. All are united by their respect for certain fundamental human rights – even if they do not always achieve in practice the ideals they seek to honor. America should take pride in knowing that so many of the freedom movements we have seen around the world since 1776 draw their inspiration from the courage and the words of our own Founding Fathers.
The honor roll of free countries does not yet include the land of my parents or grandparents—Cuba—but that I believe is only a matter of time. Because sooner or later, the tides of freedom will wash against the shores of this island nation that has been trapped for too long in a prison constructed by Fidel and Raul Castro.
Why am I so confident about the future? Because in our time, we have seen how dictatorships have fallen and democracies risen – even in the most unpromising surroundings.
Just in the past year, in the Middle East – the region whose governments have been most resistant to freedom – we have seen the first stirrings of democratic upheavals. We do not know how the Arab Spring will ultimately turn out, but it has already proven one thing: that no faith, no ethnicity, no region, and no people are immune to the fundamental desire to control their own destiny.
As dissidents and freedom fighters battle dictators around the world, they look for support to the greatest democracy in the world. And America must answer their call.
We do not seek to impose our vision of government. We do not insist that every nation must have a presidency, a supreme court or a bicameral legislature. Nor do we have any intention of using force to depose every despotic regime on the planet.
But we must do what we can to champion the cause of freedom—not only with the power of our example but also with our money and our resources, our ingenuity and our diplomacy, and on rare occasion, when there is no good alternative and when our national interest is clearly at stake, our armed might.
Without our commitment to the rights of man enunciated by our forefathers, what are we? Just another big, rich country. But when we champion our ideals, we gain moral authority—and we gain physical security.
You see, we may not always agree with our fellow democracies, but seldom, if ever, do we fight them. The more functioning democracies there are—“functioning” being the important quality—the easier we can breathe.
States that do not respect the rights of their citizens seldom respect the rights of their neighbors. They become breeding grounds for all sorts of ills—from the trafficking of humans and drugs to contagious diseases and famine, from nuclear proliferation to terrorism—that threaten our own security.
Now some suggest that America should heed the famous words of John Quincy Adams and go “not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” The problem is if America turns inward and ignores the monsters abroad, they are likely to come here.
It happened in 1917 when German U-boats torpedoed American merchant ships.
It happened in 1941 when Japanese aircraft bombed Pearl Harbor.
And it happened ten years ago when Al Qaeda carried off the deadliest terrorist attack in history from a base in the Hindu Kush. If we do not have the luxury of ignoring developments in lands as remote as Afghanistan, then there is no corner of the world from which we can safely turn our backs.
The fanatics who orchestrated the attacks of 9/11 were nurtured in lands that knew no freedom, in countries where, for too long, the people’s pursuit of happiness had been subordinated to the rulers’ pursuit of power. A lack of economic, social and political opportunity helped to create the conditions that enabled a radical few—deluded by demented doctrines of hate – to commit mass murder simply to make a statement.
The form of the threat was relatively novel: We were attacked not by another nation-state but by a band of terrorists who took shelter in a failed state. But this threat – like the threats of Nazism, fascism, and communism – comes from a sick and failed ideology.
With Osama bin Laden’s recent demise, the founder of Al Qaeda joined a long list of tyrants—Adolf Hitler to Saddam Hussein—who have experienced for themselves the righteous wrath of a democracy bestirred from its peaceful pursuits.
I applaud President Obama for ordering the raid that finally brought Osama bin Laden to his just fate. I applaud the President, too, for his stirring words in support of reformers in the Middle East. I only wish that he had shown more commitment to the cause of freedom. He has been slow and hesitant, and we have missed some significant opportunities to alter the strategic landscape in America’s favor. And the President’s failure to lead has served to magnify the damage done to U.S. interests.
For example, in the summer of 2009, the young people of Iran took to the streets to protest against mullahs that had consigned them to poverty, while squandering oil riches to build nuclear weapons and support foreign terrorist groups. The President was so intent on negotiating with Iran’s tyrants that he did little to help its people. As the Green Revolution fizzled, protesters demanded to know, “Obama, are you with us or against us?”
This year, the Administration did come to the aid of the people of Libya, but only after weeks of hesitation that allowed Moammar Qaddafi—an anti-American criminal—to get back on his feet and resume slaughtering his own people.
