The Republican Party has played Marley’s Ghost for the past half-dozen years, dragging behind it the sins of the foreign-policy utopians who persuaded George W. Bush to bet the farm on nation-building in the Middle East. Bush’s 2004 Second Inaugural, written with the help of the Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol and the Washington Post‘s Charles Krauthammer, was the high-water mark of foreign-policy overreach and the cusp of Republican fortunes. By the 2006 congressional elections, the electorate had had enough, and the public’s disgust with the pointless sacrifice of blood and treasure helped propel the junior senator from Illinois into the White House. The Bushies who blundered so badly–occupying Iraq, pushing for the West Bank elections won by Hamas, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt against the Egyptian military–are still fighting for what is left of their reputations. And their greatest fear is that a Republican leader will come along untainted by their mistakes, and able to admit what we Republicans should have admitted years ago: the Bush administration made some big mistakes.
That leader is Sen. Ted Cruz, who said Sept. 24,
I think we stayed too long, and we got far too involved in nation-building…. We should not be trying to turn Iraq into Switzerland.
Cruz is a foreign policy hard-liner, not an isolationist, but he is a tough-minded realist in a party contaminated by the ideological impulse to export America’s political system to the Middle East. His way of looking at things is close to that of the original Reagan foreign policy team, for example, Prof. Angelo Codevilla, whose new book I reviewed recently. Codevilla argued that “U.S. viceroys spent most of a decade fruitlessly trying to negate the Shias’, Sunnis’, and Kurds’ democratically expressed mutual antagonism.” The much-lauded “surge” “consisted of turning over to Sunni insurgents the tribal areas into which the Shia were pushing them. Rather than defeating them, the U.S. government began arming them.” And the result: “After a bloody decade, Iraq ended up divided along ancient ethno-religious fault lines but more mutually bitter.”
Codevilla was one of the architects of the Strategic Defense Initiative that helped win the Cold War, and his views are shared by other key members of the Reagan team, for example, my old mentor at the Reagan National Security Council, Dr. Norman A. Bailey. When Sen. Cruz calls his foreign policy “Reaganite,” he can claim agreement with key Reagan aides.
That explains why the neo-conservatives are throwing mud at him. If Cruz is right, the Republican Party doesn’t need them any more. As Eliana Johnson points out at National Review, Kristol et. al. have signed on with Marco Rubio. The neo-cons detest Cruz, Johnson reports:
Cruz has repeatedly said he embraces a Reaganite foreign policy. He made headlines in recent weeks for walking out of an event when a group of Arab Christians booed his vocal defense of Israel, and he has used his seat on the Armed Services Committee to travel abroad during his time in office. But those [neo-conservatives] I spoke with were, across the board, unimpressed. They universally characterized his worldview as shallow, opportunistic, and ever shifting to where he perceives the base of the party to be.
Hilariously, the Washington Post‘s resident neo-con, Jennifer Rubin, quotes the above neo-con appraisal as purported evidence that Cruz really is shallow and opportunistic. In a screed titled, “Ted Cruz is Morphing into Sarah Palin,” Rubin cites Eliana Johnson as an authority, when Johnson merely quoted Rubin’s neo-conservative friends. Ms. Rubin really needs an editor. Here we have the neo-cons quoting the neo-cons to demonstrate that anyone who disagrees with them must do so for stupid or wicked motives. These are people who live in a little world of their own imagining.
Otherwise Ms. Rubin swings her handbag wildly at the Texas senator:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) is fast becoming the king of useless fights and empty gestures. First came his destructive government shutdown gambit. Then came his half-baked idea for fighting the Islamic State. Then he set up a showy albeit unnecessary confrontation with a Christian group, managing to be the only one on the right these days magnifying differences between Jews and Christians.
The latter claim is a nasty misrepresentation of Cruz’s principled stand on behalf of the state of Israel, as I wrote in this space recently.
All this is cheap and dirty. The neo-cons will not (and cannot) take on the conservative foreign policy sages who don’t believe in their fairy-dust approach to nation-building. Instead, they vilify Cruz as an opportunist. It is true, to be sure, that the base of the party has had enough of the neo-cons, but the fact that Sen. Cruz appeals to the base of the party is not by itself evidence of opportunism. It might be evidence of electability. The American electorate does not have oracular powers, but it is not entirely stupid, either. Americans revolted against the sacrifices demanded of it in pursuit of nation-building abroad, and were right to do so.
Does anyone remember the foreign policy debate during the 2012 presidential election? Mitt Romney sat through it like a punching bag, terrified to defend the disastrous Bush record on foreign policy. Foreign policy alone did not lose the election for Romney, to be sure (his silver-spoon arrogance reflected in the 47% gaffe probably sank him). Nonetheless, the Marley’s Ghost syndrome weighed on Republican fortunes in 2012. It’s time to remove the chain. With it, though, will perish foundation funding, donor grants, think-tank jobs, television gigs, editorial positions and other perks that the leftovers of the last Republican administration still enjoy. No doubt Sen. Cruz will take a lot more incoming fire. He has one advantage over his neo-con critics, though: He is talking sense, and they are defending the indefensible.
As a matter of record, I argued in this space that Sen. Cruz showed tactical brilliance in the 2013 budget standoff, long before the foreign policy debate erupted. Apart from observing that he had been a star student of my friend Robert P. George at Princeton, I hadn’t followed his career closely. Now Sen. Cruz has my undivided attention. Perhaps we have a Republican leader with the intelligence, background and self-confidence to lead the party out of the Bush morass.