Sep 24 2020
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) joined the Hudson Institute for a conversation on U.S. foreign policy, common good capitalism, and the future of the Republican party. Watch the full interview here and see below for excerpts.
On the future of American foreign policy:
“I think there are two themes that run through [our foreign policy] throughout our history. The first is this balance between our ideals as a nation and our national interest. They don’t always necessarily align, we saw that in the Cold War and we see that even now in parts of the world. And then historically our nation seems to, especially from Waterloo forward, you have seen a country that has sort of struggled between the exuberance of our power, which is considerable, and our limits. Even though we are the most powerful nation in human history, there are limits to our power.
“So what ends up happening is that as we engage in the world, eventually we find our limits, and then there is a blowback against that and it causes the American people to sort of say pull back and focus on what is going on here at home. We are in a period like that right now, where if you look at what has happened in the Middle East, it’s a place where the United States’ considerable power made a big difference. It also is a place where our limits have been shown. Again, we are not limited because we are not powerful, we are limited because every nation is limited. It is also a place where our ideals and our national interests are at stake.
“So I think for any president, and especially for this one, getting that balance right is important. And I say that especially for this one because he has challenged a lot of the convention around both pre-existing alliances and so forth. And in hindsight I think that has been a very positive thing. At a minimum if you supported the world order that existed from World War II to 2016, then it calls you to go back and sort of justify it because it is being challenged. And if you thought that it needed to be reformed, then this Administration has provided a roadmap for that.
“I think the biggest task of a second Trump presidency will be to give structure to those instincts that he brought into the office. What does a 21st century NATO look like? What does an Asia-Pacific, Indo-Pacific alliance look like with India, Australia, Japan and the United States? What do our interests in the Western Hemisphere look like? What role do we want to play in Africa, in a place where the Chinese have become increasingly aggressive both for the votes in international forums and because of the natural resources and in the Middle East, how do you balance not just the geopolitical factors at stake there but the ethnic and the religious differences between Shia and Sunni and so forth?
“Clearly in my view, when they write a book about the 21st century, the vast majority of that book is going to be about the relationship between the United States and China, and whether there was a sustainable equilibrium with the two countries or whether there was a dis-equilibrium or imbalance that led to conflict.”
On the Trump Administration’s approach to foreign policy:
“Well I don’t, again pretend to speak for the Administration, I can tell you my views on what the President's instincts tell him. And that is as someone who is not a political figure, who has not spent 20 years attending conferences of the Council for Foreign Relations or things of that nature. His logical, just common sense question is, South Korea is a rich country, Europe is a rich continent with rich economic powers, why are we spending so much money providing for their defense? And I think that is a valid question. By the way he is not the first one to ask… We don’t keep doing things just because we have always done it that way, it is a good opportunity to answer that question. And I do think it is a good opportunity, as previous presidents have done, to ask for our partners to do more in their own defense.
“You should at least be able to expect from your allies that they are capable, especially developed nations, that they are capable of protecting their national territory. Their ability to provide assistance and foreign conflicts outside their national borders are a different matter, but their ability to protect their own territory is something that is not too much to ask of a developed nation… I think the same is true with regards to South Korea to some extent now. We’re in active negotiations with them now, so how much of that is negotiating tactics and how much of that is how he really believes is something I can’t speak to, but I do think you’ll see a re-examination of both our presence in South Korea and our presence in parts of Western Europe and the NATO alliance. I don't think, I hope, it's not an abandonment of either one, but certainly a modernization of both of those relationships.”
On the future of Venezuelan policy in a second Trump term:
“Let me say two things about it… In the case of Venezuela, you have a criminal corrupt regime. It is not a government, it is an organized crime ring that’s actively participates in the trafficking of drugs destined for the mainland of the United States that has created military, intelligence, and economic alliances with Iran and invited them onto our national territory in our hemisphere, which has also invited a Russian military presence in terms of advisors and technicians...who also has a very close technical and espionage relationship with the Chinese. So here you have three global adversaries who have found a foothold in our hemisphere.
