war on the rocks

Sad Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders’ Realism, and Aaron Carter

March 10, 2016

Editor’s note: This is the latest edition of WOTR’s #NatSec2016 email newsletter.  If you want to get it delivered straight to your inbox each week, sign up here!


 

Rubi-…oh… Looks like Marco Rubio’s newly beefed-up foreign policy team will need yet another place to go as things aren’t going well for the “Republican Savior.” After failing to overcome the top two of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz during the March 5 and 8 primaries and caucuses, supporters now outwardly wonder if Rubio’s “in deep trouble.” RealClearPolitics polling averages show him down 16 points in his home state of Florida, down 12 in North Carolina, down 14 in Illinois, and in last place in Ohio with a 25-point deficit — with Trump leading all races. Maybe it’s not his moment, or maybe it’s his own fault:

Party leaders, donors and other supporters of Rubio portray a political operation that continues to come up short in its message, in its attention to the fundamentals of campaigning and in its use of a promising politician. The failures have all but doomed ­Rubio’s chances of securing the GOP nomination, leaving him far behind Trump and Cruz in both delegates and states won.

If Rubio doesn’t get the nomination — which seems very likely — the guy who said “I don’t want to be in politics all my life” might get his wish soon. At least there’s that.

Last Ditch Effort: An Early Rubio-Kasich Ticket? It could happen and it could work, claims Michael O’Hanlon. Basically, Kasich would drop out before March 15 and ask his supporters to vote for Rubio in Florida and Ohio. Rubio would then offer Kasich the VP spot on his ticket, and all of a sudden voters get a two-for-the-price-of-one option.

And who would accept that ploy? People who don’t like Trump, which is a lot of folks, especially those who don’t like his foreign policy. On that front, a Kasich-Rubio ticket provides the best “chance of ensuring that a Republican candidate with a traditional internationalist worldview remains in the race until the convention.” In fact, O’Hanlon argues, these two candidates’ foreign policy worldviews make a lot of sense for the Republican Party:

While Rubio is no dove, he has wrestled with the intricacies and complexities of foreign policy during his time in the Senate, and much more than has Trump. He has serious views on the use of force and defense policy, seasoned by reality. Most centrally, he has a Reagan-like view of America’s place in the world — as a country that is stern and unyielding towards its enemies, but open and welcoming to the vast majority of foreigners and foreign nations. This positive, internationalist outlook is in marked contrast to Trump’s worldview. Kasich’s views are much closer to Rubio than to Trump, of course, though he may be more measured and moderate in some of his pro-defense views than Rubio.

There is, of course, almost no chance of this massive shake-up happening, but it would be astoundingly interesting. I’m still holding out hope for a brokered convention to keep up the trend of 2016 being an historic election; the last nominee that won the presidency out of a brokered convention was Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932.

Bernie Sanders, Foreign Policy Realist? That’s the case Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, the liberal magazine that endorsed Sanders, is trying to make. Her main point: “Sanders is closer to Obama’s sensibility [on foreign policy] than is Clinton.” The evidence? Biden called Clinton an interventionist. Neoconservatives like Robert Kagan don’t mind her. She also supported the Iraq War. All fair. But, here are some questions vanden Heuvel may not have asked herself:

  • As president, who is more likely to continue the drone program for targeted killings at its current pace: Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?
  • As president, who is more likely to pursue free-trade deals with Europe and Asia, and maybe other regions: Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?
  • As president, who will have better diplomatic contacts to continue President Obama’s preference for diplomatic over military means: Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton?

If you answered “Hillary Clinton” to most, then you disagree with vanden Heuvel. Her conclusion is not as obvious as she asserts it to be, but it is worth debating.

Bonus: Is Obama a foreign policy realist? Some say yes, others say no.

Neoconservatism Gave Us Trump? That’s what Michael Lind thinks. Regarding foreign policy, here’s his rationale:

And foreign policy, the one area in which second-wave neocons insisted on the deference of other members of the establishment conservative coalition, the one area they reserved for themselves, the one area in which they claimed to be the experts? The neoconservatives who rejected the restraint of Pat Moynihan and Jeane Kirkpatrick and followed the triumphalism of [Charles] Krauthammer, [William] Kristol and [Robert] Kagan have contributed to one foreign policy debacle after another: Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Egypt (many neocons cheered when Mubarak fell and was replaced by the Muslim Brotherhood).

