Ted Cruz vs. Rand Paul on Foreign Policy: Quién Es Más Reagan?


The long-interesting Wacko Birds vs. Angry Birds split in today's tumultuous GOP has tended to distract from the split-within-the-split when it comes to Tea Party types and foreign policy.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), representing the anti-interventionist strain, has insisted from the get-go that the Tea Party is an explicit rejection of neoconservative belligerence. While that seemed like wishful thinking in 2011, the notion gained more plausibility by September 2013, when many TP groups and politicians went all-in against the Obama administration's neocon-backed attempts to use force in Syria. When Paul's ambitious and considerably more hawkish Wacko Bird Senate colleagues Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marco Rubio (R-Florida) joined the doves on Syria, it was a telltale sign that the intervention was doomed.

Well, that was then. Vladimir Putin's thuggish takeover of Crimea and menacing gestures toward Eastern Ukraine are generating a lot of hawk-talk about the alleged consequences of American "weakness," and its possible embodiment in anti-interventionists like Paul. On ABC News yesterday, O.G. Wacko Bird Ted Cruz made it explicit:

The man cannot stay behind the podium. ||| Pete Marovich/McClatchy-Tribune
Pete Marovich/McClatchy-Tribune

"I'm a big fan of Rand Paul. He and I are good friends. But I don't agree with him on foreign policy," Cruz said. "I think U.S. leadership is critical in the world. And I agree with him that we should be very reluctant to deploy military force abroad. But I think there is a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did… The United States has a responsibility to defend our values." […]

"A critical reason for Putin's aggression has been President Obama's weakness," Cruz told Karl on "This Week." "That Putin fears no retribution… [Obama's] policy has been to alienate and abandon our friends and to coddle and appease our enemies." 

"You'd better believe Putin sees in Benghazi four Americans are murdered, the first ambassador killed in service since 1979, and nothing happens," Cruz added, echoing comments  by other Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "You'd better believe that Putin sees that in Syria, Obama draws a red line and ignores the red line. You'd better believe that Putin sees all over the world."

When asked about Russia's record of aggression before Obama became president, including its invasion of Georgia during the presidency of George W. Bush, Cruz instead slammed Obama […]

Rand Paul, who one year ago went to the Heritage Foundation to unveil what he portrayed as his Reaganesque vision for foreign policy, did not take kindly to Cruz's co-opting of the Gipper, writing a Breitbart.com column titled "Stop Warping Reagan's Foreign Policy." Excerpt:

Reagan clearly believed in a strong national defense and in "Peace through Strength." He stood up to the Soviet Union, and he led a world that pushed back against Communism.

But Reagan also believed in diplomacy and demonstrated a reasoned approach to our nuclear negotiations with the Soviets. Reagan's shrewd diplomacy would eventually lessen the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

Many forget today that Reagan's decision to meet with Mikhail Gorbachev was harshly criticized by the Republican hawks of his time, some of whom would even call Reagan anappeaser. In the Middle East, Reagan strategically pulled back our forces after the tragedy in Lebanon in 1983 that killed 241 Marines, realizing the cost of American lives was too great for the mission. 

Without a clearly defined mission, exit strategy or acceptable rationale for risking soldiers lives, Reagan possessed the leadership to reassess and readjust.

Today, we forget that some of the Republican hawks of his time criticized Reagan harshly for this too, again, calling him an appeaser. […]

I also greatly admire that Reagan was not rash or reckless with regard to war. Reagan advised potential foreign adversaries not to mistake our reluctance for war for a lack of resolve. 

What America needs today is a Commander-in-Chief who will defend the country and project strength, but who is also not eager for war.

Regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, for example, there is little difference among most Republicans on what to do. All of us believe we should stand up to Putin's aggression. Virtually no one believes we should intervene militarily.

So we are then faced with a finite menu of diplomatic measures to isolate Russia, on most of which we all agree, such as sanctions and increased economic pressure.

Yet, some politicians have used this time to beat their chest. What we don't need right now is politicians who have never seen war talking tough for the sake of their political careers.

Tart, substantive exchanges like that are one of the reasons I lament the GOP's decision to condense its 2016 presidential nominating schedule. The Republican Party's approach toward foreign policy is up for grabs, and with it the party's potential popularity. Surely on questions of life and death, more debate is better than less.