Ted Cruz: Let's face it, neocons like Marco Rubio bear some of the blame for Benghazi

Rubio wanted a fight with Cruz over national security. Well, he’s got one.

Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

“Senator Rubio emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in toppling [Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya. I think that made no sense,” Cruz told Bloomberg Politics in a wide-ranging and exclusive interview during a campaign swing through Iowa. He argued that the 2011 bombings that toppled the Libyan leader didn’t help the fight against terrorists. “Qaddafi was a bad man, he had a horrible human rights record. And yet … he had become a significant ally in fighting radical Islamic terrorism.”

“The terrorist attack that occurred in Benghazi was a direct result of that massive foreign policy blunder,” Cruz said during a drive eastward from a town-hall event near Iowa City to another in the town of Clinton…

“If you look at President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and for that matter some of the more aggressive Washington neo-cons, they have consistently mis-perceived the threat of radical Islamic terrorism and have advocated military adventurism that has had the effect of benefiting radical Islamic terrorists,” he said…

On Syria, Cruz inveighed against Rubio and Clinton, Obama’s former secretary of state, for supporting a no-fly zone and arming “the so-called moderate rebels.” “I think none of that makes any sense. In my view, we have no dog in the fight of the Syrian civil war,” he said, arguing that Rubio and Clinton “are repeating the very same mistakes they made in Libya. They’ve demonstrated they’ve learned nothing.”

Rand Paul’s sitting in a dark room somewhere with a glass of bourbon wondering why no one cared about this attack on GOP hawks the previous 8,000 times he made it. He ran through the same points Cruz did against Rubio on TV just a few weeks ago. And now here’s Cruz, gobbling up more of his libertarian support by throwing down with the Senate’s most aggressive interventionists.

Cruz is right, of course, that Rubio supported regime change in Libya “full-throatedly.” I haven’t reviewed Rubio’s positions systematically but after watching him for four and a half years, it sure seems like he’s never met a regime-change idea he didn’t like. On the other hand, what is Cruz’s foreign policy? He told Bloomberg that it’s simple as can be: If doing something would keep America safe, we should do it, and if it makes America more vulnerable, we shouldn’t. That’s appealing as a bit of Trump-ian barstool common sense but it’s also a form of begging the question. The whole point of Rubio’s beef with Cruz over the USA Freedom Act is that, in Rubio’s view, limiting bulk collection of Americans’ phone records makes America less safe from terror attacks. If the point is to keep the country safe, Cruz should be a surveillance maximalist like Rubio is. Same deal with intervention. Rubio would tell you that intervention in a chaotic situation abroad is usually the wiser play to guarantee America’s safety since it gives you some control over events on the ground and it deters aggression by your enemies by reminding them that you’re not afraid to use your military as needed. If we had left Saddam in place in 2003, maybe he and Iran would be in a nuclear arms race right now. Maybe he’d be working on ICBMs that would reach the east coast of the United States. Would that be a better outcome than ISIS?

Cruz’s foreign policy vision has always seemed to me less like a vision than a political compromise. Since the beginning of his Senate career, knowing that he’d run for president eventually, he’s tended to describe his approach in terms of what it isn’t rather than what it is. In 2013 he framed his view as “somewhere in the middle” between John McCain and Rand Paul (as was Reagan’s, Cruz was eager to claim). There’s … a lot of room between McCain and Paul on most FP issues, but then Cruz has always preferred strategic ambiguity in right-wing intramural battles. The point of the McCain/Paul (or Rubio/Paul) contrast is to signal to hawks and doves that they can each trust him not to go too far in the wrong direction towards nation-building or isolationism. Post-Iraq, it’s risky to bet too heavily on either extreme in a Republican primary. It’s a play for votes, in other words, more so than a specific philosophy designed to help voters predict how he’d respond as president to a particular foreign policy challenge. The reason he sounds so Paul-ish in attacking Rubio today is, I think, simply because he’s eager to put Rubio back on defense on FP. Rubio accused him of weakening the country by backing the USA Freedom Act, now Cruz is giving him both barrels in reply by claiming that Rubio, in enabling Obama’s and Hillary’s disastrous intervention in Libya, weakened the country to the point where it left an ambassador vulnerable to murder. That’s excellent politics given the prominence that Benghazi has on the right as a signature Hopenchange failure. And it’s only possible because Cruz has taken care to show off his hawkish side on other high-profile FP issues, most notably his rally against the Iran deal in D.C. a few months ago. Calling him a weakling will be harder than it will be to call Paul one, which is one big reason why it seems silly for Rubio to come after him on foreign policy. It’s hard to imagine Cruz being successfully framed as too dovish to be trusted, especially when Paul’s out there to provide him with an easy contrast.

But I don’t know. If it bothers you to nominate someone whose foreign policy approach is largely ad hoc beyond “do what Reagan would do, whatever that might be,” maybe you’re uncomfortable with Cruz. My own feeling is that Cruz as president would err on the side of hawkishness simply because that’s what American foreign policy in both parties tends to do (better to have voters see you as trying and failing in a foreign crisis than doing nothing) but would be less hawkish than a McCain-style aggressive interventionist like Rubio. That seems like a good place to be politically in a Republican primary four years after the troops left Iraq, but we’ll see.

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David Strom 9:21 PM on March 24, 2023