Establishment tribes beat drums against Ted Cruz

January 7, 2016 9:52 AM (UTC+8)


Simultaneously, as if signals from a council of sachems had summoned them to the warpath, the Republican establishment’s warriors took after Ted Cruz. Pat Buchanan encapsulated this establishment: “… officeholders past and present, donors, lobbyists, think-tankers angling for jobs, party hacks and talking heads [who] discuss how to frustrate the rising rebellion against what they have done to America.”

Ted Cruz
Ted Cruz

The establishmentarian drumbeat against Cruz has involved but a whiff of argument on policy, and a few twisted or out of context attributions. But it has consisted mostly of attacks on the man’s character. Fox News led the way with characterizations ranging from flip-flopper to “servile.”

Britt Hume, heretofore its resident adult, said that Cruz had “difficulty shaking hands with the truth.” The point in print, in the blogosphere, as well as on TV is: he’s not one of us, not of our kind, and hence unsuited for responsible office. This very vehemence ensures the attacks’ success. For sure, Cruz ain’t no part of the establishment. Whether that convinces voters to vote against Cruz or for him is another matter.  What follows here is an overview of the written attacks, which reveal more about the attackers than they do about the target thereof.

The Wall Street Journal is the Republican establishment’s intellectual apex. This is what flows down from that hill.

A  recent Journal lead editorial hit Cruz for supporting restrictions on the government’s practice of collecting data on all telephone traffic, supposedly just to look good to libertarians. No one could guess that there are dispositive substantive reasons for believing that unfocused bulk data collection is worse than useless. The debate on this, which has been going on within the intelligence community for thirty years, has been decided internally by bureaucratic and interest group force majeure. But even folks who know none of this are painfully aware that our intelligence analysts, far from having algorithms that can find the equivalent of just the right dust particles inside mountains, let boulder-size facts about such as the murderers of Fort Hood, Boston and San Bernardino roll over them. Cruz’s argument is that there is a lot more safety to be gained by focusing surveillance on mosques than on your mom. Crazy argument, isn’t it?

The editorial writes: “As federal Judge William Pauley put it two years ago in his opinion upholding the legality of metadata collection, the point is to “detect relationships so attenuated and ephemeral they would otherwise escape notice” to prevent attacks. “This blunt tool only works because it collects everything,” he added. “Without all the data points, the Government cannot be certain it has connected the pertinent ones.” And so, because data on your mom is just as meaningful as data on a mosque, refusal to collect it facilitates terrorism.

This, of course is an argument strictly by authority. Yet this authority, this judge, knows only what he’s been told by intelligence officials. Why does the Journal believe him? Why should we? The journal does not even try to explain. It merely expects us to bow to those officials’ judgment. But we all know that their judgment has been bad. Hence, the Journal’s argument is: believe the likes of us because we are us.

The Journal’s ace foreign policy columnist, Bret Stephens, even called Cruz an impostor, claiming there are conflicts between what he says and what really thinks. Unlike the rest of the editorial board, Stephens knows how well Cruz understands America’s foreign policy problems, and claims to respect his intellect. He asks why Cruz does not go along with the Journal’s prescriptions. His answer: “character.” Bad character.

Stephens writes: “The central foreign-policy challenge facing the next president is how to re-establish American credibility with friends who no longer trust us and enemies who no longer fear us. Mr. Cruz gets this, just as he gets that the purpose of US foreign policy cannot be to redeem the world’s crippled societies through democracy-building exercises. Foreign policy is not in the business of making dreams come true—Arab-Israeli peace, Islamic liberalism, climate nirvana, a Russian reset, et cetera. It’s about keeping our nightmares at bay. Today those nightmares are Russian revanchism, Iranian nuclearization, the rise and reach of Islamic State and China’s quest to muscle the US out of East Asia. How to deal with them? Mr. Cruz has thoughts on these and other important matters.” All true.

As evidence of bad character Stephens, like the Journal’s editorial, treats Judge William H. Pauley III’s 2013 ruling as dispositive. Telephony metadata, it said, “might have permitted the NSA to notify the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the fact that [9/11 hijacker Khalid ] al-Mihdhar was calling the Yemeni safe house from inside the United States.” But, like the editorial, Stephens makes no argument. He gives no reason to believe how likely it would have been for “might have” to have translated to “would have.” In reality, that would have depended on somebody crafting just the right algorithm (practically impossible) and then on some analyst having paid attention to the result – even less likely. Why then does not Stephens take seriously the arguments of Cruz and other knowledgeable people that the NSA’s preference for “bulk-collect-and-sort” is inferior to focused collection? Alas it seems that, as a member the establishment, he just can’t bring himself to take seriously anyone who is outside of it.

This is even clearer with regard to the question of the circumstances in which America should intervene in foreign quarrels: “As for Syria, Mr. Cruz insists “we do not have a side in the Syrian civil war” and endorses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ’s view that nonintervention allows two evil sides to exhaust themselves in the fighting.” But Stephens seems to think he is catching Cruz in an evasion by mentioning that, by exterminating ISIS, as Cruz promises to do, he would in fact alter the situation in Syria. As if anyone did not know that. Nor does Stephens seem to recognize the point of Netanyahu’s and Cruz’s remark that “we do not have a dog in [Syria’s] fight”, namely that neither the dogs nor their fights are ours. America’s own fight is against those who hurt us. That is also the  principle on which Israel acts. Stephens knows this. Why then pretend that he does not? Mere establishment solidarity against outsiders seems to be the un-pretty answer.