“The second is that the catastrophic situation there has created a humanitarian crisis which is undermining Colombia, Peru, Brazil — a huge challenge for those countries. Particularly in Colombia, which is our closest ally in the region, in South America. So there is a national interest there. It’s also a place where — unless we are going to send military forces in there to topple them by force — the U.S. sanctions were never designed to topple a regime. What they were designed to do is ensure that the concrete doesn’t dry on that system that they are trying to create there, and thereby giving an opportunity for the Venezuelan people to find a different way forward.
“Ultimately, the future of Venezuela belongs to Venezuelans. What we can do from our end is support them as best as we can and, at the same time, do everything that we can diplomatically, geopolitically and from an economic standpoint to be supportive of them. The second thing we can do is ensure that we don’t accept as legitimate and valid a regime that, frankly, is not in our national interests and also is against our ideals.
“So that’s always been the view, that continues to be the view, and in the case of Venezuela I would say this — the Maduro regime is waiting...They are hoping that Donald Trump doesn’t get reelected and they are hoping that the international community will fall for these fake elections that they are planning on holding in December. And they believe if they can pull those two things off... then they can buy themselves a new era. If it doesn’t work, then I think you’re gonna see some very serious internal tumult over there and what direction that heads is unpredictable.”
On Iran’s involvement in Venezuela:
“They are actually stealing the gold of Venezuela, both out of their national reserves and also illegal mining, and they’re getting a great deal. You are able to sell a dollar worth of gasoline for $1.50 or maybe $2.00 worth of gold in a country that’s hard up for currency, that’s a great deal for the Iranians.
“Anything they can do to defy the United States is something they are going to be for. I think more concerning is if you were to begin to see weapon sales, which I think is a possibility if in October the conventional weapons ban is lifted against Iran. Now you can see them beginning to share weaponry with the Venezuelan military, which is problematic, because in addition to them there are all sorts of criminal elements that control large swaths of Venezuela, the Farc, the ELN, other criminal groups, and it would be a catastrophic outcome to see those groups wind up in possession of advanced weaponry that they can use to target the Colombians, U.S. anti-drug efforts, anti cocaine efforts in that region and so forth. And it would also frankly lead to Columbia and other countries having to pursue the same weapons in return, and if they can’t get them from us, they’d buy from the Israeli’s or somebody else.
“So I do think there’s a role to play there… many options are on the table including the physical prevention of those weapons reaching there. That includes intercepting vessels at sea, that’s a real possibility that the U.S. has sanctions and then has a right to enforce them. And also from an economic standpoint, going after any commercial carrier that allows for that to happen, obviously they can always send things over with Mahan Air, which is their airline, but there are only certain things you can fly, many other things have to be shipped. But that’s a deep concern and an issue to keep an eye on.”
On the future of Cuban policy in a second Trump term:
“I do see hope for change in Cuba. You’d have to go back to the last couple years of the Obama Administration. So Fidel Castro is on his deathbed, Raul Castro and the 80 something year olds that were involved in the revolution, they don’t believe they’re immortal, so what they [thought] was… we need the concrete to dry on this form of government, and if we can get the U.S. to take us off the terrorism list and begin relations with us diplomatically and economic opening is the first step towards normalizing our system of government that allows us to maintain control of the people by maintaining control of the economy, but our system of government will be acceptable.
“And that was their plan and the President blew it up, and he blew it up by basically saying we can have economic engagement with Cubans. In fact, that’s one of the great untold facets of what he did, he basically said if you’re an individual Cuban who opens a business, you can do trade and commerce with us, but if you are an entity owned and especially those owned by the Cuban military through a holding company called “GAESA” then you can’t, and he’s gone pretty aggressively against that. And it’s put them in a very bad spot because they realize they’re running out of time for the sort of firming up of that system of government. And the people left behind are largely technocrats, they are not individuals who inspire the sort of revolutionary zeal that Fidel might have among some in the population.
“Added to that is the fact that everyday Cubans no longer buy this idea that this is all the result of the U.S. embargo. They ask common sense questions. Why isn’t Cuba full of Toyotas, Nissans and BMW’s and Mercedes, why can’t I open a small business with my cousin that lives in Miami… So I do think that the only way forward is a combination of political and economic opening and I don’t pretend to say to you that Cuba’s going to turn into Belgium overnight or Sweden or Switzerland or any of those places, but I do think that the process of more economic and political freedom is valuable, but only if we can prevent the current system from becoming a permanent feature, and that’s what these sanctions have done. So my sense is that the Trump Administration in a second term will be watching and prepared to act and move on that possibility when it presents itself.”
