As the 'house conservative' Washington Post blogger, Jen Rubin has played the part of Republican establishment mouthpiece, Romney cheerleader and center-rightist talking-down the right-wing rabble. Her writing give insight to what's inside the heads of the kinds of DC establishment insiders Erick often castigates.
She took it upon herself to attack Senator Ted Cruz's latest speech on foreign policy, given on September 11th, Patriot Day. It is indeed remarkable that one of the few leaders in Washington who has been outspoken in ways that are improving the Republican image is being attacked by those elements of the Republican establishment who are most responsible for that bad image. What's more remarkable (or maybe not) is how off-target and misplaced her points are. She critiques a phony strawman and not the real Ted Cruz.
In contrast to Rubin's scattershot column, Ted Cruz' s real foreign policy speech was cogent, clear, on-target, and consistent with the Reagan-type foreign policy, focussed on our national security but willing to be robust in that application to defend our interests that indeed go beyond our shores. Ted's rules in a nutshell as expressed in the speech:
"Number one, we should focus directly on protecting U.S. national security and the interests of the United States of America. Number two, we should speak with moral clarity. And number three, we should always fight to win."
Senator Cruz has adopted the Reagan foreign policy approach, and explicitly referred to Reagan as a model for what to do:
Those are principles that when the U.S. has followed, have protected the United States of America. And when we have deviated, when we have embraced so-called “pie in the sky internationalism” things have not worked out well. We think of President Ronald Reagan who had the extraordinary courage to speak the truth. Who had the extraordinary courage to describe the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.”
As stated in this Heritage review of Reagan's foreign policy:
Reagan grounded his grand strategy and his conception of the national interest in a compelling synthesis of power and principle.
Reagan understood that the challenge of Soviet power and international communism was both ideological and based on geo-politics that impacted our national interest.
For his entire political life, Ronald Reagan also assailed isolationism, declinism, global retrenchment, American withdrawal, and the fallacy of moral equivalence as geopolitically reckless and morally bankrupt. Yet he recoiled at the unbridled democratic globalism of some less prudent neoconservatives because it risks squandering American resources and morale imprudently on peripheral goals.
Reagan rejected the naive multilateralism of the liberals of his era, and would have the same reaction most Republicans have had to Obama's bizarre attempt to use force in a way that doesn't impact a civil war and doesn't help one side. When our troops were killed in a barracks in Beruit, he realized that the cost of intervention was higher than the benefit and he withdrew.
Cruz is somewhere between McCain the hawk and Rand Paul the near-isolationist and squarely in the center of the party. We are weary of the Republican neo-con foreign policy adventurism and the Obama/Clinton-style internationalism-interventionism. Cruz specifically dismissed using the US military to 'send a message' or punish some miscreant absent a US strategic objective:
Now, I am going to suggest to you that it is not the job of the men and women of our military to send statements about international norms.
In this way, Cruz was very much consistent with Reagan's approach, who did use US military and diplomatic power when justified, but always in support of a strategic objective that relates to our national interest - in Reagan's case, our primary foreign policy objective in support of our national interest was winning the Cold War. Which Reagan did!
Rubin doesn't get that. Not once does she clearly state what our national interest is. Well, she tries to, but gets it wrong:
The president and conservatives have identified a national interest in getting rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – in so small part because he is an ally of Iran and houses Hezbollah – and guaranteeing WMDs are not used. Cruz intentionally misleads on this point.
Actually, no, there is NOT a national security interest in deposing Assad, if the replacement is worse. Cruz does not mislead on WMDs. Cruz has stated that Iran possessing WMDs poses a real threat to mideast security and stated he would support military action if warranted in that case:
And a nuclear Iran poses, in my opinion, an existential threat to this nation and to the nation of Israel. And if there’s one principle we have learned from history it’s that bullies and tyrants don’t respect weakness.
He goes on to complain the proposed action was too small, but, of course, he would oppose larger action.