Then it took another four months before the President was willing to recognize the Transitional National Council as the rightful government of Libya. And even then, the Administration refused to commit the resources and make the tactical decisions that could have shortened this conflict.
The regime was so lacking in popular support that it finally fell, but the fact that the war dragged on so long has, at a minimum, raised the costs of reconstruction and lengthened the toll of the dead and wounded.
An anonymous presidential adviser justified this by claiming that it was part of a deliberate strategy to “lead from behind”.
We could see the same doctrine in effect in Syria where the President waited a full six months after the start of a popular uprising—six months that Bashar Assad and his goons spent indiscriminately slaughtering their own people—before calling for Assad’s removal. And even then, the Administration refused to recall our ambassador or impose the entire list of sanctions that some of us in Congress had been pressing for.
Now the President’s defenders suggest that it was right not to get more involved because they worry about the consequences of turmoil in the Middle East. I’ve often hear it said that: “Better the devil you know.” We should be concerned about what will come next in places like Egypt that have been American allies.
I can understand why President Obama hesitated before finally withdrawing our support from Hosni Mubarak, which I believe, under the circumstances, was the right thing to do. But it is hard to see why we would hesitate in the case of Iran, Syria or Libya – all avowed enemies of America. It is hard to imagine a ruler worse than Ahmadinejad, Assad or Qaddafi, and easy to imagine that their successors might be much more amenable to our interests.
Even in countries such as Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, we simply do not have the luxury of endorsing the status quo.
Instead of tying our fate to discredited dictators, we would be better advised to build constructive alternatives. That’s what Ronald Reagan did when he pushed Ferdinand Marcos out of power in the Philippines in 1986. The following year he did the same thing when he helped push a military ruler out of power in South Korea and supported the transition to civilian rule. Today, South Korea is one of the world’s freest countries—and one of the richest. Yet only forty years ago, it was poorer than North Korea—and nearly as poor as Syria. Its transformation shows what is possible when free people are allowed to harness their full potential.
This is the change that we must encourage in the Middle East. Now unfortunately the views of some of the protestors distasteful. I certainly condemn the anti-Israel sentiments uttered by protest leaders, and I can understand why many Israelis are alarmed by the recent turn of events.
Israel is one of America’s closest allies in the world, and our closest and most reliable friend in the Middle East. It is a shining bastion of democracy, liberty, and opportunity in one of the most blighted parts of the world. But the naïve strategy of trying to appease Islamist extremists like Iran, and turning our back on Israel, will only embolden our common enemies and weaken the prospects for peace – and for democracy itself.
For the sake of peace, and out of principle, the United States must strongly affirm its commitment to Israel, not just in words but in deeds.
At the same time, the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern lands are in the streets because they want a better life for themselves and their children. They aren’t asking for the imposition of a Taliban-style rule. They are asking for the ballot box and for economic opportunity. And if their desires are fulfilled, they will move closer to Thomas Jefferson’s vision of the world than Osama bin Laden’s.
That is why I am so concerned that the Administration may let this historic opportunity pass. I am glad that the President is trying to bring along our allies. But our allies would be the first to tell you that nothing important or difficult happens without American leadership. Unfortunately, that leadership has been missing at a critical juncture during the last few years.
Most recently, for example, it has been suggested that the advice of military commanders in Iraq be completely ignored in favor of a dramatic troop drawdown that even Iraqis say is too drastic.
It’s a reminder that, in our republic, elections have consequences not just at home, but all over the world. Because while previous generations of leaders - and even some I serve with today - have stood up for unpopular but necessary measures, even at the risk of losing elections, others are simply too willing to do what is politically self-serving. America, and the entire world for that matter, needs resolute leadership in this era of historic but volatile transformation, particularly in the Middle East – and particularly in Iraq.
Beyond the Middle East, in our own hemisphere, a combination of narco-trafficking networks, anti-American strongmen, and the increasing penetration of Iranian influence is raising dangers of a special kind. Individuals like Hugo Chavez, who have no business running anything in the first place much less a country, have worked strenuously to build a bloc of countries to work against U.S. interests – and at great risk to great friends like Colombia.
Again, the Administration has missed easy opportunities to stand with our allies, for instance, through free trade agreements. We cannot continue to ignore or be complacent about Latin America, nor can we relegate our friends in the region to anything less than high priority partnerships for us to continue nurturing.
