Love Thy Neighbor, Exploit Thine Ally. On Cruz’s Jacksonian Foreign Policy

Ted Cruz. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

Ted Cruz. Photo by Gil Lavi. Courtesy of the artist

The Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa, on January 28 produced a mild surprise.

Donald Trump did not appear. Excusing himself, he claimed that popular host Megyn Kelly would be biased against him, Trump demanded her replacement. Fox News, the organizer of the debate, refused. And Trump, in a flawed calculation, missed the debate.

As a result, Ted Cruz became the sole addressee of attacks that night. And Marco Rubio managed to step into the spotlight. Whatever impact this showing of weakness by Trump may have had on the first voting, on February 1 in Iowa, Cruz unexpectedly won with 28%. Trump, despite a considerable lead in the polls, came in second with 24%, while Rubio, by a surprisingly small margin, finished in third place with 23%.

60% of Republican voters in Iowa are evangelical—“born-again” Christians. They oppose Obama’s liberal agenda first and foremost based on their Protestant values: sanctity of life­—rejection of abortion—protection of the traditional family, nonintervention of the state into religious life. Yet it turned out that Trump’s touting populism did not succeed against some 12,000 alleged volunteers who campaigned door-to-door for Senator Cruz.

After winning Iowa, the chances that Cruz will win the third primary—in South Carolina—increased. Yet Trump will most likely still gain the next primary, in New Hampshire on February 9. But the loss in Iowa blew away his air of inevitability.

The charges against Cruz are now being enlivened by mainstream Republicans, as they consolidate their support behind Marco Rubio. As candidates, Rubio and Cruz are distinct—most of all in their foreign policy approaches.  

Easily, all-too easily, Rubio can be subsumed under the neoconservative schema. Because Jeb Bush does not seem to have much of a chance at this point, Rubio attracts more and more followers of the traditional Republican foreign policy.

The neoconservatives bemoan that Cruz fully abandons that universal principle which has prevailed for much of the time since World War II. To aid democracy worldwide is considered the highest priority of U.S. national interest. Cruz, to the contrary, disagrees with long-term U.S. military presences in countries such as Iraq. He also refuses to seek the replacement of dictatorial regimes—while the neoconservatives make such endeavors contingent upon whether a specific society has a friendly or hostile relation with the U.S.

But such a brand of Jacksonian isolationism—christened after the sixth president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, and rooted in early-19th-century Anglo-Saxon nativism­—hardly allows one to throw Cruz in the same imaginary basket with Trump. It appears only that both favor the same air-strikes-only strategy against ISIS—just another common marker used to equate the two. Cruz’s foreign policy substantially differs, not to the least in that it exists at all. 

On December 10, 2015, in a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Cruz presented a vision that, according to him, renews the principles of Ronald Reagan and Jeane Kirkpatrick for contemporary conditions. Reagan’s comportment did not only embrace, he claims, the agile alliance with liberal-democratic states. Reagan also held cooperation with dictatorial regimes to be pragmatically desirable, insofar as this benefited the essential goals of the U.S.

The most recent negative example of the contrary is, for Cruz, Libya. Toppling the secular dictatorial regime of Muamar Qaddafi was not followed by the democratic upheaval hoped for. Instead, Libya gradually disintegrated. The state structures dissolved, and a number of infighting groups, including the radical Islamist terrorists of al-Qaida and ISIS, are destroying the nation-state’s internal sovereignty while striving to achieve dominance.

Another exemplar of the present, Syria, is doubtlessly the most devastating. Cruz opposes what John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bush—and also Rubio—advocate: Bringing Bashar al-Assad’s regime down is unnecessary, he claims. Both wings of the Republican party, however, equally detest the lack of resolve with which Barack Obama—and his adherents Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—are dealing with the civil war in Syria, which, in turn, contributed to the rise of ISIS.

Cruz maintains that by 2013 the conflict in Syria had reached a stage that rendered it impossible for the U.S. to pick a side. If the Assad regime is defeated, the eminent danger persists that forces linked to ISIS take control of the state, rather than the insignificant opposition groups sympathetic to the U.S. In Iraq, there is such an ally. It’s the Kurdish Peshmerga. Not so in Syria. There is no similar democracy-leaning partner, despite even the multimillion-dollar U.S. training programs for the opposition.

Cruz points out the position of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as his guiding principle. Israel does not support any side in the Syrian war, for none are its allies. The U.S. should do the same. Instead, all efforts need to be concentrated on the fight against ISIS—in whose case Cruz, indeed, demands “utter destruction.”

False also is the interpretation that Cruz would oppose the deployment of ground troops against ISIS. Time and again, he has clarified, too, that so-called “carpet-bombing” actually means the comprehensive, consequent, and continuous “precision strikes” of ISIS targets—indeed, its opposite. Cruz is also convinced that the involvement of troops on the ground is inevitable, firstly of the Kurdish units in Iraq, and also the Egyptian and Jordanian militaries. And he does not exclude the Americans from getting into the fight on land. Cruz’s approach differs from others in that he does not deem it reasonable to declare before the fact on which level U.S. soldiers are to enter such a campaign.

