What should we make of Senator Marco Rubio’s astonishing Twitter message threatening President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela with the same fate of torture-murder by broken bottle inserted into the anal cavity as suffered by Muammar Gaddafi, ruler of Libya for 43 years, in 2011?
We should make a great deal of it.
First, even by the anything-goes public obscenities and sheer, unlimited crassness of late 20th and 21th century American political culture, Rubio’s public threat is unprecedented.
Nazis behaved this way. Torturers and gangsters when they seize power on the small or enormous scale sometimes behave this way. Often, even they do not. The public excesses and brutalities of Al Capone, Dutch Schultz and Albert Anastasia from the 1920s to the 1950s were so great that even the other National Crime Syndicate bosses across America eventually washed their hands of them.
It is now clear that characters such as Lucky Luciano, the great mastermind of prostitution and heroin smuggling into America from the 1920s through the 1950s and Frank Costello, the so-called “Prime Minister of the Underworld” had more taste and restraint than the entire current membership of the United States Senate.
Luciano and Costello frowned on such behavior in public and actively restrained it, often by making lethal and permanent examples of perpetrators. Yet not a single current US senator has come out and condemned Rubio for making such a disgusting boastful public exhibition before the whole world.
Second, Rubio has revealed himself to be an ugly little bully. But he cannot be excluded by any means as a future national leader.
Rubio, who is intensely ambitious, ran for the presidency in 2016. He was vainly promoted by the mainstream American media or MSM as a credible candidate. Republican voters to their credit - even in his home state of Florida - did not buy it. Despite abundant funding, his campaign got nowhere. But it is by no means inconceivable that he could end up in the White House yet. At the very least, he could be a future vice presidential candidate. Just because he has revealed himself as contemptible before the entire world does not mean we should not take him seriously.
Thirdly, Rubio is not just an ugly little bully: He is also a tongue-tied coward. This is usually the case with bullies. Truly strong and formidable leaders often talk softly and soberly like Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan in the United States and Vladimir Putin in Russia. Motor mouth bullies like Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany before World War I and Italy’s Benito Mussolini in World War II invariably panic and fall apart when their blusters and bluff catch up with them.
We have already had a foreshadowing of this with Rubio. In the fall of 2015, in an early debate among Republican presidential candidates broadcast nationally, he was called out and reduced to incoherent blubbering and panic. Eventual Republican candidate Donald Trump did not have to do this. It was then governor of New Jersey Chris Christie who reduced Rubio to incoherence.
It is easy to make fun of Rubio, but the damage he is doing to the reputation of his own country around the world and to the crucial cause of world peace cannot be exaggerated.
In his vile Tweet, Rubio was seeking to establish a standing precedent not just of bullying but of threatening murder as a basic staple of US foreign policy.
Rubio probably did not even realize what he was doing, he has always been a cheap and superficial opportunist, eager to seize on the latest clichés and hysteria of the day to boost his visibility and win cheap popularity. Still, he seized on the murder of Gaddafi more than seven years ago and tried to use it to establish a precedent with which to threaten President Maduro today.
If Rubio were ever to end up as president or vice president of the United States, as secretary of state or US ambassador to the United Nations, all other world leaders would have real reason to fear US policy had escalated into regime change by assassination as a general principle.
If that were to happen, what had been routine policy disagreements between major nations on most issues would automatically become threats to existential survival. The danger of global war would escalate uncontrollably.
Far from joining forces to confront major global criminal and terrorist organizations, even the leading thermonuclear powers would be lining up to make alliances with such entities against their neighbors.
In fact, the United States was the great global pioneer in this too, when the OSS and then the CIA during and after World War II forged their enduring practical alliance with the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra against revolutionary communism.
Rubio, it can be confidently concluded is entirely ignorant of all such concerns. Nothing matters for him but the applause of the moment and that he should be associated with a great foreign policy success: the toppling of the government of Venezuela. Any consideration of decency or restraint, let alone world peace is utterly alien to him.
The great German playwright Bertolt Brecht, who died more than 60 years ago in 1956, would have understood Rubio all too well. As Brecht asked, “Why be a man when you can be a success?”