On U.S.-China relations in a second Trump term:
“Let me start by saying a lot of times I’m characterized as a China hardliner — I’m not anti-China. I’m actually a huge admirer of their ancient culture and history, and I believe it’s inevitable that they’re going to be a rich and powerful country. And my hope is that we have a relationship with China that’s built on equilibrium and balance.
“Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to speak out when people are being put into forced detention. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to speak out when people are mistreated and religious liberties are violated. But that also doesn’t mean that we don’t understand that they’re almost the largest economy in the world at this point with a growing military presence, [they’re] the most populous nation on the planet. We have to deal with them. And we need to do so in a balanced way.
“What has happened over the last 25 years is that there was a consensus in American politics that we should allow China to cheat and to do whatever they wanted in the commercial realm because once they got rich and became prosperous they would become more democratic and play by the rules. And that hasn’t worked out. So the President takes office, that realization takes hold, and now it feels like we’re doing a lot because we’re trying to make up for 15 or 20 years of mistakes.
“So my hope is that in a second term we can begin to reach that equilibrium with them that’s sustainable for the long term and leads to both peace and prosperity. We’ll be competitors, in some cases we’ll be rivals, but we don’t want to wind up being enemy combatants in an armed conflict if that can be avoided. And I don’t think they want that either. But that may be where we wind up at some point in the future if we do not do the things now to have some balance there.
“And there are things we need to do domestically on that front. We need to rebuild American industry. You can’t be a great power if you’re not an industrial power. We can’t allow them to continue to deindustrialize [us]. It’s going to require us to invest in industries that are important to our national security. So I think a second Trump term would continue in that direction. I think that’s why the Chinese prefer he not be re-elected, because they think, frankly, that former Vice President Biden is a more traditional political figure that will kind of go back to that previous consensus.”
On Taiwan and its effect on U.S.-China relations:
“Obviously, the Chinese position within Taiwan has eroded. As you saw in the recent elections in Taiwan, clearly those who oppose being linked to the mainland have grown, both in prominence and political strength. At the same time, as the U.S. has become more assertive in its relations with Taiwan — sending now two high-ranking officials there in the last month and a half — you’ve seen an uptick in Chinese air incursions into the air defense zone as a messaging exercise. I do believe that eventually it is a redline issue for China, and eventually, if necessary, they will move by force to exert their claims on Taiwan. And, in many ways, what we’ve seen them do in Hong Kong is sort of a test for that in the sense that that’s how they ideally want it to be. They would love to have political figures in Taiwan that manipulate the existing system to make that happen, but they’re prepared, as they were in Hong Kong, to send in forces if necessary. The only thing that would prevent that from happening is if the cost of doing that is too high.
“So my view is that we should help Taiwan. Not to win an all-out conflict against China — that’s not possible — but to have the capability to raise the cost of military adventurism there to a level that China is not willing to pay, and navigate that very carefully with an effort not to try to trigger a conflict like that from happening.
“That is, I think , the best hope we have at this point in managing that relationship. But it’s a very difficult one. It's a challenging and tricky one. And I do think we have to navigate it very carefully and not be overly provocative, but also not be provocative in the reverse by almost inviting a Chinese action there at some point in the next decade.”
On U.S. relations with Russia in a second Trump term:
“Well, I’m not an expert on Russian history, but I know that it deeply influences it. It’s a tough concept for us Americans. We’re 244 years old — we’re still a young country from a relative point of view and we are made up of people who come from all over the world or are a generation or two removed from it. These nations we’re dealing with have long histories that deeply infuse public policy making even to this day, which is just different from ours in that sense.
“And, in the case of Russia, they’ve never been Europe and they’ve never been Asia. And so they’re kind of in the middle of these two worlds. They also have memories of both being a great empire under the czar and then again under the Soviet Union. And, in many ways, Putin is a product of both. And you’ve seen him try to meld the two into a czarist-type role that he plays, but through elected office, and at the same time try to sort of rebuild their global reach. So his interests are to be viewed as an alternative to the United States on the global stage and to be a great power again. Now, he’s not going to be a great economic power and he’s not going to be a great conventional power, but he can be a spoiler in enough places that he becomes relevant. And that’s why you’ve seen him engaged in place after place.
