In an interesting and convoluted moment Florida Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) assured the nation that he wasn’t interested in “nation building,” but he did want to “help” build nations.
“It’s not nation-building. We are assisting them in building their nation.”
Many different media outlets have jumped on Rubio’s confusing statement and it could come back to haunt him (particularly during a nationally televised debate). Rubio was a guest on Fox News’ Outnumbered this past week when the topics of war and “nation building” came up.
Rubio is a pretty intelligent guy and he immediately spotted the danger of seemingly giving assent to the idea of nation building, so he very quickly rejected that idea – until he followed up his rejection by seemingly embracing the idea. Also, anyone who looks at Rubio’s recent foreign policy statements can’t help but notice that he seems to be very interested in nation building.
Interestingly, whenever I speak to my fellow conservatives about the presidency of George W. Bush I find that the two biggest complaints are about government spending and the attempt at nation building in Iraq. We can argue the wisdom of the war in Iraq, but we all know that hindsight is 20/20, and at the time, our government believed that Saddam Hussein was a real threat. Many conservatives seem to give President Bush a pass for the war itself… but not for the aftermath, which is oddly what Rubio seems to be calling for us to recommit to in these statements.
In fact, it’s not just Rubio.
Among the GOP candidates, several of them sound quite interested in resuming a ‘nation building’ policy in Iraq. Some of this can be blamed on President Obama, whose handling of Iraq has been disastrous, allowing Iraq to fall into disarray after years of promising advances. However, I think there is a bigger issue at work here – I think the candidates simply want some way to distinguish their foreign policy from the Obama/Clinton policy. The Obama/Clinton policy really hasn’t been all that different from the GOP hawk policy – except when it comes to nation building, so this is a way for the GOP candidates to say ‘See! Look how different we are. The Obama/Clinton team was weak and we lost Iraq – we’ll be strong.’
It’s a cute trick – but I’m not sure the nation will respond well to it. The reason Obama and Clinton have been so weak in Iraq and Afghanistan is because the popular opinion in our nation had lost the will to nation build. Pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan, for Obama, was purely a political move to win more popularity points with a war weary public, which is why I’m not sure the GOP candidates should be wandering down this ‘nation building’ road – it’s a road laced with potholes and danger.
I personally do not believe that American voters want to “help” Iraq – I think that they want to destroy ISIS. So, while the American public may get behind sending troops in to battle ISIS, I am not at all certain they’ll be happy to leave our soldiers there after the ISIS threat has been mitigated.
Expect the nation-building question to come up again and soon. I think it’s something that every GOP candidate will have to answer, especially now that Senator Rubio has handled it so poorly.