Bottom line: Those who support Trump may do so in part because they don’t want to follow a more interventionist, activist, hawkish foreign policy like the one neoconservatives typically champion.

In a year that is supposedly about foreign policy, this may be an important point regarding Trump’s support. Interestingly, this was seen as a liability for Rand Paul early on in the campaign for the GOP nomination. But that was before the rough and tumble rise of Trump that flipped most analysts’ notions of primary seasons on their heads.

Keep it Holstered. That’s the mentality Tom Collina wants the next administration to have as it deliberates the deployment of the American military. Here’s his advice:

Hold your fire. Cool your jets. Keep your powder dry. As much as it may seem ‘tougher’ and more “presidential” to use U.S. military force, recent history tells us that keeping it in the holster may be the best thing to do in the long run to improve regional and global security. If the Iran nuclear agreement taught us anything, it’s that diplomacy can bear great fruits for peace and security. And as we learned the hard way in Iraq and Libya, military interventions have an alarming way of coming out all wrong.

Bernie Sanders also seems to hold this position, largely setting himself apart from the other candidates in both parties. There’s no question that the United States needs a better balance among all of its tools of national power. But to claim that our military should be sidelined as the United States conducts its foreign policy would be strategic folly. That would be doing stupid “stuff.”

Is This U.S. Presidential Election Like 1996 Russia? At least they’re similar, according to Leonid Bershidsky. His view:

A Clinton-Trump race would be about unpalatable choices. ‘Do you want more Barack Obama?’ Trump will ask voters, just as [Gennady] Zyuganov asked Russians if they wanted more [Boris] Yeltsin. ‘Do you want an ignorant authoritarian with a finger on the nuclear button?’ Clinton will ask, just as Yeltsin asked Russians if they really wanted the Communists to run the country again. …

[W]hen an election is framed in negative terms and the winner is, to most voters, a lesser evil rather than truly the most desirable candidate, the risk of disappointment is high. Clinton may turn out to be a weak president, just as second-term Yeltsin was. She won’t have the power to appoint a successor, but Americans may grow too tired after a third Democratic term, and by 2020, they could let it be known.

I’m not sure I buy it. The comparison is, of course, rough. Further, the United States has had nasty and brutish elections of its own, some quite recently. I’m not sure we need to go to Russia to seek a general election parallel, especially when the American example is not (yet) a reality. Given that Russia’s permanent strongman Putin first rose to power as president four years later in 2000, let’s hope the parallels stop there.

What about Europe in the 1930s? Bret Stephens is among the cadre of folks comparing Trump to Mussolini and Hitler. It’s played out — although I’ll accept it from Louis C.K. — but what’s frightening is it resonates and remains a national meme. More interesting is Stephens’ explanation of the political mood in Europe at that time, and how it closely mirrors ours:

The growing belief that democracy is rigged. That charisma matters more than ideas. That strength trumps principles. That coarseness is refreshing, authentic.

Also, that immigrants are plundering the economy. That the world’s agonies are someone else’s problem. That free trade is a game of winners and losers — in which we are the invariable loser. That the rest of the world plays us for suckers. That our current leaders are not who they say they are, or where they say they are from. That they are conspiring against us.

It’s doubtful that we’re seeing our own nascent fascist moment, but the fact that we’re having this conversation at all is in and of itself a cause for concern.

Weirdest Article of the Week. Were you wondering whom Backstreet Boy sibling and “That’s How I Beat Shaq” singer Aaron Carter was supporting for president? Me neither. But just in case, the former teen heartthrob is making sure you know he endorses Trump — first on Twitter and later in an interview with Newsweek. It’s interesting for two reasons. First, there are not many in the music industry that want to outwardly lend a (big?) hand to the GOP frontrunner. Second, his occasionally meandering responses to certain questions in the Newsweek interview remind me of the way The Don responds to many inquiries. For example, see how quickly Carter turns what should’ve been a simple answer to “have you favored the Republican Party before?” into a discussion about 9/11 and Michael Jackson. Seriously. Maybe it’s good Shaq got his revenge after all.

 

Alex Ward is an Associate Director of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security where he works on U.S. defense and military strategy and policy. He tweets at @AlexWardB.

 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore