I listened to Marco Rubio's speech yesterday and while I thought it was an effective recitation of the neoconservative worldview, I didn't think there was much else to it. Then I see Time's Michael Crowley describe it as "learned and substantive" and it got me thinking if we actually listened to the same speech. It's not a matter of ideological disagreements or even a matter of policy disagreements but the fact that in key areas the speech lacked substance. Take Syria, which I think provides the best example.
The goal of preventing a dominant Iran is so important that every regional policy we adopt should be crafted with that overriding goal in mind. The current situation in Syria is an example of such an approach. The fall of Assad would be a significant blow to Iran’s ambitions. On those grounds alone, we should be seeking to help the people of Syria bring him down.
But on the Foreign Relations committee, I have noticed that some members are so concerned about the challenges of a post-Assad Syria that they have lost sight of the advantages of it.
First, Iran would lose its ally and see its influence and ability to cause trouble in the region correspondingly reduced. But Hezbollah would lose its most important ally too, along with its weapons supplier. And the prospects for a more stable, peaceful and freer Lebanon would improve.
Second, the security of our ally, the strongest and most enduring democracy in the region, Israel, with whom we are bound by the strongest ties of mutual interest and shared values and affection would improve as well. And so would the prospects for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors improve.
Finally, the nations in the region see Syria as a test of our continued willingness to lead in the Middle East. If we prove unwilling to provide leadership, they will conclude that we are no longer a reliable security partner, and will decide to take matters into their own hands. And that means a regional arms race, the constant threat of armed conflict, and crippling fuel prices here at home due to instability. The most powerful and influential nation in the world cannot ask smaller, more vulnerable nations to take risks while we stand on the sidelines. We have to lead because the rewards for effective leadership are so great.
Forming and leading a coalition with Turkey and the Arab League nations to assist the opposition, by creating a safe haven and equipping the opposition with food, medicine, communications tools and potentially weapons, will not only weaken Iran, it will ultimately increase our ability to influence the political environment of a post-Assad Syria.
Crowley thinks this is a "reasoned argument" but it's literally the opposite. There are simply no reasons given for why anyone should believe that any of the positive outcomes Rubio lists would actually occur if the U.S. followed his advice. Rubio treats as self-evident assertions that actually need to be supported with evidence and argument. For instance: what about the balance of forces inside Syria gives him hope that a post-Assad regime would be friendly to U.S. and Israeli interests? Why does he believe the opposition would listen to the U.S. following Assad's overthrow - or that it would be even possible to stand up a government rather than have the country collapse into a civil war? Why, in short, does Rubio believe what he believes about U.S. involvement in Syria's uprising?
There is literally no "reason" given for us to believe that any of the beneficial outcomes listed by Rubio would actually occur. Doesn't the U.S. deserve more?