Earlier this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said of the international nuclear agreement with Iran, “This is not America’s deal with Iran. It is Barack Obama’s deal with Iran.” It wasn’t an offhand, impromptu comment made during an interview; the Republican senator actually included the line in a written statement.
Yesterday, during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Iran deal, Rubio made a nearly identical argument to Secretary of State John Kerry:
“Secretary Kerry, I do not fault you for trying to engage in diplomacy, and striking a deal for Iran, I don’t. I do fault the president for striking a terrible deal with Iran. […]“[E]ven if this deal narrowly avoids congressional defeat because we can’t get to that veto-proof majority, the Iranian regime and the world should know that this deal is your deal with Iran, meaning your’s and this administration’s, and the next president is under no legal or moral obligation to live up to it.”
Obviously, when the Florida Republican refers to “the next president,” Rubio believes he’s referring to himself.
The surface-level issue is the concern that the GOP senator is using a serious foreign-policy debate for campaign grandstanding – Rubio wants far-right activists to see him, not his rivals, as the party’s fiercest critic of nuclear diplomacy. All of the top Republicans are talking about their plans to abandon the U.S. commitment in this area, and Rubio sees value in being a top member of the club.
But just below the surface, Rubio’s posturing even far more serious.
The GOP candidate is describing a foreign-policy dynamic in which every new American president, upon taking office, effectively tells the world, friend and foe alike, “Maybe I’ll honor U.S. commitments, maybe not. I’ll let you know.”
American foreign policy has never worked this way, because it can’t. The United States is a global superpower – by most measures the global superpower – in part because the world values the consistency of our leadership. If we abandon agreements reached with our allies after every election, that consistency disappears.
Imagine future negotiations between U.S. officials and foreign heads of state. What happens when those on the other side of the table tell American diplomats, “We’d accept these terms, but we’re worried our agreement will be null and void after you hold elections in a few years”?
As for Rubio drawing a distinction between America’s international agreements and the American president’s international agreements, I’m reminded of something Max Fisher wrote in January:
The Supreme Court has codified into law the idea that only the president is allowed to make foreign policy, and not Congress, because if there are two branches of government setting foreign policy then America effectively has two foreign policies.The idea is that the US government needs to be a single unified entity on the world stage in order to conduct effective foreign policy. Letting the president and Congress independently set their own foreign policies would lead to chaos. It would be extremely confusing for foreign leaders, and foreign publics, who don’t always understand how domestic American politics work, and could very easily misread which of the two branches is actually setting the agenda.
At least so long as President Obama is in office, Rubio seems to believe that chaos is worthwhile and undermining American foreign policy – which he perceives as something less than America’s foreign policy – is a responsible course for U.S. lawmakers to follow.
I have a sinking suspicion he would see things differently under a Rubio administration.