Rubio: On Iran and Cuba, U.S. Must Lead Through Strength and Example

Friday, August 14, 2015
Remarks by Marco Rubio at the Foreign Policy Initiative in New York City on August 14, 2015:

America must lead through strength and example, not weakness and concession

As we gather here today, two historic events are in progress. The first is the arrival of Secretary of State John Kerry in Cuba. The second is President Obama’s continued campaign to secure Congressional approval for his nuclear deal with Iran.

While numerous crises around the globe will require the attention of America’s next president, I would like to focus my remarks today on these two dangerous developments with Iran and Cuba, as I believe they represent the convergence of nearly every flawed strategic, moral, and economic notion that has driven President Obama’s foreign policy, and as such are emblematic of so many of the crises he has worsened around the world.

These deals demonstrate with jarring clarity how this administration has failed to anticipate impending crises, ignored the realities of the globalized economy, and sought to make America liked rather than respected; the way it has placed politics before policy, adversaries before allies, and legacy before leadership; the way it has confused weakness for restraint, concession for compromise, and — most simply of all — wrong for right.

To fully understand what we’re dealing with in regards to Iran and Cuba, we have to understand who we’re dealing with.

In Iran, we face radical Shia clerics who wish to one day unite the world under Islam and believe this will only happen after a cataclysmic showdown with the West; leaders who have been directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans in the last decade, who continue to lead chants of “Death to America” each week, and who refuse to stop financing terrorists that seek to kill Americans and wipe Israel off the map.

In Cuba, we face proudly anti-American leaders who continue to work with nations like Russia and China to spy on our people and government; who harbor fugitives from American justice; and who stand in opposition to nearly every value our nation holds dear by violating the basic human rights of their own people, preventing democratic elections, and depriving their nation’s economy of freedom and opportunity.

The world has missed having an American President who speaks honestly about the world in which we live. In the eyes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the Cuban people are suffering because not enough American tourists visit the country, when the truth is the Cuban people are suffering because they live in a tyrannical dictatorship.

The same President who visited a US prison to talk about inequities in our criminal justice system is silent about the fact that minor offenses in Iran and Cuba are punishable by indefinite detention, torture, or even death — and these offenses often include nothing more than speaking out with the wrong political opinion.

Instead of focusing his criticism on these illegitimate governments, the President has attacked opponents of his policy here at home — going so far as to demonize critics of his Iran policy as “lobbyists with money” and “warmongers,” and those opposed to his Cuba policy as “practitioners of ethnic politics.” This shameful, derogatory rhetoric should have no place in our democracy, especially from our President.

Centuries of global affairs tell us the best way to affect an outcome with volatile leaders is through strength and example, while the worst is through weakness and concession. Yet weakness and concession are the preferred tools of statecraft for this administration.

President Obama has not only permitted Iran to retain its entire existing nuclear infrastructure, he has also endorsed the construction of a full-scale, industrial-size nuclear program within 15 years. He has conceded a vast enrichment capacity, preserved Iran’s fortified underground facility, and failed to secure anytime/anywhere inspections. He has virtually guaranteed Iran becomes a regional power with the ability to build long-range missiles capable of hitting the U.S. homeland. And on top of all this, he wants to hand Iran $100 billion in sanctions relief, which will be used in part to fund Hamas and Hezbollah, promote instability in Bahrain and Yemen, and prop up Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

He has given all of this away without any commitment that Iran will end its support for terrorism, accept Israel’s right to exist, or return a single American hostage. In short, the deal with Iran isn’t a deal at all. It is a string of concessions to a sworn adversary of the United States. The negotiations with Cuba have proven equally one-sided:

President Obama has rewarded the Castro regime for its repressive tactics and persistent, patient opposition to American interests. He has unilaterally given up on a half-century worth of policy toward the Castro regime that was agreed upon by presidents of both parties. He has ensured the regime will receive international legitimacy and a substantial economic boost to benefit its repression of the Cuban people, which has only increased since the new policy was announced.