Demanding a strong leader, who will set a clear objective—that is, complete annihilation of ISIS—Cruz leaves the decision as to the specific steps to the recommendations by the military command. This response was already barely convincing from his fellow evangelical Dr. Ben Carson.

Cruz’s difference from Rubio is even more distinct with regard to American troops staying in a specific territory: They should not. Cruz opposes leaving army units to control the territory after defeating ISIS, as happened in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan, and earlier in Germany and Eastern Europe, South Korea, Japan, and other ally countries.

The neoconservative doctrine believes such measures to be the only way to maintain a stable influence in regions endangering American interests. According to Cruz, however, military intervention should be limited to the immediate eradication of such dangers. Nation-building post-factum is of no American concern. It’s questionable, then, indeed, whether with a Cruz-Trump upward spiral a new American foreign policy will emanate in the end.

It is questionable, too, how willing a president Cruz will be to engage U.S. military support, possibly troops, in Ukraine against Russian aggression. Respectively, in Georgia: How eager would he be to carry out the policy needed to counteract Russia’s and Iran’s growing influence in the South Caucasus?

Contrary to Trump, who explicitly opposes Ukraine’s and, by implication, Georgia’s NATO membership—Cruz has yet to elaborate on his specific policy towards Russia, and China; thus far, there has been only abstract talk, which may be in itself telling. It’s a fact, nevertheless, that interventionism for democratic development is of no essential value for Cruz—and this is yet another reason for the so-called establishment to mobilize against him, though everybody seems to be avoiding this label now.

In Israel itself, it is Cruz rather than Rubio or Trump who is endorsed by influential conservative commentators as Caroline Glick, a former advisor to Netanyahu. Glick argues that Cruz is the most effective defender of Israel of all candidates, in particular due to his vocal antagonism to the Iran deal. Rubio, as opposed to this, went along with the removal of Qaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt—an event that almost led to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Sharia-based dictatorship in that country.

For evangelical Christians like Cruz, support of Israel is contingent upon an eschatological view that the survival of the Jews, as God’s chosen people, is a precondition to the Second Coming. The continued existence of Israel, and of the Jews, despite the efforts to annihilate them in recent history, is a guarantor to redemption for all. Yet recently some “New Evangelicals” also show a more pro-Palestinian stance. Neglecting the anti-Semitism extant in the Arab population, they tend to one-sidedly blame Israel to be an aggressor.

Christian Zionism can hardly be held to be free of instrumentalism. Jewry is a theological means for it, not an end in itself. It is also beyond doubt, however, that against the backdrop of the varieties of Christian anti-Semitism throughout the Western history, this practical philo-Semitism entails a much friendlier stance toward the Jews.

Glick’s attitude is understandable as Israel’s pragmatism in response. By and large, Israel is left alone in the region today. The only state still effectively supporting it is the U.S. Yet even this patronage, diminishing for the last seven years, could receive a heavy blow in the final year of Obama’s presidency. It has been surmised that Obama may make an unprecedented step: to recognize the statehood of Palestine.

So far, the U.S. has always vetoed such a measure at the United Nations, because the Palestinian side fails to reciprocate by guaranteeing Israel’s right to exist. However, after the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius on the same January 28, during the Iowa debate, declared an ultimatum on Israel, threatening to recognize Palestine, it is conceivable that the Obama administration may use this move as a pretext to act unilaterally.

Cruz’s universal “Go in, win, and get the heck out!” stance appears to be acceptable only under the factually existing conditions. Throughout Obama’s administration, the U.S. has abandoned assistance to Israel against Iran, and failed to back efforts to neutralize Hamas and Hezbollah. In 2009, Obama let the chance to second the “Green Revolution” in Iran pass. And it is unthinkable to recognize Palestinian statehood, so long as the aforementioned terrorist groups on Palestinian territories are armed.

But if the emphasis shall shift again to “utter destruction” of ISIS, then both its defeat and engagement against Assad’s regime will need to be followed up by the American military staying involved in the conflict as long as it takes for a new coalition, friendly to democratic transition, to solidify state structures in Syria and Iraq.

The skepticism of Glick and others with regard to toppling dictatorial regimes has some rational footing in that the U.S. has retreated from Iraq and Afghanistan during Obama’s tenure. This did significantly worsen Israel’s security situation. Yet if such political relations were to turn around again, this, possibly, could be followed by some states, currently dominated by radical political Islam, changing course toward democracy in a sustainable way.

The defeat of the Soviet Union by Ronald Reagan is hardly an adequate precedent for this, however. A line dividing pro- and anti-Western predispositions indeed crosses through Georgia. By far not all former Soviet republics became democratic—least of all Russia. How such a democratization is possible—and in which particular societies that show tendencies towards radical political Islam—is question in its own right. First of all, though, an effort to destroy ISIS seems the most reasonable, and will require significant time and force. Such effort by itself, however, will already weaken Assad’s regime, and it is to be expected that Russia’s and Iran’s influence will shrink correspondingly.

In the New Hampshire primary, the competition is on for second place. Trump is significantly leading in the polls, yet again, since July 2015. After a noteworthy showing in Iowa, Rubio stumbled in the Manchester, New Hampshire, debate. Since winning in Iowa, Cruz is profiting from the exit of libertarian Rand Paul and the diminishing approval of Carson. The governors Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich, however, could advance as well.