Here she misses the point completely. Senator Cruz did note that the attack planned was self-described by the Obama administration as 'small', but then that same administration claimed they "didn't do pinpricks" and engaged in an all-over-the-map approach to characterizing what it would be. Senator Cruz has as principle #3 something akin to the Powell doctrine - "Fight to win." But 'winning' requires an end-goal to achieve:
And so, accordingly, we were told by the Secretary of State that our statement, our military response, if it happened, would be “unbelievably small.” Now if one were endeavoring to always fight to win, an unbelievably small response would, on its face, be insufficient to do that. But there was no winning. Winning was not the objective. It was simply making a statement in defense of international norms.
Thus, Cruz has as his real objection this simple fact this attack proposal is unmoored to any U.S. strategic goal and thus the size of the attack is irrelevant. Indeed, Senator Cruz said that Obama's approach to Syria violated all three of his principles.
Napoleon once said, in a vein similar to the Powell doctrine and Cruz principle #3: "If you are going to take Vienna, then take Vienna." The Obama administration drew the red line in the sand and decided to 'take Vienna' by going on a 2 day trip to Paris, promising to be home soon, with no outcome desired or claimed (obviously a few missiles cannot denude a regime of its WMDs) except for the message it sends. Well, the message based on the administration's incoherent lurching from one statement and tactic to another is simply confusion. The moral clarity that Cruz says is needed has been lacking. Rubin misses that. She states:
He showed no understanding that there are anti-jihadi rebels whom we have an interest in prevailing.
Really. What Cruz showed 'no understanding' about was the lie told by Secretary Kerry that the Jihadi and Al Qaeda elements in the rebel forces was small; the intelligence assessment is that "Islamic extremists remain by far the fiercest and best-organized rebel elements." Rubin shows either no understanding or at least has decided to prop up that lie in the interests of not undermining her weak claims. Are there moderates among the Syrian rebels? Surely, just as there are moderates in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Iraq and other countries in the middle east - outnumbered and outgunned by forces of radicalism and despotism.
Syrian rebel forces have now been infiltrated by Al Qaeda and Jihadists to such an extent that it is at this point likely to be more harmful to our national interest if the Assad regime falls. Ted Cruz made no bones about that risk when he said:
As of June, of the nine major rebel groups, up to seven of them appear to have had significant ties with al-Qaeda. And if the president’s unbelievably tiny, and yet somehow not-a-pinprick, attack were actually successful in undermining and weakening the Assad regime, the predictable effect of that could well be enabling the al-Qaeda, the al-Nusra, the Islamic radicals to seize control of that government and, even more worrisome, to seize control of that vast cache of chemical weapons.
And I got to tell you, radical Islamic terrorists who seize control of chemical weapons – that poses a grave threat to U.S. national security.
The risk of WMDs in the hands of Al Qaeda linked forces is not a hypothetical - it may have already happened:
six men of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front and Ahrar ash-Sham tried to seek out chemicals with the intent to produce the nerve agent, sarin gas, a number of Turkish publications reported.
And that is the nub of the issue. The assessment of Senator Cruz is consistent with the intelligence. We don't have a dog in this fight between forces tied to Al Qaeda and a dictatorial regime tied to Iran. Even the Obama administration has admitted that there is a risk to supporting the rebels, so they were calling for an intervention that would do nothing to change the calculus of power in the civil war. Senator McCain and other wacko-bird hawks might want to support the rebels, but at this point, support of a military kind may end up helping forces that end up hurting Syria, the region, and our national security.
Now, if this was a straight-up critique of Ted Cruz and his position on Syria, that would be one thing. Rubin would be out of step with both the public and Republican base. Cruz himself says 99% of calls and citizen communications opposed intervention in Syria. Rather, she decided to engage in an odd recasting of Helms as a interventionist neo-conservative and engage in a strange counterpoint that Cruz wouldn't agree with Helms on foreign policy. As if that mattered!
But first she pushed the meme that Cruz shouldn't have praised Helms - which Cruz did, for his spine. More coy than some hyperventilating leftists, Rubin called it 'awkward' to praise Helms without mentioning his race views and the " need to be candid about that and deplore it." Perhaps, but Cruz gave a speech on foreign policy. Cruz managed to praise Obama during the speech for coming to Congress to get approval for the Syrian strike, but he didn't feel the need to remind anyone he still opposes Obamacare. But Senator Ted Cruz keeps fighting it. While it was in a speech series named after Jesse Helms, would one label international relations academics racist if they work at the Princeton institution named after progressive Democrat Jim Crow-supporting unrepentent segregationist Woodrow Wilson, who resegregated the Federal Government as President? Or does every mention of FDR need to include reminding people of his putting Japanese citizens in internment camps during World War Two?