And as a symbol of just how backward this policy shift has turned out to be, no Cuban dissidents have been invited to today’s official flag-raising ceremony at the US Embassy in Havana. Cuba’s dissidents have fought for decades for the very Democratic principles President Obama claims to be advancing through these concessions. Their exclusion from this event has ensured it will be little more than a propaganda rally for the Castro regime.

So I will make this pledge here and now: As president, as a symbol of solidarity between my administration and those who strive for freedom around the world, I will invite Cuban dissidents, Iranian dissidents, Chinese dissidents, and freedom fighters from around the world to be honored guests at my inauguration.

President Obama has made no such effort to stand on the side of freedom. He has been quick to deal with the oppressors, but slow to deal with the oppressed. And his excuses are paper-thin.

He has made the argument that if the embargo hasn’t worked for 50 years, we should try something new. My question is: Why hasn’t he made a similar argument to the Castro regime? For over 50 years, they’ve tried tyranny and Communism and it hasn’t worked. The Cuban people have a standard of living well below that of virtually every other nation in the hemisphere.

He has also made the claim that the people of Cuba do not have access to twenty-first century technology because of the U.S. embargo. This is false. They don’t have access because the Castro regime has made it illegal. The notion that the Cuban people will be allowed freedom of speech and freedom of information now that President Obama has made concessions to the very government denying them these rights is complete fiction.

The concessions to Iran and Cuba both endanger our nation. The deal with Cuba threatens America’s moral standing in our hemisphere and around the world, brings legitimacy to a state sponsor of terror, and further empowers an ally of China and Russia that sits just 90 miles from our shore. And if the effort to stop the Iran deal in the Senate fails, the threat posed will be truly historic: a nuclear arms race will likely overtake the Middle East, and the national security stakes of the election before us will become higher than those of any election since the Cold War.

Hillary Clinton not only supports these two deals, she now brags about her instrumental role in bringing them to fruition. Hillary Clinton will not overturn these deals as president. I will.

Beginning on day one, I will undertake a three-part plan to roll back President Obama’s deal with Iran and repair the damage done to America’s standing in the Middle East.

First, I will quickly reimpose sanctions on Iran. I will give the mullahs a choice: either you have an economy or you have a nuclear program, but you cannot have both. I will also ask Congress to pass crushing new measures that target human rights abusers and Iran’s leaders involved in financing and overseeing Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism.

Second, I will ensure our forces in the Middle East are positioned to signal readiness and restore a credible military option. This will be bolstered by my administration’s efforts to rebuild our military by ending defense sequestration once and for all.

Third, after imposing crippling sanctions on Iran, I will link any talks to Iran’s broader conduct, from human rights abuses to support for terrorism and threats against Israel. I will insist that a deal must terminate Iran’s nuclear program. Iran will never be allowed to build a nuclear weapon if I become president — not now, not decades from now.

That would be my policy with Iran — there would be no room for equivocation, no room for manipulation, and no room for cheating. Some will say there would also be no room for negotiations. But history proves otherwise. Iran may not return to the table immediately, but it will return when its national interests require it to do so.

I will undertake an equally bold plan to roll back President Obama’s concessions to the Castro regime.

First, on day one, I will give the Castros a choice: either continue repressing your people and lose the diplomatic relations and benefits provided by President Obama, or carry out meaningful political and human rights reforms and receive increased U.S. trade, investment, and support.

Second, I will restore Cuba to the state sponsor of terror list until it stops supporting designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, helping North Korea evade international sanctions, or harboring fugitives from American justice.

Third, I will do everything in my power to provide support to Cuba’s pro-democracy movement, promote greater access to uncensored information for the Cuban people, and deprive the Castro regime of the funding for its repressive security state.

These are the actions required to restore the safety and security President Obama has cost us through his diplomacy with dictators.

When it comes to the challenges posed by Iran and Cuba, our task is straightforward: we must prevent Iran from gaining a nuclear weapon and we must guarantee that the United States stands on the side of the Cuban people, not their oppressors. But we also know that ‘straightforward’ is not a synonym for ‘easy.’

Confronting these challenges — and the many other crises we face around the world — will require what has always been required: leadership. Principled leadership — based on strategy and security, not politics or legacy — is what I intend to offer our nation and the world in the years ahead.