During an impassioned appearance on Fox News to denounce President Obama’s new Cuba policy, Marco Rubio stated, in response to a question that cited Rand Paul’s pro-Obama view on the subject, that Paul “has no idea what he’s talking about when it comes to Cuba.” Having been called out, Paul had little alternative but to respond, and it would have been easy for him to so intelligently. There are, after all, respectable arguments that can be made in support of Obama’s position.
Predictably, however, Paul ended up proving that he doesn’t know what he’s talking on a scale that transcends Cuba policy.
Paul responded by accusing the Florida Senator of being an “isolationist.” Rubio wants to “retreat to our borders and perhaps build a moat,” Paul taunted.
How stupid can Paul get? Rubio was merely advocating the continuation of a policy followed by American presidents for 50 years. Was Richard Nixon an isolationist. Was Ronald Reagan? Did George W. Bush want to build a moat to protect America from the world?
America’s Cuba policy hasn’t isolated America; it has isolated Cuba. To claim that not trading with Cuba renders us isolationist is like claiming that a person who socializes with everyone on the block except his most obnoxious neighbor is a anti-social.
Paul thought it would be clever to couch his policy disagreement with Rubio in terms of isolationism vs. engagement because Paul has been accused, rightly, of being an isolationist. His response has always been the same as his isolationist father’s, namely that he’s not an isolationist because he wants to trade with everyone.
By this definition, Rubio is an isolationist being there is one country he doesn’t want the U.S. to trade with. But then, by this logic a person who never leaves his house but purchases items through the internet is not a shut-in.
In American politics, isolationism has always been defined in terms of an unwillingness to engage (or meddle) in the affairs — military and even political — of other nations except when we are under direct attack or under (perhaps) imminent threat of attack. Rubio has consistently rejected this stance; Paul has flirted with and at times seemed to embrace it.
Viewed in this light, Rubio’s position on Cuba is anything but isolationist. Rubio favors boycotting Cuba as a means of limiting its influence in Latin America and possibly speeding up regime change.
Paul, for his part, doesn’t fully mimic the old “hands off Cuba” slogan of American Communists in the days of Lee Harvey Oswald. He can argue that, notwithstanding our contrary experience with China and Vietnam and Europe’s contrary experience with Cuba, by trading with the dictatorship we will undermine it.
Readers can make their own judgments about whether Paul really cares about what happens in Cuba. There is no dispute that Rubio cares.
You can argue that the approach through which Rubio manifests his concern is unwise, ineffective, or both. But if you know what you’re talking about, you can’t call it isolationist.