After all, the security of our democratic society depends on the success of liberty in our own hemisphere. The fight against drug and human trafficking, and the infiltration of Islamist terrorists requires the success of economic and political freedoms – and of the rule of law – in Latin America. We must be more vigilant – and more decisive – in defending our interests in our own hemisphere.
And by the way, the notion that we should “lead from behind” would have been incomprehensible even to the Democrat who preceded President Obama. In his second inaugural address, President Bill Clinton said that “America stands alone as the world’s indispensable nation.” That is as true today as it was in 1997.
If America refuses to lead, who will combat international outlaws? Who will stop terrorists and weapons proliferators? Who will deal with the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs? The rising disorder in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia? The growing challenge from China which seeks to dominate East Asia, but won’t even let its own people use Google?
The world counts on America. And whether we like it or not, there is virtually no aspect of our daily lives that is not directly impacted by what happens in the world around us. We can choose to ignore global problems, but global problems will not ignore us.
Yet our ability to lead is threatened. It’s threatened not by any external foe, but rather by our own fiscal woes.
This year, the national debt surpassed the size of our economy and it will continue to grow unless we get it under control.
Now, I am a strong advocate of cutting unnecessary and wasteful spending, but the defense budget is not the biggest driver of our debt—it accounts for roughly twenty percent of our annual federal spending. By contrast, entitlement programs swallow more than half the budget and they are the main drivers of our debt.
The Pentagon already faced sharp cuts. During his last two years in office, Secretary of Defense Gates cut or curtailed procurement programs that, if taken to completion, would have cost $300 billion. This summer, the President and congressional leaders agreed to cut another $350 billion from the defense budget over the next ten years.
Those cuts by themselves alone are worrisome enough but what is more worrisome is what’s looming: In the worst case scenario, if the so-called Debt Super Committee doesn’t reach any deal at all, the Pentagon could stand to be slashed by more than $1 trillion over ten years.
Our new secretary of defense—himself is a well-known budget hawk – has warned that cutbacks of this scale would have a “devastating effect on our national defense.” I can but echo Leon Panetta’s words.
The American armed forces have been one of the greatest forces of good in the world during the past century. They stopped Nazism and Communism and other evils such as Serbian ethnic-cleansing. They have helped birthed democracies from Germany to Iraq. They have delivered relief supplies, and performed countless tasks in service to our nation.
All they have ever asked for in return is that we provide them the tools to get the job done – and that we look after them and their families. They have never failed us in our time of need.
We must not fail them now. We must maintain a strong national defense.
Foreign aid is also an important part of America’s foreign policy leadership. While we certainly must be careful about spending money on foreign aid, the reality is that it is not the reason we have a growing debt problem.
If it is done right, and when done in partnership with the private sector and faith-based community, foreign aid spreads America’s influence around the world in a positive way. Let me give you an example: the Bush Administration’s program to provide HIV medicine to Africa has not only saved lives, it has increased America’s influence across the continent. These are allies in the future that can be our partners, not just in our political struggles on the world stage, but in economic trade. And a world where people are prosperous and free to grow their economies and pursue their own dreams is a better world for all of us.
I began by quoting the words of Jesse Helms and Ronald Reagan. In closing, let me recall the great words of one of the most important Democrat leaders of the 20th Century – Harry S. Truman. In 1951, speaking to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., this is what he said:
“I have the feeling that God has created us and brought us to our present position of power and strength for some great purpose. It is not given to us to know fully what that purpose is. But I think we may be sure of one thing. And that is that our country is intended to do all it can in cooperating with other nations to help create peace and preserve peace in the world. It is given to us to defend the spiritual values—the moral code—against the vast forces of evil that seek to destroy them.”
There are still vast forces of evil seeking to destroy us. The form of the threat has changed since Truman’s time. But evil remains potent—and America remains the strongest line of defense, often the only line of defense.
I pray that we will continue to find the wisdom and courage—and resources – to act effectively in the defense of our moral code—the same code that we share with all civilized people. The world needed a strong America in Truman’s time. And if this is to be another American Century, the world needs a strong America now.
Because freedom cannot survive without us.
Thank you so much for having me. May God bless all of you and may God bless our country. Thank you.