Below the Journal’s level, the establishment’s intellectual standard drops steeply. The attacks coming from there would be sad, or just funny, if they did not represent the mentality of people who might well have hand in foreign policy were an Establishment’s candidate become president.

For the neoconservative Weekly Standard, which feeds lines about foreign affairs to one establishment candidate (Marco Rubio), the essence of US foreign policy must be the promotion of democracy in other lands. This, to be clear, is the doctrine of second generation neoconservatives, and is contrary to the views of the original neoconservatives, prominently former U.N ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick. In her influential article “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” she had drawn a distinction between the necessity for America to oppose Communist dictatorships – because they threatened America – and the relative uselessness of president Jimmy Carter’s opposition to non-communist ones, because they do not.

Ted Cruz having pointed out the fact that president Obama’s promotion of democracy in the Middle East had sown chaos and enmity to America (Bush had done the same things) and that US foreign policy in the Middle East (like Israel’s) ought to mind our own business rather than interfere in others,’ the Standard led the attempt to reassert the second neocon generation’s commitment to interference for the sake of democracy by identifying it with Kirkpatrick while excluding Cruz.

The management gave this impossible task to Lee Smith. “ [Cruz] doesn’t have a very clear grasp of Kirkpatrick’s argument or what’s wrong with Obama’s foreign policy,” he claimed. But his effort to substantiate the claim by citing Israel’s interference in Syria supports Kirkpatrick’s and Cruz’s notion that sound foreign policy consists of minding one’s own business.

“Israel’s operations in Syria have all been directed against Assad’s partners in the Iranian axis, including Iranian arms convoys headed to Hezbollah and weapons depots throughout Syria. Moreover, Israel is quietly cooperating with various anti-Assad rebel groups in order to keep Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hezbollah units from opening another front on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.”

Absolutely! The lesson is, work against anybody, and with anybody, do what you gotta do, to keep the wolf from your door. Democracy is irrelevant to that common sense.

Down another intellectual rung, the American Enterprise Institute, where Kirkpatrick once set the tone on foreign policy, published a piece by Gary Schmitt, “ Co-Director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies and Director of the Program on American Citizenship,” that boldly -but quite ignorantly – asserts second generation neocon orthodoxy against Kirkpatrick and Cruz at once: “Dictatorships and Double Standards” didn’t fly the first time. And it won’t do any better in Cruz’s 2.0 version.”

Here is Schmitt. You just can’t make this stuff up. “Cruz’s willingness to live with dictatorships would have been at odds with Reagan’s larger strategic goal of bringing down the Soviet Union and freeing the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe.” Schmitt supposes that promoting democracy in Russia was the purpose of Reagan’s policy toward the Soviet Union rather than one set of means among others in the fight against a mortal enemy. In the name of neocon 2.0 orthodoxy, Schmitt reverses the natural order between ends and means.

In Schmitt’s neocon 2.0 orthodoxy, democracy is not the reflection of any given demos at any given time. No. Democracy is what makes it possible for any country to be “a true ally in assisting the US in maintaining a rules-based, liberal international order.”  And if, after elections, a country does the opposite? For Schmitt the Middle East’s dysfunctional civilizations, the hate that their deme bear for one another, are not “the real causes of the ongoing instability in the Middle East.” No. The problem is “Bush’s team taking too long to stabilize Iraq post-Saddam and then, once they got down to business, the Obama team tossing that success overboard. And, of course, the problem in Libya was making no effort whatsoever to deal with a post-Gadhafi Libya. In short, the intervention wasn’t the problem; the problem was not being serious about it.”

That’s consistency!

Writing in the once-renowned Commentary magazine, Max Boot raised consistency to the point of solipsism. Boot, (an official adviser to Rubio) chastised Cruz for being the very negation of Ronald Reagan. Why? Because, you see, whereas Reagan’s defining feature was to get along with everyone, especially his own party’s establishment,

“Ted Cruz’s entire political career has been founded on speaking ill of fellow Republicans. He has gone so far as to directly and repeatedly attack the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell — a staunch conservative — accusing him of “lying” and of being a “very effective Democratic leader.” He has been equally vitriolic in his attacks on John Boehner.”

It escapes Boot that Reagan was a rebel against the Republican party from the beginning of his career in California, to his support for Barry Goldwater, through thirteen years of relentless campaigning against the Republican establishment, including two sitting Republican presidents. Boot’s charges against Cruz loom small next to those that the Republican establishment used to level against Reagan and his supporters. Is this blindness born of partisanship, or partisanship born of blindness?

In sum, establishment attacks on Ted Cruz have next to nothing to do with Ted Cruz, or with the coherence or verisimilitude of the words used. They are desperate attempts to tell the American people that the “ins” are entitled to be in, and that the “outs” should butt out.

Angelo M. Codevilla is professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University, and a member of the Hoover Institution’s working group on military history. He is the author of fourteen books, including  Informing Statecraft, War, ends And Means, The Character of Nations, Advice to War Presidents, and To Make and Keep Peace.  He served on President Ronald Reagan’s transition teams for the Department of State and the Intelligence agencies. He was a US naval officer and a US foreign service officer. As a staff member of the US Senate Intelligence committee, he supervised the intelligence agencies’ budgets with emphasis on collection systems and counterintelligence. He was instrumental in developing technologies for modern anti-missile defense. Codevilla has taught ancient and modern political thought and international affairs at major universities.

The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of Asia Times.