“I think with Russia, simply, we try to find places where there might be some common ground that we can work together on. I mean, look, I’m not a fan of Vladimir Putin — I think that obviously he has done harm to this country and its interests around the world, but I think we have to deal with who people are and what they are as a reality and do the best we can for our country. And, in that case, where there are possibilities to cooperate, be it against international terror or eventually, I believe, be it against Chinese expansion. I think that for all their cozy relationship [with China] today, there remains in the back of the Russian mind the belief that they are now the junior partner and at some point, China is going to try to exercise their long held claim that Siberia is theirs. And so I don’t think we should take that as something we don’t think about.
“So I think to the extent there are places we can cooperate and work with them, we should. But I think we also need to recognize that their goal — that what helps Putin both internationally and domestically — is to act as a spoiler to American interests. And no amount of being nice to him is going to change that and [we should] approach it as such, whether it’s in the Middle East or the Western Hemisphere or other parts of the world.”
On common good capitalism and the future of the Republican Party:
“Well, I think first of all we have no choice but to move away from the party we’ve been for 30 years on some issues because the world is not the same as it was 30 years ago on some issues. You can’t use yesterday’s answers for today’s problems.
“In the case of common good capitalism — it’s a rejection of socialism, it’s an embrace of capitalism, but it’s also the fundamental argument that capitalism will always reach the most efficient outcome, and generally that’s very positive. But there are times when the most efficient outcome is not in the best interest of our country. It may be more efficient to source our active ingredients in pharmaceuticals, our rare earth minerals, to depend on China for personal protective equipment, that may be the most efficient place for it to happen. It’s not in our national interest. It was also not in our national interest to de-industrialize the United States. And so the basic argument is that we are a capitalist country, but in those instances in which the market outcome is not in the best interest for America we need to remember that the market exists to serve the people, not the people to serve the market. And so that’s the fundamental argument behind it.
“In the case of foreign policy, I think we remain. America’s too powerful a country not to be involved in the world and our absence from the world stage would lead to calamity and chaos, and friction and conflict that would eventually draw us in. That’s the lesson from history. The other lesson from history is that, even though we have tremendous power, we don’t have unlimited power. And that even though we are, in many ways, more powerful than we’ve ever been, from a relative point of view we have less power in some cases because the world is a bigger place and there are other countries now with their own capabilities and the cost of engagement is high.
“So we have to constantly remember that an outsider — someone who’s not engaged in government, whether they’re involved in academics, or they’re involved in the press, or they’re involved as a candidate — has the luxury of being an idealist across the board. Policy makers don’t have the luxury of idealism. You have to deal with reality as it’s presented to you and try to find the best outcome possible. And it’s different in different parts of the world. There’s no way we can pretend that our relationship with China, for example, has to mirror and be consistent with our relationship with Cuba. These are two very diametrically opposed, geopolitical challenges.
“So I think [the Republican Party] has to be the party that talks about that. It’s not an abandonment of our principles and ideals, but it is, sort of, doing the best we can to further them within the context of the pragmatic, and then of our national interest.”
On global challenges in the short, mid, and long term:
“In the short term, the long term impact of the global pandemic could actually threaten countries and governments and their stability. It’s not just about the infection rate, it is the devastating impact it’s had on the economies of multiple countries. It’s what it will mean if there’s a recovery or if the resources are available to some but not to others — nations where perhaps a vaccine or a cure may be available to people that are connected, but not to those who aren’t. So you worry about that sort of instability in the long term. This pandemic, the tail on this thing is pretty long and it’s impact is going to be felt for years to come in many developing countries. So you worry that that would lead to political disruption and the failure of nation states in multiple places.
“I think in the long term, the possibility of an unanticipated crisis in the Asia-Pacific region, as an example. I think at some point in the near future, China is going to have to pick a war of choice, a place where they put their military power to use to prove it. You can build all the ships and all the capabilities you want, until you’ve used it no one believes you have it. So I think they need to find somewhere where they’re going to test it out. It has to be a place where they can win quickly and deescalate before there’s any sort of global mobilization against them. And I worry about that because that could spiral very quickly if they picked the wrong place. For all of their growing military power, the Chinese really haven’t been involved in military conflict for a long time on a large and extended scale. So you worry about the exuberance of generals and military officials who feel pretty confident about their abilities and want to put these toys to use, and I think that’s something to be really concerned about in the midterm.
