Marco Rubio Is a Hawk Without Wings

Is Senator Marco Rubio willing to pay for U.S. global leadership?

Senator Marco Rubio is on something of a foreign policy tour, having delivered a speech today at London's Chatham House on "American Leadership and the Future of the Transatlantic Alliance." That came on the heels of a Nov. 20 address to the American Enterprise Institute, "Restoring Principle: A Foreign Policy Worthy of the American Dream."

Only in the context of the current Republican Party could the bland and vacuous centrism of both documents be considered revolutionary. And especially in the AEI speech, the stale invocations to "each and every American" are exactly the kind of thing that George Orwell railed against in "Politics and the English Language." If Rubio wants to make a presidential run in 2016, he needs to spring for some better wordsmiths.

Still, I'd give him mild props for two things: first, for generally affirming the need for robust U.S. engagement; second, for being willing to make the point that just because you've got the world's biggest hammer, doesn't mean that every problem can be reduced to a nail. "In most cases, the decisive use of diplomacy, foreign assistance, and economic power are the most effective ways to achieve our interests and stop problems before they spiral into crises."

Daniel Larison has a sharp critique of Rubio's AEI speech from the non-interventionist side. My beef is somewhat different: Rubio isn't willing to back up his big diplomatic talk with the big bucks needed to make it work.

"Our standing as a world power," Rubio says, "depends on our ability to engage globally anywhere and at any time our interests are at stake." Yet nothing in Rubio's brief Senate career suggests a willingness to make that kind of open-ended financial commitment, beginning with the few bits of legislation on foreign affairs that he has sponsored in one form or another. (He has pushed for more "transparency" in foreign aid and at the United Nations, but this is generally code for less, rather than more, U.S. funding.)

In May 2011, he co-sponsored a concurring resolution on the U.S. budget that projects declining outlays in the Function 150 category (which covers most foreign affairs spending) through fiscal year 2021. And since then, the foreign affairs budget, like that of the entire U.S. government, has been trapped in sequestration limbo.

How you continue to cut the foreign affairs budget and still "engage globally anywhere and at any time our interests are at stake" is a legitimate and useful question for Rubio to answer. Until he does, the bear-any-burden, pay-any-price stuff is just a lot of blah-blah-blah.

(James Gibney is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.