Jen Rubin herself links to a review of Helm's career as US Senator that mentions:
You don't have to like Sen. Helms to acknowledge that he has been an effective and uncompromising bulldog for conservative issues in Washington. Indeed, people who loathe Jesse Helms - the Washington and media elites who view him as an unrepentant Neanderthal - acknowledge that he's one tough hombre.
Which is the point: Any review of the top ten most effective Senators in the last 50 years would have that liberal icon Ted Kennedy and Jesse Helms both on the list. Helms was a nemesis of Kennedy, working to kill the bills Kennedy wanted to pass. When Cruz said we need 100 Senators like Helms, he was expressing the need for more bulldogs for conservative issues.
Rubin claims that Cruz's position on Syria "runs counter to Helms’s life’s work." Rubin would know this? Really? A Syrian intervention as mis-begotten as Carter's Desert One mis-adventure would be on Helms' wishlist? And if so, so what? Helms was an unrepetent anti-communist. Rubin justifies her view with a supporting quote of Helms' support for interventions:
“Helms was no isolationist. He was an original sponsor of the Iraq Liberation Act. He supported lifting the Bosnia Arms Embargo. He supported NATO expansion. He supported stronger action against Saddam Hussein in the wake of the Anfal campaign. He supported the Contras (arming the rebels).” She continues, “He met with Libyans who wanted to oust Qadhafi. He despised Assad. What Helms hated was Communism. What Helms loved was freedom and liberty. A compilation of his work is called: Empire for Liberty.”
Well, that's great, because nobody listening to Cruz in his foreign policy speech would confuse him for an isolationist. He opposes Syrian intervention but proposes pressuring Iraq to deny Iran use of their air space to supply arms to Syria. Everything mentioned about interventions Helms' supported above fit with the larger strategic goals. Helms often supported imperfect despots such as Pinochet or the Shah in Iran in order to fight against the larger challenge of the Soviet Union. Today, in the mideast and globally, Helms would agree with many of us that our fundamental challenge in the Islamic world is militant Jihadism, and thus would have been skeptical towards actions that didn't target them: For example, the Obama administration did to Mubarak in Egypt, as we tossed an imperfect dictator overboard and got instead, at least for a while, a Muslim Brotherhood-led regime. Or for example, supporting a Syrian rebels that are now infiltrated with Al Qaeda.
Cruz said of the challenge of Al Qaeda and Islamic Jihadism: "If Jesse Helms were with us, he would not shy away from this fight." Nothing Rubin says about Helm's aggressive use of American power to fight communism suggests that Cruz' assessment is wrong. Yet it's not important for Ted Cruz to agree with a former Senator. It is important to ask whether Senator Cruz has the correct approach for America in the 21st century. Cruz is not a Rand Paul nor a McCan, but his speech expressed a viewpoint that, if nothing else, is fairly close to the Reagan model in foreign policy.
If there is one final thing that explains how much Jennifer Rubin misses the mark, it's her first statement:
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) bizarrely counts the Clinton-Gingrich government shutdown fight as a victory for Republicans.
As a result of the shutdown, a budget agreement was reached such that the US enjoyed the large drop in the budget deficit in a single year in our history. After that shutdown fiasco, within 6 months Clinton signed welfare reform, the most significant conservative reform (aside from tax reform bills) in the past 30 years. It led, within 5 years, to a balanced budget that was achieved in combination with tax cuts rather than tax increases. It also led to 6 more years of a fully Republican Congress and 12 years of a Republican House. These good things happened only because the Republican Congress was willing to stand up and fight for their position in the face of media criticism and political opposition.
If Jennifer Rubin thinks getting bloodied in a fight where you ultimately win significant policy advances is bad, and if she doesn't understand the principle that those who fight for what they believe get what they want a lot faster than those who don't, then she really knows nothing about Ted Cruz.