“And I think obviously in the long term, it remains the issue of China and the fear that we may, if we don’t take the appropriate steps now, wind up in 25 years or 20 years or even 15 years in a very different world where we no longer have some of the benefits of the role we play today and all sorts of things, setting standards on all sorts of industries and how that benefits Americans, both from their security and their economic standpoint.
“Short term is the pandemic, midterm is some Chinese adventurism, and then long term is sort of a reordering of the global order to our detriment.”
On the Iranian Nuclear Program:
“We don’t know who’s going to succeed the current Ayatollah, who clearly is not going to be around for much longer, another decade from now. We don’t know what that transition looks like. We don’t know if the direction that that clerical regime moves is more aggressive and more abrasive, and frankly there is that concern that they develop this capability.
“From an Iranian standpoint, they don’t even have to build a weapon, they just have to prove that they’re nuclear capable, and it buys them some level of immunity. But then there’s a second facet of it and that is elements within that government that actually believe that they could use such a weapon and win, use it successfully in some conflict, be it from a tactical weapon eventually or a strategic strike on Israel for example. Also related to that is there is no way there is going to be a Shia bomb and there not be a Sunni one, and so some other countries in the region would quickly move to have their own capability, and suddenly you have multiple nuclear powers in the most conflictive part of the world.
“From the Iranian standpoint, ultimately the bottom line is that what all we can do is try to make the price of being a nuclear weapons power higher than the benefits. That’s what we can try to do and to do it in a way that’s sustainable in the long term, which the previous JCPOA, the Iran Deal, did not do in my view. And that continues to be our public policy and I hope that will continue in a new Trump term.”
On the potential use of military strikes in response to Iranian bomb production:
“Well, I hate to speculate on it. Obviously that’s the kind of thing that you don’t want to be cavalier about. Suffice it to say, though, that what has been missing here is that Iran continues to upgrade and improve its conventional capabilities and it’s done so despite these sanctions. Imagine if they weren’t in place — they would have even more revenue to advance that. So I do think as Iran continues to build both their conventional and asymmetric capabilities — in essence, their ability to make people pay a price for taking such action — and continue to improve and harden their own domestic security, a military option that could successfully degrade their nuclear capability becomes less and less tenable. I would say that every year that goes by it becomes harder to envision a military attack that could deny them the ability to have a weapons program.
“So that’s a deep concern, and it’ll be a factor and it will have to be weighed. I hope that moment never comes, but leaders will have to make that decision on the basis of those options that are available before them at that moment. Our best hope for peace is to do all we can to show the Iranian regime that they are better off not having a weapon all across the board than from having one, and that’s a huge challenge and a topic of real concern.”
Good news to share on foreign policy:
“Well, I mean, foreign policy is tough right. As I said it’s a tough place to sort of understand the balance between idealism and pragmatism is very real. And we have had to make, throughout our history, pragmatic decisions that sometimes are difficult but they’re the right choice.
“And, unfortunately, history never talks about the crisis that was averted because you know it doesn't happen and then people can always dispute over whether it did happen. And I think that’s important to remember when we talk about all of this. One of the big things about foreign policy is not dealing with what’s before you now, but anticipating what it can turn into and trying to avoid that from happening. And the willingness to do it knowing you may never be rewarded for it either politically or by history.
“So the world is changing, it’s changing very fast and our approach to it has to change to keep up. I do think there are real opportunities in the world as well. I think by and large the countries of the Western Hemisphere are democratic. I think by and large the world, for the most part, has seen [and] has learned more about the growing global acceptance of what China’s intentions are and [has] pushed back against it. We should be smart about mobilizing that in an effective way. Those are positive outcomes.
“And in the end, I always tell people this, with all our challenges — and we have many — I still would not trade places with any other country in the world. I would not rather be another country. I would not rather have another country’s future. I’d still rather be us and that certainly is something to remember everyday before we take on all the bad and terrible and difficult things we have to take on.”