Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.
During a recent interview, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a serial supporter of policies that have empowered Islamic supremacists, had the gall to say that Sen. Ted Cruz, “has done more to allow ISIL to gain a foothold in Syria than any senator other than Rand Paul.”
Let us leave aside the gratuitous attack on Sen. Paul.
Sen. Graham in no fewer than three situations has supported policies that have aided, abetted and/or enabled jihadists, including ISIS:
- Libya: Back in 2011, Graham was among the Republicans arguing ardently for the overthrow of perhaps the one thing keeping the lid on the bubbling cesspool of jihadism beneath the surface, Muammar Qaddafi. In voicing his belief that Qaddafi had to go, Graham also expressed that he had “no concern about al Qaeda running Libya.” The so-called “rebels” America armed in overthrowing Qaddafi consisted in large part of al Qaeda-linked jihadists, as we would find out in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. Today, ISIS is constructing a “retreat zone” in Libya merely a few hundreds miles from mainland Europe, while varying jihadist forces vie for control of the remnants of the country. The massive arms stockpiles unleashed after the fall of Qaddafi would be transported to jihadist-dominated Syrian opposition forces, which we will come to in a minute.
- Egypt: In 2012, Graham warmed to the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood majority led by Mohamed Morsi – the same Muslim Brotherhood that is the head of the jihadist hydra. Of the successors to the Mubarak regime, Graham noted “after visiting and talking with the Muslim Brotherhood I am hopeful that…we can have a relationship with Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong political voice.” Following the deposal of Morsi by Egypt’s military, in a column in which Sens. Graham and McCain called for cutting off all aid to the country, the colleagues advocated that Egypt “ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood is included and able to participate in this political process” in a go-forward “democratic” Egypt. Unfortunately for Graham, but fortunately for our Israeli allies, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has since suppressed jihadist forces, notably literally flushing away terror tunnels between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip. Sisi’s hold on power in the face of Islamic supremacists however remains tenuous.
- Syria: Dating back to early 2012, Graham supported arming the Syrian opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. After Assad crossed President Barack Obama’s “red line” in 2013, Graham again expressed his support for arming Assad’s opponents, arguing: “A decision to provide lethal assistance, especially ammunition and heavy weapons, to opposition forces in Syria is long overdue, and we hope the president will take this urgently needed step.” Yet as early as the fall of 2011, just eight months into the Syrian rebellion, senior policymakers reportedly sent a memo to then-National Security Advisor Tom Donilon “that this thing [the opposition] was becoming jihadized.” By late 2013, it was clear that jihadists were dominating on the ground. Nevertheless, in 2014 Sen. Graham got his wish. America’s since-abandoned $500 million effort to arm and train a handful of “rebels” reportedly resulted in arms ending up in the hands of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. The so-called moderate Free Syrian Army opposition has collaborated with both ISIS and the aforementioned Nusra Front. Some in its ranks have defected to ISIS. Assad himself has noted that ISIS’ forces have only grown since America has intervened with its minimal, rules of engagement-constrained air strikes.
In each of these instances, Sen. Cruz has explicitly opposed policies that have bolstered jihadism.
As a general principle, Cruz does not believe in toppling relatively secular authoritarians in the Middle East, arguing:
I don’t believe we should be engaged in nation building. I don’t believe we should be trying to transform foreign countries into democratic utopias, trying to turn Iraq into Switzerland. But I do think it is the job of our military to protect this country, to hunt down and kill jihadists who would murder us.
Accordingly, Cruz has argued that the toppling of Qaddafi in Libya was a “massive foreign policy blunder.”
On Egypt, Cruz has stated:
Mubarak was a leader who did not respect human rights, who trampled on free speech rights, who trampled on individual liberty in Egypt…[but also] a leader who had been a reliable ally to the United States and a reliable ally in the fight against radical Islamic terrorist.
…By any measure, the Muslim Brotherhood leading Egypt was a much worse outcome for American national security interest than was Mubarak staying in office, and by any measure today, [current Egyptian] President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi is much better for U.S. national security interest than was the Muslim Brotherhood.
More tellingly, unlike Graham, Cruz has recognized the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood and its centrality to worldwide Sunni jihadism. While Graham argued that the ISIS-aligned Brotherhood should be included in Egypt’s government, Cruz co-sponsored a bill last month aptly titled the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act that would make dealings with the group illegal.
On Syria, Cruz opposed the enforcement of President Obama’s so-called “red line” for three reasons:
- Assad did not represent a direct threat to U.S. national security
- Cruz feared the “rebels” opposing Assad were not necessarily a superior alternative
- Cruz did not want the U.S. to get involved in a “Sunni-Shiite conflict, and any ‘limited’ and ‘proportional’ strike could quickly get out of control, imperiling our allies and forcing us into the civil war”
He continues to oppose American intervention in the Syrian civil war on grounds that it is not in America’s national security interest to back jihadists of any kind, whether ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliated “rebels” on the Sunni side, or Assad-Russia as a proxy for Iran’s Shia jihadist regime.
Graham’s attack on Cruz, whose foreign policy is more in line with that of conservative Jeane Kirkpatrick than the “libertarian” one to which Graham ascribes to him, is disingenuous at best, and at worst ignorant and lacking in all self-awareness.
But while Graham’s statements are ill conceived, they are not insignificant in the broader context of the 2016 presidential race.
Graham may be a marginal figure in the polls, but his comments come in context of a critical and long overdue battle that has broken out within the Republican Party to define a conservative foreign policy superior to the “right-wing” Wilsonianism of George W. Bush, and left-wing Wilsonianism of Barack Obama under which mortal enemies have ascended.
In particular, a spat has broken out between Cruz and what may prove his stiffest competition, Sen. Marco Rubio. Graham, though perhaps less articulate and more impolitic than Rubio, serves as something of a stalking horse given that their positions on issues in the Middle East are largely indistinguishable.
Graham’s attack was in fact reminiscent of similar rhetoric we have seen from those in the Rubio camp in recent days.
For my money, I take Cruz’s judicious and clear-eyed policy over a third and fourth term of George W. Bush’s well-intentioned but ultimately detrimental democracy spreading.
And if Graham or Rubio for that matter takes issue with Cruz’s foreign policy in Syria in particular, one would be interested to hear what they would say to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for whom what goes on in Syria has direct consequences. Netanyahu said recently:
If I see a situation where I don’t have a clear concept, I don’t charge in. In Syria, I do not see a simple concept because you choose here between a horrible secular dictatorship or the two other prospects that would be buttressed by Iran, and you would have Iran run Syria, a horrible prospect for us, or Da’ish, which is also touching our borders on the Golan. When two of your enemies are fighting each other, I don’t say strengthen one or the other. I say weaken both, or at least don’t intervene, which is what I’ve done. I’ve not intervened.
It is hard to argue with that.