Marco Rubio stands for freedom in Cuba
By Joshua Keating
Is Marco Rubio on the wrong side of history with Cuba-U.S. relations?
On the day that Secretary of State John Kerry is visiting Cuba to raise
the stars and stripes over the U.S. embassy in Havana for the first time
in 54 years, Cuban-American senator and presidential candidate Marco
Rubio blasted the move as representing "the convergence of nearly every
flawed strategic, moral, and economic notion" of Obama's foreign policy.
Attacking the rapprochement with Cuba certainly makes sense in the GOP
primary, though as I noted last month, it could be risky in the general
election with the public increasingly coming around to supporting closer
ties with Cuba. But Rubio's critique is more broad. In remarks released
early from the address Rubio delivered this morning at an event hosted
by the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York on Friday, Rubio accused
Obama of having been "quick to deal with the oppressors, but slow to
deal with the oppressed." He also vowed to roll back the recent
diplomatic overtures, should he become president, until "meaningful
political and human rights reforms" occur. Likewise, he would revoke the
Iran nuclear deal, pass "crushing" new sanctions against Iran, and
ensure that any future talks are linked to Iran's "broader conduct, from
human rights abuses to support for terrorism and threats against Israel."
Every major GOP candidate has promised to rescind the Iran and Cuba
deals. But Rubio goes much farther than the others in his emphasis on
democracy and human rights. Much more than rival Floridian Jeb Bush, who
has been struggling with how to approach his brother's Iraq legacy,
Rubio is running as the standard-bearer of George W. Bush's
neoconservative "freedom agenda"—using American power to aggressively
promote democracy overseas.
Though the soundbites are good, it's an odd choice for Rubio. Much of
the Republican party, including to some extent, much of the Bush
administration, soured on democracy promotion as the Iraq war grew
increasingly unpopular and the policy produced unintended consequences
such as Hamas's 2006 Palestinian election victory. Today, Rubio's
rhetoric stands out in an election where his rivals are citing Egyptian
strongman Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as a model world leader. (Like Bush,
Rubio isn't a complete purist: His staunch pro-democracy stance
evidently doesn't extend to America's allies in the Persian Gulf.) The
American public also doesn't seem too interested in making the world
safe for democracy these days: Only about 18 percent say spreading
democracy should be one of America's top priorities. For promoting human
rights, it's 33 percent.
Rubio's rhetoric does draw a stark contrast with the current president's
skepticism about democracy promotion. Obama famously told an audience in
Cairo in 2009 that "no system of government can or should be imposed
upon one nation by any other" and, as he nears the end of his term, is
finally putting in place something resembling the pragmatic realist
foreign policy he ran on.
But Rubio won't be running against Obama, much as his party will try to
frame the general that way. Hillary Clinton may support the Iran and
Cuba deals, but as a secretary of state, she was more of a humanitarian
hawk than her former boss, pushing for intervention against dictators
Muammar al-Qaddafi and Bashar al-Assad. A Clinton-Rubio race offers the
prospect of two advocates for using American power to promote democracy
and human rights competing for the votes of Americans who are deeply
suspicious about the whole concept.
Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international
Source: Marco Rubio Cuba - Sun Sentinel -