Declaring that "the world will pay a terrible price" if America does not actively champion the cause of freedom through moral and, if necessary, military strength, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said the country is at a historic crossroads.
Delivering his first foreign-policy address, the Miami Republican on Tuesday discussed "America's Role in the World" at the Jesse Helms Lecture Series at Wingate University in North Carolina.
Speaking two days after the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Rubio said, "States that do not respect the rights of their citizens seldom respect the rights of their neighbors. They become breeding grounds for all sorts of ills -- from the trafficking of humans and drugs to contagious disease and famine, from nuclear proliferation to terrorism -- that threaten our own security.
"I applaud President Obama for ordering the gutsy raid that finally brought Osama bin Laden to his just fate. I applaud the president, too, for his stirring words in support of reformers in the Middle East," Rubio said.
But, he added, "I only wish he had shown more commitment to the cause of freedom. He has been so slow and hesitant that we have missed some significant opportunities to alter the strategic landscape in Americas favor.And the presidents failure to lead has served to magnify the damage done to U.S. interests."
Rubio said he was "concerned that President Obama may let this historic moment pass."
"I am glad that the president is trying to bring our allies along with us. But they would be the first to tell you that nothing important or difficult happens without American leadership. Unfortunately, that leadership has been missing at critical junctures during the last few years," the freshman senator said.
Speaking from the same stage that has hosted global figures ranging from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to the Dali Lama, Rubio praised the late Sen. Jesse Helms, a staunch North Carolina conservative.
"He was relentless and unswerving in his application of conservative values. He was an important champion of freedom fighters," the senator recalled.
Applauding the Morality in Foreign Policy plank that Helms and Ronald Reagan installed into a GOP platform three decades ago, Rubio sought to honor and reconnect that moral nexis.
"The American armed forces have been the greatest force for good in the world during the past century. They stopped Nazism and communism and other evils such as Serbian ethnic-cleansing. They have birthed democracies from Germany to Iraq. They have delivered relief supplies, and performed countless other tasks in service to our nation.
"All they have ever asked in return is that we provide them the tools to get the job done -- and that we look after them and their families.
"They have never failed us in our time of need. We must not fail them now.We must maintain a strong national defense," the senator said, noting that U.S. defense spending, roughly 20 percent of the U.S. budget, totals less than half the outlays expended on entitlement programs annually.
Rubio went on to warn:
"If we refuse to play our rightful role and shrink from the world, America and the entire world will pay a terrible price.And it is our responsibility to clearly outline to the American people what our proper role in the world is and what American interests are at stake when we engage abroad.
"We do not seek to impose our vision of government," Rubio noted. "We do not insist that every nation must have a presidency, a supreme court and bicameral legislature. Nor do we have any intention of using force to depose every despotic regime on the planet.
"But we must do what we can to champion the cause of freedom -- not only with the power of our example but also with our money and resources, our ingenuity, our diplomacy, and on rare occasion, when there is no good alternative and when our national interest is clearly at stake, our armed might."
Turning to South America, the son of Cuban immigrants said "a combination of narco-trafficking networks, anti-American strongmen and the increasing penetration of Iranian influence is raising dangers of a special kind.
"Individuals like Hugo Chavez, who has no business running anything in the first place, much less a country, have worked strenuously to build a bloc of countries to work against U.S. interests -- and at great risk to great friends like Colombia.
"Unfortunately, the president has missed easy opportunities to stand with our allies, for instance through free-trade agreements. We cannot continue to ignore or be complacent about Latin America, nor can we relegate our friends in the region to be anything less than high-priority partnerships for us to continue nurturing."
Concluding, Rubio said, "After all, the security of our democratic society depends on the success of liberty in our own hemisphere."
In a question-and-answer session after his 30-minute speech, Rubio:
- Dismissed the notion that greater commercial and cultural engagement with Cuba will change that country's regime. "The only people believing in the romantic notion that Cuba is working are journalists and professors," he said. Pumping more currency into the country "actually sets back the cause of freedom by giving more power to the dictators. ... The repression has gotten worse."
- Said "American exceptionalism" is not threatened by the rise of other nations yearning for freedom and democracy. "We are desperately looking for willing partners."
- Called for reform at the United Nations. "It's still a Cold War entity. ... If you're waiting for the U.N. to defend the rights of the Jewish state in Israel, you'll be waiting a long time."
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 559-4719.